"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for February, 2011

Wondrous Wall, Not so Wondrous Border

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.




The week was like any other week:  dreaded classes, fun time bouldering, lots of working on senior design.  Then things took an unexpected turn.  Sam emailed me to tell me that she had a fever and didn’t know if she would be able to go to Wonderwall as planned.  Not wanting to lose a weekend of climbing and much less get stuck in the city for the weekend I made back up plans with Gordon to join them at Tawayan in case Sam’s fever didn’t subside.



Fortunately her fever did subside in the night and she insisted she was fine to climb.  Sam, Dayne (her jack russell), and I headed for the border.  Now, dogs aren’t really supposed to cross the border, but friends here do it all the time so they can take their dogs camping so we were trying it.  As we approached the border I put Dayne on the floor in the back, covered him with a sleeping bag, and dumped some treats on the floor.  It worked through the first part.  We parked for a minute while I ran in to get my exit stamp from the UAE.  The next part was more interesting.  We pulled back into the line of cars going through passport control to get into the UAE and Dayne decided he didn’t want to sit on the floor anymore because something was going on.  I had to hold him down by his collar as he wriggled.  We made it past the guy standing in the middle looking for anything illegal without Dayne barking and turned out of the line to head to Oman.

We made it to Wonderwall and hiked up to the cliff.  My goal for the weekend was to try and hopefully onsight or at least redpoint Exile (7b/5.12b).  It’s a stunning climb that goes directly up the tallest, blankest face of the entire cliff.  It’s 55m of tough crimping and tiny feet the entire way that is supposed to have no rests.  To top it off it requires 18 quick draws; I only have 12 including my slings and Sam’s two draws.  I started the route anyway, planning to skip draws whenever I could.  I started the climb in good style skipping the very first bolt.  After clipping the second bolt I pulled out from the initial alcove and onto the face.  From there it all blended together into 53m of crimping, technical moves needing a specific sequence, big reaches hoping to find at least a tiny crimp, pulling hard on razor sharp knife blades (they weren’t truly crimps, they were knife blades), lots of hoping my skin was thick enough to endure the holds, and a good amount of yelling as the holds cut into my fingers.  In short, it was awesome.

At the halfway point where there are chains to rappel from or to stop for Exile Light (7a) I found a much appreciated “rest” where I could hold myself with one arm at a time and my entire foot could fit on the sloping ledge.  It was more of the same after that.  About two thirds of the way up the climb I had a foot hold break off while I was standing on it.  My foot swung out from the wall and my shoulder popped as all my weight was transferred to my right arm.  I managed to hang on to the knife blades digging into my fingers and get my foot onto something.  Shoulder throbbing I continued up.  I had another point near the top when I questioned if I would be able to make it.  I could see holds up above me but couldn’t manage to get up enough to get to any of them.  I tried going up to the right, and to the left, but nothing worked.  Finally I decided to just go for it and pulled as hard as I could on holds that I certainly couldn’t hold on if they could even hold me.  Somehow it worked and I made it to the “better” holds (I use the term very loosely and only in comparison to holding onto a blank face).  It was difficult to stay focused and not get careless as I approached the top, but I made it to the top and let out a triumphant roar.  It was the first time I had ever tried a 7b/5.12b and I had onsighted it.  Grinning ear to ear I rapped down cleaning the route.

I had already completed my primary goal for the weekend so we headed over to another area that had more climbs Sam was interested in called Aladdin’s Lamp.  Sam lead Think Fast, Hippie.  I lead Relentless, a 40m long route that I managed to rap off from with a 70m rope.  I was planning on heading back over to try Border Patrol.  I quickly ditched that idea because it would be a hard route and it has a long approach.  My decision was unnecessary anyway as it was clearly getting dark too quickly to do any more routes.  Before we headed back to the campsite we scavenged for wood, cramming Sam’s car full of (very dirty) wood.  I built a fire and we cooked the usual delicious vegetarian food on the fire.  Once we were done cooking we threw a bunch of wood on the fire for light, some of which was the wood we carried for miles on our epic night walk last time, and began bouldering.

The problems were easy and the lack of a crash pad resulted in a fairly short session.  We hung out around the fire, chatted, and eventually went to sleep.



