"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for March, 2011

The Last Weekend in Dubai

Doubly happy, however, is the man to whom lofty mountain-tops are within reach.

-John Muir



After presentations for Renewable Energy Systems Javi picked me up and we headed to the Rech cave.  Unfortunately I hadn’t finished the report for my renewable energies project so I spend half the time bouldering and the other half finishing the report.



We got the usual crack of late morning start and headed to Hatta.  I was shocked to see the number of people at the crag:  the group of usually around 10-15 was doubled as well as another group of four.  From the top I counted 14 cars parked at the bottom.  This isn’t a big crowed for people who have climbed other placed, but compared to the scarcity of climbers in UAE it’s like the great migration.

After the approach Javi and I got started on Balrog (6c).  It was a good route with a crux reaching for a hidden hold.  Of course, I didn’t see the hidden hold so I did a several difficult moves on horrible slopers and a tiny pinch.  After that I had wasted so much energy it was a bit of a struggle to do the easier moves but I managed to pull through and get the onsight.  After Balrog Gordon and I wanted to do Thin Slapping (7a).  We began meandering that way but it was still in the sun so we waited for a while and belayed people at the Bat Cave.

(Maddie on Justice League)

(Scooter (left) on Gotham City and Javi on Boy Wonder)

(Javi on Boy Wonder)

Eventually Thin Slapping went into the shade and we moved over to give it a go.  On my very first trip to Hatta I tried the route, but had no idea how hard it was since we didn’t have a book and ended up down climbing.  Since I couldn’t get a true onsight Gordon went for it.  He made it just past where I had made it up to and struggled.  From there it’s a series of awkward technical movies through a couple crux sections the neither of us got clean.  After our attempts we were both knackered and decided not to give it another go.  Regrettably, I never made it back to Hatta to finish the route.

After the beat down on Thin Slapping I tried Boy Wonder.  It wasn’t really an onsight anymore because I had been watching people on it for a while already.  Maybe if it had been a true onsight I would have been able to do it.  As it was I made it through most of the route but twice got stuck trying to do what I thought they had said was the next move, but was actually not.  After a good wrench to my ankle which I felt for weeks after I didn’t try to do the non-move and finished the right way.

The sequence…

(Enjoying the hands free rest)

After another belay break I tried Justice League (6b) and finally got another onsight.  It was a fun overhanging route with a great photogenic start.

Everyone was winding down for the day as we headed back toward the Fridge (one of the areas).  More than half of the cars were gone from the parking area or had people meandering toward them.  But it was still light out, for the moment, and there were still draws on Spiderpig for me to get.  Javi was keen to try it too so I let him give it a go, knowing I would only have time to do it if he couldn’t.  Instead I went to the Fridge to try to get someone to belay me on an absurdly overhanging route called Chloe (6a+).  Nobody was interested.  Everyone wanted to head down so they wouldn’t have to hike down in the dark.  Despite my first experience at the crag, only wearing flip flops for the full hike, and not having a headlamp, I was still eager to get more climbing in.  Maddie obliged and belayed me up the route.  It was interesting because the first bolt was several moves in to avoid excessive rope drag so I got a spot for the first third of the route.  After that I clipped and managed to finagle my way through the rest of the overhangs to the top.  At this point the smart thing to do is lower off and have someone clean it, even if it had just been me again.  Of course, that’s not what I did.  Thinking it would seem worse if I climbed it again I ended up down climbing most of the route to get my gear since it traversed so severely.  When I unclipped the second bolt and began moving to reach the first I hit the end of my rope.  Regardless of the slack Maddie gave me I just couldn’t move any farther.  Once again, the easier option to leave it and get it from the ground was not what I did.  Instead I secured myself directly to a bolt and managed to wiggle my way to some nearly upside angle where I could reach the bolt.  Cleaning the route was officially much harder than leading it.  Even after going to check on Javi, who had completely Spiderpig, we made it down in perfect timing just before it got dark.

