"Not all those who wander are lost"

U.A.E.

Bye Bye Dubai

I always love coming home.  The only problem is that I have traveled so many places and met so many great people that I can’t go home without leaving another home.

-Me

 

I’ve been back in the states for over a month now, but I’ve had trouble getting myself to write this last blog about Dubai.  Part of me feels like Dubai was so long ago, even when I just got back, that I shouldn’t be writing this.  The other part of me has been hanging on to this because it’s one more thing from Dubai I could hang on to and I didn’t want to let it go.  But I’m here now and planning on finishing this.  It requires finishing one chapter to begin writing a new one.

The last week in Dubai was a whirlwind.  I had finals Monday and Tuesday (2/21-2/22) so I spent most of my time studying since I couldn’t get anyone to go climbing with me.  I finished finals with a victory over my Renewable Energy Systems final and headed directly over to Gordons for one last night of bouldering.  It was a bit sad to know that it was my last time seeing most of them and my last time climbing for a while but as usual it was a good time.  When it was time to I headed out to Barasti, a relatively renowned beach bar, to meet up with the rest of the study abroad people and some of the local kids.  It wasn’t a big surprise to find the bar pretty empty on a Tuesday night but we hung out and had a good time.

 

Wednesday was uneventful and was mostly spent editing climbing videos since I couldn’t convince anyone to ditch work to go climb.  Sam took me to Fawkies, a huge antique (and/or fake antique) store down some winding road in an industrial area of Dubai.  We spent a while just wandering through the place looking at all the trinkets and useless decorations.  I was looking for some gifts to bring home that would be nice traditional Arabic things, but found more African and Asian stuff than local.  Eventually the man who had been following us through the maze of narrow aisles began to get impatient and informed us it was 5 minutes to closing.  I eventually found a couple things and we headed out.  Despite Sam’s former experiences haggling and getting great deals the whole store was being forced by the government to move to a fixed price system so I ended up paying much more than I wanted.  We headed over to Bur Dubai for one last visit to the awesome vegetarian restaurant.  As usual, it was delicious.  I ate unknown tasty vegetarian food until I couldn’t possibly eat more.

 

Thursday.

My last day in Dubai and I still made it out to climb one more time.  Somehow I convinced Javi to take the day off to climb at Tawayan.  Before I knew it Toby was coming too then Greg and Wendy even showed up.  I was happy to finally get the new route Caracal Branch (7a+ or 7b, I don’t really remember anymore) and I nearly onsighted a 7a, but ended up taking a couple tries.  It turned into a great day of climbing with some great people.  It was bitter sweet in so many ways since I knew I was leaving in a matter of hours.  On top of that, I still haven’t climbed on real rock to this day and have barely even climbed in the gym due to numerous injuries.  If only I could have this day of climbing over again!

(Leaving Tawayan for the last time)

My flight out of Dubai was at 11pm.  We got back from climbing at 7:30pm and I quickly packed my remaining stuff.  Considering climbing gear was well over half my stuff in Dubai this a lot of packing to do.  I managed to get it all done and even ran to the labor camp to get dinner for Sam and I since she offered to give me a ride to the airport.  Of course, naturally I ended up being later than desired and arrived at the airport at 9:20.  It was a good thing I managed to scarf down my entire dinner in the 10 minute drive.  I said good bye to Sam and took one last look at Dubai before I disappeared into the airport.

The Dubai airport was crazy.  At the first security check, before I could even get to the ticket counter, I was held up for not deflating my soccer ball.  Apparently low pressure air is now a considered too dangerous to have on planes.  After being bouncing from one person to another I was finally let through since it was being checked and I couldn’t use the low pressure air to attack anyone.  I checked in and proceeded through the normal security check.  Not wanting to be late for my flight I went straight to the gate and went through a third security (yes, THREE, trios, tres, 3!) check only to discover that there was no bathroom there and I couldn’t leave.  Then of course, the plane was 45 minutes late.  It was a 16 hour flight to Atlanta and I managed to get a solid one to two hours of sleep.  On the bright side I watch 3 or 4 movies, but none was even good enough for me to remember what movie it was now.  I ran through the airport as fast as I could to make my connection, made it through customs with all my dates and spices, and got to the plane with a few minutes to spare.  After another 3 hour flight retracing the path I just traveled I reached the end of the flights; Boston.  I turned on my phone only to find that it had not yet been activated.  I cursed Ian.  Luckily I managed to find dad and we headed north.