We woke up a bit after the sun came up.  Searching around the edge of the tent for my watch I felt water.  I looked around and noticed dew that had formed on the outside of the tent.  It hadn’t rained thankfully since we didn’t have the fly on the tent, but even dew at Wonderwall was unexpected.  We had some muesli and headed up to the crag.

(The camp site)

Our first spot of the day was Spaghetti Western since it’s close to the camp spot.  I lead one called Space Cowboy to warm up then Sam was going to try leading some more stuff.  Unfortunately her fever was catching up with her and she didn’t feel well.  She followed the route and decided she wasn’t going to climb much so we hiked back down and headed over to the other side to try some stuff I was interested in.  The first of which was Border Patrol.  The unfortunate part was that to get to it we had to go all the way past it, then hike up a chute that put us on a ledge across the middle of the cliff and hike back over to it.  The even more unfortunate thing was that Dayne was having a hard time and worrying Sam by going close to the edge so I carried him on my rope bag the whole way.  After a much more intense approach than expected we finally made it to Border Patrol.

I rested for a minute and started on the route.  I use the phrase “started on the route” loosely.  I really didn’t start much at all.  It kicked my butt the whole way.  After failing to do any of the first few moves successfully several times and seeing that it only got more difficult I decided it wasn’t worth stranding my gear on the route and down climbed from the second bolt.  Disappointed I got shot down by a 7a I hoped to redeem myself a little bit and make the hike have some point by trying Hot Rats.  It’s another 7a face climb near Border Patrol and I felt like I would have more success on it.  Indeed I did.  I onsighted the first of the two pitches that is supposed to be the hard part.   Funny enough despite the climb being similar to Exile in sharpness, when it got hard at the top when they were replaced by slopers and I was quickly wishing for the knife blades back.   I decided that since Sam wasn’t coming up to clean and I had done the hard pitch I wouldn’t bother with the second pitch.  We headed back off the ledge to do another climb or two.  I wanted to check out a climb called Twisted Reach so I walked up the ledge passes Exile.  The ledge was about 8 feet wide and not a problem walking along in my sandals until I came to a boulder blocking it.  A bolt had been placed with a piece of rope to help you climb up and over it.  I managed it in my sandals.  To actually get to the route required a traverse off the ledge using a fixed hand line.  I got half way out to the climb before I lost a sandal that tumbled down to the ground.  After that I decided it would be better to do it with a harness so I could clip in to the line, not that it mattered, the ordeal of getting Dayne there and keeping him calm was a deal breaker anyway.  I headed back for a different climb and tried another 7a next to Exile called Glucosamine.  It didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped.  After climbing two long routes on knife blades the whole time I couldn’t do a third cleanly.

When I was at the top of Glucosamine someone walked up to where the car was and yelled up to us asking if we had a shovel.  They had gotten stuck in the loose gravel on their way to the crag.  I told him we didn’t, but we were done climbing so we’d come try to help.  When we made it down we discovered it was Dustin, a kid who had climbed with us a couple weeks before.  He and a friend got an old Mercedes stuck when they went over a drop and bottomed out the car.  Sam found a tow strap in her car and we hooked them up.  I reved the car, they reved their car, the strap snapped.  With a new figure 8 knot tying the hook we tried again with the same result (but my knot held).  It clearly wasn’t working but a local guy saw us and came out with his hold land cruiser.  He hooked a rope the size of my arm to their car and dragged the car out without any problem.  Then he kept going, toeing them all the way out down the road and out of the loose gravel.  Our part finished we said goodbye to Dustin and headed off.

After last time I had learned by lesson about the border so I went directly to the Oman border post to get my passport stamped.  I may have learned the first time but what I learned this time was that the past is irrelevant.  Despite doing the exact same thing last time, this time they would not stamp my passport because my exit from the UAE was the day before.  I argued that they did it last time.  They didn’t care.  Fuming I gave in and drove all the way back to Buraymi.  Figuring I might as well try my luck I tried to convince the UAE to just give me a new entrance stamp.  They were nice about it, but said they couldn’t do that.  When I explained my situation they just gave me a new exit stamp and sent me off.  I went BACK to the Oman border and got a new entry and exit stamp, then BACK to Buraymi, this time I made it through.  I’ve been at the UAE border post so many times now that I was chatting with some of them and feel like someone should be buying me dinner.  Sam kept Dayne down in the back and we finally made it through the border without any issues.  All together the escapade took over three hours.  On the way back we stopped and got some good Indian food at a random little restaurant.  As usual we were probably the only Caucasians that had been in the place.  After delicious dal and rotti we continued on to Dubai.