We headed back to Gordon’s for the world premiere of Madworld 8, barbecue, and bouldering.  Well, the bouldering didn’t really happen.  Everyone was too tired from climbing and wanted to rest up for the next day.  I, on the other hand, still hadn’t had enough so I bouldered for a bit by myself.  Hamad arrived and we watched Madworld 8.  Laughing, guffawing, teasing, and merriment ensued and continued for the remainder of the night.



The group consensus was a return to Tawaian.  For me that meant one thing: Fujeirah Spaceport (7a+).  Using the first pitch of the climb as a warm up Gordon and I headed straight for it.  To be honest, it wasn’t terribly exciting.  Gordon onsighted it.  With fresh arms I red-pointed it no problem.  I was happy to have finished it, but I know I should have had it my first try so it wasn’t much consolation.  I rested up while watching some of the other guys do a great looking, extremely exposed 2 pitch route called Jebel Jebel (6b).

Next I set my sights on Toby’s newly bolted and finished route called Caracal Branch.  It was a very fun route with several hard moves.  The first move that seemed hard was a big reach to a finger lock under a roof.  It turned out the move wasn’t as hard as it seemed and the finger lock was so good that I got my finger seriously stuck in it and took several tries to get it out.  Next was a seemingly impossible reach to a shark tooth shaped rock.  To my surprise I managed the move.  The route got progressively harder for the next move.  Despite Toby’s beta, I just couldn’t do his powerful pull with a foot at my stomach height and found a way to use some bad side pulls instead.  The best, or hardest actually, was saved for last.  It was an intense move that required a nearly full length lay-out using a side pull and almost no feet.  I was able to do it using a knee bar to get the edge of the hold but to fully get it I then had to slowly remove the knee bar as I inched (or millimetered) my hand into the hold.  After that it was one easy move to the top, by which point I had fallen several times and was nowhere close to getting an onsight, but had hope for the next trip to the crag.

After the two routes I was burned out, but gave Office Clerk a go for a workout.  I managed to do a different method through the crux which I had thought was going to be much more difficult and just hauled my way though the route.  I may have done other stuff, but nothing good enough to stick in my memory so I’ll say that was about the day.

(Preparing for the big crux move)

(The move was so big I went out of the frame)



Despite Thursday being a holiday so everyone had a three day weekend I still only got two days of climbing in.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get anyone to climb with for Saturday even though I certainly tried.  Instead most of the RIT crew headed to the spice souk for another round before we all left.  It was much like previous visits: I was underprepared, although I finally did have a list of spices and prices, and didn’t know enough about what I wanted to buy.  I got some spices to bring home and decided to forgo several of them.  We headed to an Iraqi restaurant for dinner that Andy raved about.  Sadly it was not only extremely expensive, but had absolutely no vegetarian meals.  Maybe it was a good combination though because I only got an appetizer and didn’t have to spend the full money for a dinner.  Overall I was still really disappointed that I had gone to the Iraqi restaurant instead of taking the quick trip across the river for the awesome vegetarian restaurant.  Lots of tiny violins played.  I survived.

Desert Safari

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

-Paul Theroux



RIT organized a desert safari as one of our trips so we stood outside the building at Etisalat waiting for our shuttle.  We piled into a big van and drove eastward out into the desert.  He pulled off on the side of the highway and we waited.  After a while some land cruisers pulled up and picked us and various other people up.  We headed down the road and into the desert in a precession of while land cruisers sliding around on the sand, driving on ridges, and pumping around on dunes.

They stopped on a steep hill, slid sideways to spray sand into the air, and swerved around to give us a good ride before stopping the long line of cars and telling us to take pictures.  We piled out of the cars and played around, took some pictures and played in the sand.

After a few minutes they wrangled everyone back into the cars and were off again.  This time it was a more direct route back to the highway.  We passed the spot where we had been dropped off and headed down a sandy road into the desert again.

We arrived at their “camp” or small city and were set free.