Two hours later I dropped him off in Portland and drove the last two hours home myself, in a huge snow storm.  In total it was 33 hours door-to-door.  I was happy to see family, have snow, and when I went into my bedroom I even found a mini Christmas waiting on my bed.  It was nice to be home.

 

I thought about making a couple lists of the things I like and dislike about living in Dubai, but it’s just not worth it. There’s no doubt it has plenty of problems and likewise plenty of good things about it, but in the end only one thing matters.  No, it’s not even the climbing.  It’s the friend’s.  I would rather live in hell with my friends than be alone in heaven.  So thank you everyone for making Dubai home not just a place to live.


The Last Weekend in Dubai

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

-John Muir

 

2/16

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.

 

2/17

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.

 

2/18

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)

 

2/19

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

 

2/15

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.”

-Unknown

 

2/12

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.

 

2/11

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)


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.

-Seneca

 

2/3

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.

 

2/4

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.

 

2/5

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WLWvekKGYA

 

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.

-Unknown

 

1/28

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).

1/29

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

 

1/24

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.

 

1/25

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.

 

1/26

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.

 

1/27

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.


Tawayan

We ought not to occupy ourselves with endevoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.

-Mark Rutherford

 

1/21

The plans made Tuesday were set in motion without excessive complication.  Gordon and Matt picked me up and we headed to Tawayan.  We walked down the steep slope from the little dirt road into the wadi.  The crag appeared around the bend.  The top stretched several hundred feet up from the wadi floor, but to date climbs had only been done on the bottom section.  We warmed up on a short climb while more people from the group showed up.  Gordon and Matt worked on their project climb, a 7c (5.12d) called Echo Beach.  I headed over to a great looking long climb called Stone Pussy (6c/5.11b).  It was a fun climb that incorporated a wide variety of climbing styles.  I had doubts whether I would get it cleanly at times, but I managed to onsight it.

(Dustin on the far left on Stone Pussy)

After a break and a few belays I decided to up the ante and went for an onsight on a 7a+/5.12a called Office Clerk.  I began climbing and realized that it was more overhanging than I had realized and the holds weren’t as good as I had hoped.  I made it half way up before falling at the crux which involved a long reach to a crimp off of a bad hold with almost no feet.  On the second try I found a foot hold a waist height that I could use and stuck the crux no problem.  From there it was all about having the energy and stamina to finish it.  I didn’t.  I fell again at the very top, but once again managed it no problem on the second go.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t onsighted it but pleased that I felt like I should have onsighted a 7a+.

(Me on Office Clerk)

While I was sitting around between climbs one of the other members of the group, Solomon, climbing a 6c (downgraded from the original 7a) yelled.  I looked over in time to see him pull off a chossy bit of rock he tried to grab while standing easily at the top of the route before clipping the anchors.  It was the worst possible spot as well.  The top of the climb was run out and the entire climb was not particularly long.  As he rapidly approached the ground his foot hit the rope and pitched him upside down.  He hit the end of the rope and launched his wife belaying him into the air as his head swung only a few feet above the large rocks on the ground.  That’s why you always make sure you’re pulling on solid rock.  After that Toby, who had put up the route, added another bolt before than anchors to reduce the huge fall if anyone else does the same thing.

Once the drama was over I gave in to peer pressure and tried Echo Beach.  I made it almost half way clean before falling at the beginning of the crux sequence (the crux is much more of a sequence than a single move).  I tried several times and managed to get over it, but then couldn’t clip so I just kept taking the fall.  After several tries I gave up and decided I should stick to 7a+ and not skip to 7c.  Clouds rolled in and brought rain with them.  The crag is overhanging so we managed to hang out right at the base of the wall and wait it out.  By wait it out I mean we could still climb on Echo Beach and Office Clerk because they stayed dry.  After a while the rain eased up but the sky still looked ominous.