New Video

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

-Pablo Picasso


I have a new video on youtube of me redpointing my first 7a+/5.12a.  This time I actually edited it so it’s only 3 minutes:  same action, less time.



For everyone who liked my blog for more than my rambling about climbing, sorry:  Dubai became normal to me.  The weird things that were first shockers are now everyday life.  I don’t think to write about going to the labor camp anymore because I go twice a week.  I barely even think to write about going to the spice souk which I did today becuase it’s fairly normal now.  As my time here comes to a close I plan to write a nice long monologue about the things I like and dislike about Dubai & the UAE that will be drastically more than just where I like to climb.

Also, more post will be coming.  I’ve been bogged down with work to the point where the only interesting thing I do is my weekend climbing trip.  I still have a couple to catch up on and one almost done so they are on the way.

Until then, enjoy watching me on Office Clerk!

Desert?? Adventures

Of all the people I have ever known, those who have pursued their dreams and failed have lived a much more fulfilling life than those who have put their dreams on a shelf for fear of failure.




The group was planning on a 9am departure from Dubai.  Impatient to climb and wanting to make the best of every minute in the UAE Sam and I planned to head out before 8.  After trying unsuccessfully to find someone to take care of her dog for the night we headed out at 9, still about half an hour before everyone else.  We made it up to Tawayan and hiked down into the wadi under clear blue sunny skies.  I climbed the F5 for a warm up and belayed Sam on it.  After that it was game time for my redpoint attempt on Office Clerk.  I got up to the crux and stuck it no problem.  Then I fell the move after.  I had concentrated so hard on the one move that I had messed up the move after.  I took a break and belayed for a bit so I could be fresh on my next attempt.  Before I could get another try dark clouds began to move up the wadi.  The thought on everyone’s mind was “AGAIN? REALLY?”  Were we really going to get rained on two weekends in a row climbing in the desert?  The answer was yes.  We moved our stuff to the base of the overhanging crag and stood to see if we could wait it out like the week before.  A wall of rain moved up the wadi toward us.  Hopes sank, but I still had quickdraws on Office Clerk.  I grabbed my shoes, rallied a doubtful belayer, and tied into the sharp end.  The rain poured down all around as I climbed.  About 10 feet up I knew it was a hopeless attempt when wind whipped a sheet of water onto the rock soaking the hold I was reaching for.  I had no chance to hang on slopers if they were soaked.  Sure enough I fell.  Not wanting to leave my gear I down climbed the bottom third of the climb unclipping my draws as I went.  The crag was now wet and our group of 18 climbers, 1 two year old, and 3 dogs had scattered as people and dogs headed for shelter.  Wadis are dangerous places during a rain storms.  This one particularly had proved itself a few years earlier when I flash flood raised the level of the ground by 10 feet.  I still had gear on the warm up route though.  Not knowing when I would be back or wanting to risk losing gear I went for my second climb in the rain knowing that at any time a torrent could wash down the wadi taking us all with it.  This time the rock was already soaked.  The wind gusted nearly blowing me off at times as I made my way up the route.  If people ever want a way to make routes they think are easy more interesting my suggestion is try climbing it during a hurricane.  It was a completely different challenge and I loved it.

The last of us hiked out of the wadi as the wind nearly blew us over.  Most people had already headed back into the little town to meet there and make sure we were all accounted for.  Gordon invited everyone to hang out at his house and boulder.  By the time we made it back to Emirates road it was sunny and beautiful again.  At Gordon’s everyone hung out, bouldered, watched climbing movies, and ate food.  It turned out to be a great day despite getting rained off the rock. More than half the people decided that we wanted to go back out Saturday and decided to not even bother going home so we just spent the night on Gordon’s floor (he had tons of ultra comfy homemade sleeping pads).


