"Not all those who wander are lost"

Climbing in the Arabian Desert

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

– George Bernard Shaw

 

12/10/10

Upon arrival here in the UAE I began searching Mountain Project, Rockclimbing.com, and every other climbing related forum and website I could find.  My efforts paid off.  I had more possibilities for climbing than I had time for.  Friday morning I set off with Samantha, my recruit from the UAE climbing forum (yes the, there is only one).  We were off like a speeding turtle, leaving EA around 9.  The plan was to meet up with some more people from the climbing forum but when Sam called to tell them we would be late we discovered that we were actually 23 hours 50 minutes early.  Thats right, the entire wrong day.  We weren’t about to not climb so we changed direction and headed off toward Oman.  We chatted and before long got to the boarder of Oman.  Passports were checked.  We were white.  We kept going.  Coming from the US it seems like having to go through another country to go climbing would mean it’s a hell of a drive, luckily that’s not true here.  Less than an hour after leaving Dubai we turned off the main highway onto a small paved road then off that a minute later.  We bumped down the “road,” really just a weaving line in the desert that other people had also driven on, looking out for the climbing area and avoiding camels.

With no guide book or directions we relied on Sam remembering what the crag looked like.  Her memory got us there unscathed (though some camels looked ready to trample the car) with only a small detour.  We made the trek up the scree field to the base of the crag.  I turned around and took in the sight.  The desert opened out before us spotting with tree’s on mounds, only the soil they held had resisted the floods.  Past that the spiked foot hills grew into jagged mountains.

The rock is a sandstone and limestone combination which had formed into all sorts of great shapes as it got eroded.  We warmed up then moved over to a very overhanging climb that Sam’s boyfriend had to bail off when it got dark two weeks before.  I mention this because the primary motivation was to pick up a draw and bail biner.  It was an adventure climbing with no guide book and estimating all the grades, but I only had to down climb 10m of one route so it wasn’t too bad.

Over the last couple hours I heard some sort of strange howling noise.  I figure it was nothing and just kept climbing.  The sun was already on the other side of the crag as we packed up and headed out.  By this time the howling had also grown louder and more frequent so we stopped to listen and check it out.  It was pretty clearly an animal in distress and we were pretty sure it was a panther or Arabian leopard since both reside in the area.  Better yet, it was directly between us and the car.  I hurled a rock down the hill in hopes it would run away, but instead it just went silent.  As we skirted wide around to the side avoiding the field of big boulders that so conveniently formed caves where the howling had come from one question stood out:  was it now hunting or hiding?  We continued down the loose rocks.  Despite our arc around the main boulder field we still had to pass several.  Could this one be hiding our demise?  What about the next one?  Descending past one such boulder the large rock I stepped on rolled.  My foot slid off, but the rock kept continued to roll scraping skin off the back of my leg and pinning it under the rock which I also happened to land on.  To get my leg out from under the rock I had to roll it off over my ankle, scraping it even more.  I continued to limp down hill with the smell of my blood in the air.  We came around the last big boulder before getting to the car and I noticed glowing dots in the shadow of the boulder.  Keeping my eyes on the shadow we slowly walked toward the car.  My hands began to sweat, clutching softball sized rocks in each hand.  It leaped from from the dark.  I threw the rock in my right hand with all my strength.  It glanced off the leg of the panther but didn’t slow it.  In two bounds it had covered half of the 60 feet between us.  I hurled the second rock hitting it in the shoulder.  It faltered and almost fell but recovered.  It had slowed giving me the time to grab another rock.  I threw the rock hitting the panther in the head.  It yowled in pain and paused for a second before darting back into the shadows.  We ran the last bit and jumped in the car before it could come back.

We weaved down the desert tracks back to the main road occasionally having to double back to find a route her 4wheel drive SUV could make it on.  Boarder patrol just saw Dubai plates and waved us through.  The dark desert turned into a glowing small town that I hadn’t even noticed on the way through.  Hundreds of 4wheelers, ATVs, and SUVs roamed the streets traveling between town and the desert outside of town where thousands of car lights illuminated the sand dunes.  The area is a destination for nighttime off-roading.  I used the trip back to take advantage of an experienced American perspective on Dubai and learned several important things such as what grocery stores are good and have natural peanut butter.  I say experienced, but she’s only been in Dubai since August when she moved from Idaho for a teaching job here.  Her move to Dubai seemed nearly as spontaneous as mine.  I decided to move to Dubai in 2 days, less than 3 weeks before I left, to live for 3 months.  She had no plan for it until it happened this summer and she moved in August, but moved here (semi) permanently.  Females, take note.

Much to my chagrin I arrived 30 minutes after most of the group left to find an Irish Pub, but it was definitely worth the days adventures.

 

 

Addendum:

For all those who don’t read the comment I added to this post I’m adding it here to quell speculation.

“Ok, we didn’t actually get attacked by a panther. From the part “We came around the last big boulder” to the end of the paragraph is more of what we were imagining might happen as we walked down. We did hear some kinda cat yowling but it was most likely an arabian leopard [actually have found out now that they are rare it it’s more likely a caracal] which aren’t as big (still big enough to mess you up). It sounded like it was in quite a bit of discomfort too. We went wide around and didn’t see it. My assumption would be it was hurt and went quiet to hide from us.”

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  1. Ok, we didn’t actually get attacked by a panther. From the part “We came around the last big boulder” to the end of the paragraph is more of what we were imagining might happen as we walked down. We did hear some kinda cat yowling but it was most likely an arabian leopard which aren’t as big (still big enough to mess you up). It sounded like it was in quite a bit of discomfort too. We went wide around and didn’t see it. My assumption would be it was hurt and went quiet to hide from us.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:27 am

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