Andy, Stan, and I attempted to sandboard, but something about putting a snowboard on sand doesn’t really make it a sandboard or make it work.  The board stuck to the sand and we had to hop to get going on the tiny hill.  Stan managed to get off balance and tumble head over heels and a very amusing fashion, but unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of it.  It was especially hard to turn since I was barefoot in broken bindings.

Next we headed over for a camel ride which really only consisted of a line of two or three camels walking in a 15m circle.  Never the less, we waited in line, then waited more after people cut us (as is the way, push to the front or wait at the back forever).  Watching everyone on the camels might have been better than the ride itself.  People screamed and held on for dear life when the camels went up with their back legs first to stand up.  The ride was moderately entertaining, but I have now ridden a camel so it’s all good.  It’s actually the first animal, apart from my dog when I was really little, that I have ever ridden.  Overall though I just felt bad for the poor camels who have to endure constant gaggles of annoying tourists or get smacked by the owners.

(No hands!)

(The hard part: not getting pitched over when it goes down)

It was getting closer to time for food so we eagerly walked back to the tables in the middle of the camp.  Dinner wasn’t ready but we got appetizers which were falafel, battered and fried green & regular onion, and small fried dough coated with honey.  We had several rounds before it was time for dinner.  The hoards of people jumped up and formed lines as soon as food was mentioned.  To my surprise and great appreciation there was a massive amount of vegetarian food.  I loaded my plate with Arabic bread, hummus, tebouleh, chickpea salad, salad, biranyi rice, and three kinds of main dishes of which I only identified dal.  More unexpected than the variety of vegetarian food was the quality of it: it was actually great tasting food.  Once we had stuffed our guts with dinner we got a show.  First we got a traditional (for somewhere, not really sure where) dance where A guy wearing a large circular dress spun in circles while working with a bunch of disks.

(Spinning dude doing what he does best)

Next was a belly dance.  The lady was older than expected, but did some interesting dances, especially one where she dance balancing a sword on her head then hip.  Before she had finished our driver found us and said it was time to head out so we left and piled back into the land rovers for the ride back.

Damian’s Boulders

“There were no holds so I had to use skill.”




Thankfully there was no rain and the Climber den stayed dry.  We roused slowly, nobody wanting to exert too much energy after the previous day.  After coffee and breakfast the camping stuff slowly migrated to the vehicles and people migrated to the rocks.

We started out on a boulder right at the camp spot since it had a good mix of grades to appease everyone.  I did the most difficult problem using some compression movies on tiny edges only to realize after that it was probably a full grade harder doing that than using the rounded edge of the boulder.

(The route I mentioned is far left…the only one not being climbed)

Our next move didn’t take us far; people stopped at a highball about 10m away.  After climbing it I sat on top to watch as other people try and nearly got knocked over when the wind kicked up to gale force.  Despite the sunny blue skies the wind continued a cycle of total calm and hurricane force gusts throughout the rest of the day resulting in lots of time spent chasing crash pads and trying to avoid getting our skin sand blasted off.

When everyone had either finished or given up we finally worked our way into the heart of the boulder field to the smooth polished rock.  We bouldering, ate, hung out, enjoyed the sun, and move on to a different spot when we felt like it.  I did several fun problems, the most notable of which was a very thin V6 on a polished face which I did on my second try, but like lots of the climbing in the UAE, I suspect it’s pretty soft for the grade.  I spent a while working on a problem that nobody has done before hoping to make the first ascent.  It starts on a V3 but instead of doing the route traverses left to a tiny pocket and a thumb press or crimp then moves down to match hands on a undercling sloper just above the nonexistent feet and continues over to some pockets and then finally finishes on another problem.  After I began getting close Gordon came to work on it too.

(One move past the undercling match, photo by Samantha Sitterson)

(Trying to reach for the pocket, photo by Samantha Sitterson)

Despite all our attempts we weren’t able to get to the pocket at the end of the miserable undercling part.  Unsatisfied with not finishing the route we headed out early since people were tired and sore from the race.


Wadi Bih Run

Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

-William Faulkner


2/10  Wadi Bih Run Eve!