We got a lazy start in the morning not knowing if we were going to just drive an hour and a half to find rain and turn around.  We checked out the view from the weather station (Gordon’s roof).  It looked hazy but not too ominous toward Tawayan.  The convoy headed back to the crag.  We were happy to find clear skies and dry rock when we got there.  I warmed up on a new route Toby had just bolted the previous weekend and I think rated a 6c or 6b+.  It was interested and very chossy but I managed the onsight for my warm up.  After a warm up Gordon got on his project Echo Beach (7c/5.12d) and redpointed it.  Lots of shouting and cheering ensued.  After a bit of a break it was time for me to get to business too.  Before anyone could get over to belay me Matt asked me to belay him on Echo beach too (he had been projecting it as well).  I obliged since he was going to just come down if he fell anyway.  He didn’t.  Matt got the redpoint only minutes after Gordon.  Now it was really my turn to send.

I felt like I couldn’t fail this time.  I knew the crux and knew I could do it.  I knew where to rest so I shouldn’t get too pumped.  I knew I could do it.  I started off like normal having to deadpoint a sloper from a mono pocket.  I pulled through the next couple moves and came to the crux.  I got myself it the right position (right foot pressing on a tiny vertical edge, left foot up to my waist, right hand on a not so good crimp) and reached way out left to another bad crimp.  I fumbled grabbing it and had to adjust my fingers several times but managed to hold on.  I bumped up to the next hold and got the right spot where it’s not just a bad sloper.  One move later I was passed two of the three spots I had fallen.  I made it to the large sloping crack in the middle and rested for a minute before I continued up onto a vertical lip.  I got a little worried on the lip when I realized I had to switch my hands at a spot where I really didn’t want to.  I managed to switch one finger at a time and not fall.  Finally I made it to a big undercling and rested for a minute since the next move was one I had fallen on just because I was too pumped.  After a rest it was no problem and I pulled around the bulge and to the top.  I had redpointed my first 7a+/5.12a.

While I was climbing Javi onsighted Stone Pussy (6c) too:  it was turning into a send fest.  More climbing ensued.  I mostly glazed over it all, just basking in the glory of my hardest climb.  After a while of muscle recovery Matt and I went over to try another 7a+ called Fujeirah Spaceport.  He had already done it so after an easy first pitch I took over to lead the hard part.

(belaying Matt on the first pitch of Fujeirah Spaceport)

The first 25 feet of the climb are still on the positive face with extremely loose rock.  One step I took went straight through soft rock that barely missed Matt on the way down.  The ~45 degree overhanging roof had lots of big holds and good moves.  The crux was a couple moves on some good crimps.  I managed it no problem.  After the crux I reached up to where I thought the next hold was.  Instead of the good ledge I was expecting I found a bad sloper.  I grabbed at another spot on the ledge but found the same.  NOOOO!  I couldn’t hold myself anymore and fell off after the second try.  I ruined my onsight of the 7a+.  After a quick rest I started again.  I had fallen to below the crux.  I pulled through the crux no problem again but this time easily found the good spot on the ledge.  It had been right there and I had missed it, just like my onsight.  I finished out the climb and belayed Matt as he redpointed it again.  After he was down I gave it another go but was too pumped to clip once I was passed the crux and fell again.  When I fell at the crux on my third try I knew I just didn’t have the energy anymore.  Disappointed with how close I was when I failed to onsight it I cleaned my draws and headed down.  Despite my disappointment in my performance on Fujeirah Spaceport I was pleased at the same time by the fact that I was disappointed I didn’t onsight a 7a+ even though it was the first day I had ever redpointed one.  Ultimately I was just happy about Office Clerk.


My Life Officially Revolves around Climbing

You see things and say, “Why?”, but I dream things and say, “Why not?”

-George Bernard Shaw



I have had five straight nights of dreams about climbing.  Some have just been that I go climbing, which is great because it helps satisfy my need to climb during the week.  Two stood out as really crazy or odd climbing dreams.  In the first I was back in Ilam village in New Zealand and someone was throwing climbing gear off the roof of a building like candy at a parade.  Slings, draws, biners, hangers were tossed and gently landed all around or were caught out of the air by people.  I wish this was the reality.  I think some climbing companies should get together and do this in several places around the world each year.  I will preface the second dream by saying I watched a video from the Petzl website before I went to bed about climbing in Squamish featuring, among other people, Lynn Hill.  In the dream I was suddenly standing at the beginning of a large sandstone arch.  But it wasn’t what you think.  It was a perfectly flat vertical side of a hotel; the arch was the opening over the entrance to a parking garage.  Lynn Hill was climbing the arch (it had a small lip at the edge to climb) and hammering pitons straight into the flat sandstone wall.  At first I started climbing after her, but then I realized she didn’t have anyone belaying her so I grabbed her rope and gave her a belay.  I don’t know what that means, but I’m open to suggestions.



Back to the Rech Cave for another night of bouldering.  I had more success than the previous week, sending several problems I had worked on before.  Gordon had built a Tufa to practice for a climbing trip to Turkey in April.  While I was messing around with it doing a layback I slipped off, hit my side on a protruding hold and managed to remove skin from a long, wide streak down my ribs and giving me a nice bruise.  It’s been sore since then and oven hurts when I’m climbing or using my left oblique.  It was another good night of good climbing with great people.



Went to a new restaurant in the labor camp.  It was cleaner, probably better food, and we found out they DELIVER!  Delicious vegetarian (not everything there, but a decent amount) food for less than $1!  You can’t argue with that, especially when it’s delivered to your room.



Dan Mazur, 7 time Everest summiteer, international high altitude guide, and ambassador the Mount Everest Foundation for Sustainable Development in Nepal was giving a presentation at the Lakes Club.  The plan was for Sam to pick me up at EA and we’d head over there to see it.  The plan didn’t quite work out.  Sam had to give a kid two make-up tests after school then got stuck in traffic trying to get to RIT.  On top of that there had been two times mentioned so we didn’t know if it started at 7:00 or 7:30.  It was after 7 when Sam made it to EA and we headed back across town to the Lakes Club.  Dubai, as always, is full on construction, detours, illogical, and counter-intuitive driving.  This was no different.  We took the directions and somehow ended up on a wrong road.  Sam knew a bit about the area so we tried to make it there but we kept ending up on the wrong side of the road without any way of crossing.  After countless U-turns and zig-zags we finally made it to the Lakes Club at 8:20.  50-80 minutes late for the presentation.  We walked in and found the presentation out on the grass by the water.  As we walked up Dan walked up to the stage.  We got there just in time, we had only missed the time for dinner and a talk by Toby (the author of the UAE guide book).

Dan showed several videos about the work that the Mount Everest Foundation is involved in, talked about climbing Everest, and showed pictures.  He told the detailed story of his first trip up the mountain.  It started by meeting an old Soviet man in a gear store in Kathmandu.  He was attempting to be the oldest (at the time) man to climb Everest.  After a talk in the store he made plans to join the man’s party and two weeks later he was on the summit of Everest.  I was jealous, I wish that something like that could still happen today.  He had joined a Soviet national climbing team during the height of the cold war, but, despite being considered the weak and dumb American, was allowed to climb with them.  He and the old man had been partnered for a summit team and did almost everything they shouldn’t do.  Instead of heading off from the high camp at midnight they waited until sunrise so they could see their path.  They made the summit at 5pm after Dan had helped carry the guys pack every time he stopped.  Just after they began the decent the guy ran out of air and passed out in the snow.  Dan tried to carry or drag him but could barely keep going himself.  Eventually he made the hardest decision anyone could make and decided to leave him in the snow and try to get himself back to high camp.  He felt like he had killed the guy:  he had encouraged him, brought food and water for him, and even helped carry his pack.  After hours of crawling in the dark he somehow made it to camp.  He informed the people there of what had happened and they managed to find and rescue the other guy who was nearly dead.  Later he found out that the guy only had one lung.  He also told about a summit attempt that turned into a rescue when a guy was left for dead by his sherpa (who even poked him in the eye to make sure he was dead).  The story made it onto national news and can probably be found online.  The whole presentation made me want to climb everest even more.