The back story:  Two weeks prior I found out/decided to do the Wadi Bih Run with some of the people I climb with who enter every year.  It’s a 72.2km relay race from Dibba all the way up into the mountains (passed several areas we climb) with a total elevation gain of over 1000m then all the way back.  I had been running for a while in Dubai, but it had already faded off a couple weeks before I join the race team.  I started running again immediately to prepare in the two weeks I had.  I did alright getting back into it but after my run Sunday before the race I was struck with debilitating shin splints.  I noticed them when I tried to do a short run the next day and could barely run at all.  After the short and painful run Monday I decided it was better to not have shin splints and be out of shape than be in shape and have shin splints.  I didn’t bother running the rest of the week.  Even with the rest I was doubtful; my long walks to the labor camp even caused significant pain so I didn’t know how I would run 15+km.

Wadi Bih Run Eve came and Gordon and I headed up to Dibba to stake out a spot on the beach for our team to camp and register.  We got a later start than planned and made it at 8:58, just in time to register before they closed down for the night to continue drinking.  We talked with some other climbers from the area for a bit until another team member, Simon, arrived.  We settled on a spot and unloaded Gordon’s car to go collect firewood.  We headed back to a construction site and found a pile of scrap wood we could swipe.  The rest of the night we hung out around the fire and carbo loaded.  Our other team members Javi and Maddie (Stocks) made it in at about 10 and 11:30 respectively.  We all were up to after midnight before we finally decided it was a good idea to get some sleep before the race.



I woke up without an alarm to the sounds go people bustling around getting ready for the race.  I checked my watch, 6:30.  I got up, packed up my sleeping stuff, ate two bites of muesli and a banana, popped some asprin to counter the anticipated shin splints, and was ready to go.  We started a bit after 7:30, on the latter end of the pack since running started between 6-8.  The first km was a group leg and all five of us ran while Sam, who had come to hang out and drive for us, drove.  Gordon continued onto the first real leg while the rest of us hopped into the car and cruised up to the next checkpoint.  We warmed up waiting at the checkpoint and Sam offered some topical pain reliever for my shin splints.  They hadn’t started bothering me yet but I liberally applied the cream.  I would repeat this many times throughout the race.  I had to wait a few legs before I got my first chance to run.  I was amped and started out with tons of energy.

(Gordon Rech)

I started running up the wadi I couldn’t help but stare up at the rocks around me looking for good areas to develop for climbing.  My energy decreased quickly as I run up a long steep hill around a boulder field (Damian’s Boulders) in the wadi.  I started to get into a rhythm and kept chugging away until I was around the boulders and Gordon’s car came into sight.  I thought there was no way I had already finished my leg, they must be there to take some pictures.  Sure enough when I got there it was actually the end of it.  I was relieved that it was over but had started to feel like I could just keep going.  With my stage over I hopped in the car and cruised to the next checkpoint.

We stopped for the checkpoint exactly at one of the climbing areas.  Once again, I couldn’t help myself and climbed half of an easy route.  We continued alternating legs, hanging out the windows of the car to look at the rocks, and cheering each other on.  Just before the section of very steep switchbacks we caught up to the group of RIT kids running (Andy, Maddie Burke, Allie, Kristin, and Nina).  Their rental Camry had managed to make it all the way here but they had been offered a ride by Nick, a guy I had meet climbing at Gordon’s , through the next few sections so they didn’t have to try to make it the rest of the way in the low car.  Andy headed off up the slope well before Javi got to the checkpoint for Gordon to take over, but just knowing that they were within sight made me determined to catch them.  Yes, I know, it’s unnecessary for me to be this competitive, but without a competition, even if it’s only a competition to me, I can’t push myself as much.  Gordon took over and did great on the uphill while we waited at the top, next to where we had camped a few weeks before.  One more leg to the 13th checkpoint where we would turn around and I would take over.  Simon ran the leg and we headed to the midpoint.  The top had a great vista of wadis and mountains including the tallest mountain in northern Oman, Jebel Kewee.

(View from the top)

The last bit to the final checkpoint was a long zig zag downhill.  I watched as Maddie (Burke) ran in and waited for Simon.  I met him as he got to the checkpoint and took off after Andy, who was still in sight but almost all the way up the hill.  I had this leg, Maddie (S) had the steep downhill, then I had another short leg; I was determined to catch them on one of my legs.  I got into my rhythm and cruised up the hill passing a bunch of people.  Most of the rest of the leg was slight downhill and I let the road do the work, just placing one foot in front of the other to keep from falling on my face, which I still almost did several times coming around corners too fast.

(Determined to catch them, photo by Gordon Rech)

The 500+m distance had dwindled to less than 200 by the time my leg was over but I hadn’t managed to catch up.  Maddie and Maddie started the steep downhill close together.  There wasn’t much waiting to do once we got to the bottom before Maddie (Stocks) came hurtling down the hill and nearly took me out with the handoff.  Not looking to see who was running for RIT next or seeing if they were close behind I took off again.

(Gordon Rech)

My 1.5km leg went quick and afterwards there was no sign of the RIT kids for the rest of the race.  Now it was on to the next objective: finish in under 6 hours.  I only had one leg left to contribute to reduce our time and we needed an average of about 13 minutes.  It would be tough, but I had been averaging about 12 on the way up so the way down should be quicker.  Maddie and Simon didn’t know if they could finish all their legs and I happily volunteered to take any and all legs.  Gordon ended up taking Maddies and continued his straight through hers.  I struggled with my leg, starting to really feel the 14km I had run as I struggled up the short but very steep section around Damian’s Boulders.  I refused to give in, refused to walk, no matter how much my muscles screamed.  The downhill was great and I let loose feeling like I would surely eat it with how fast I was running for how weak my muscles were.  I defied the odds and remained on my feet.  After that I took half of Simons long leg and half of Gordon’s last leg.  Each time I started running I had trouble running straight.  My feet refused to be placed one in front of the other and wobbled around unsteadily, but I kept running.  The reality of my low blood sugar occurred to me while I was running.  I had eaten two bites of muesli, a banana and a half, and a light granola bar all day.  On top of that I had been drinking as little as possible, all to avoid my stomach sloshing around while I ran.  I forced myself to keep placing one foot in front of the other and refused to slow down.  Finally I made it to the end of the leg and melted into the seat.

We drove to the first/last checkpoint and waited for Maddie.  We were already over 6 hours but had changed the target to beating last years time of 6 hours and 20 minutes.  As we waited for Maddie we watched the minutes tick by leaving less and less time to complete to last 1km group run.  Each red shirt that came into view got us excited but the first three weren’t her.  Maddie made it to the checkpoint with only 2 minutes remaining to beat 6:20.  We couldn’t do it.  We casually jogged the last km to the finish line.

(Samantha Sitterson)

The finish line was behind the hotel and ended at a buffet and bar.  Starving and thirsty I got food and we all got some beer.  I know it’s about the worst thing to do after a race, but it tasted so good.  We hung out, had some food and drinks, and chatted.  There were tons of crazy costumes and team names in the race, a few of the more memorable ones are:  Wadi my doing here?, Wadi ya know, queens of love who were all covered in hearts and instead of using a baton passed along a tiara and a wand with a heart on it, a team in tutus, pirates, an entire kids rugby team, and a group of cavemen (I actually met and climbed with the cavelady the next weekend).  When the ceremonies were done and people were heading out we piled back into cars and headed back to Damian’s Boulders to camp.  After setting up camp and collecting wood I did a bit of bouldering until it was too dark and I returned to the fire.  Everyone hung out around the fire until it started to rain when people dashed for their tents.  Gordon, Javi, and I didn’t have tents set up (they didn’t want to, I didn’t have one) so we piled our stuff into a cave.  Unfortunately as the rain came down harder the cave began to leak through a crack.  I stuffed a crash pad into it and hoped that would be enough, but thankfully the rain eased up and we went to sleep.

(The Climber den, notice the crash pad shoved up into the crack)