(Gordon on Echo Beach)

My second attempt on Office Clerk didn’t go much better than the first.  I made it through most of the route despite a finger bleeding profusely and a growing red blotch on the left knee of my pants, but eventually I just didn’t have the power and endurance to finish.  I was disappointed, but I knew if I did it fresh it would go.

We packed up our stuff and continued on toward Dibba.  I was a bit nervous about crossing the border since I only have the tourist visa, but we didn’t have any problem.  My passport just got shoved behind the others and the guard let us through after only seeing them waved in the air anyway.  We drove up through Wadi Khab Al Shamis, past several climbing areas (Damian’s Boulders, Strip Club, the Narrows, etc.).  Eventually the road winding through the wadi departed and turned to switchbacks up the side of the mountain.  We got to the top and bumped our way to the camping area.  Despite our uncertainty about camping there and possibly getting stuck in a flash flood there was another large group there already.  Rain came and went a few times as we lounged around the fire before eventually going to sleep.

1/22

We roused and ate breakfast.  Everyone was talking about the noises in the night:  apparently two loud shots followed by a short burst of automatic fire were heard in the middle of the night.  I didn’t notice them, but apparently they were what woke me up when I went to the bathroom in the night.  The guess was that it was people trying to cross the border or just shots from the military base just over the ridge from our campsite.  We relaxed and watched a herd of goats ransack the other groups campsite.  Once the goats started trying to eat their tents we intervened and drove them off.  I would have been quicker to help, but they left bags of trash sitting around and need to learn not to do that.  Once everyone was packed up we headed back down the wadi to go to Strip Club.  The plan was to meet Sam there and go to the Narrows since neither of us had gone then meet back up with people at Tawayan in the afternoon.  That plan didn’t quite happen.  We got to the parking spot to meet Sam but she was nowhere to be found.  We drove down the wadi to look for her and try to get service but neither was successful.  Everyone headed up the branch of the wadi to Strip Club and I decided to join since Sam would figure out I went up with them.

Matt was the first on the rock and when he was at the top noticed someone sitting on a boulder down by the road.  I headed back a bit and directed Sam up to the crag.  The area was only bolted in summer 2010 and it had been too hot then to get the hardest route so Matt worked on the unclimbed route while the rest of us climbed the “5” and “6a” that were more like 6a(+) (5.10b/c) and 6b(+) (5.10d/5.11a).  I managed to onsight both routes.  After Sam gave the “5” a go and got up the cruxy/bouldery first half we headed off to the Narrows.  Of course, we made it almost all the way down to the cars before I realized that all my stuff was in Gordon’s locked car.  When I had run back up he told me that they decided they were going to the Narrows soon too.

(Dave on the 6b/6b+)

The Narrows is exactly what it sounds like.  The road up through the wadi (the same we took to our campsite) narrowed down to just the width of the road.  Above was a giant slanted roof.  I decided to work my way up in difficulty and got on the 5 to start.  Snake Farm was a bit more of a real 5 than the one at Strip Club and even though it ended with a decent roof it had great holds through it.  Of course, here had been another demonstration of sandbagging and all of the routes were “fives” so for my purposes I’m using what it should be graded.  The next one was Return of the Texan Chicken, a 6a+ (5.10b), that worked its way up slippery slopers to better holds before a big roof.  The roof had great holds and made it a really fun route.  Maddie wanted me to leave the draws in it so without taking my shoes off or taking a break at all I stepped to the side and began the next route.  Donkey Chase (6b+/5/10.d) was quite similar to the previous route only significantly harder and worse holds.  I made it up to the lip of the roof without problem but the last hold was a razor sharp undercling that I could feel cutting into my hands.  I used a knee bar and reach as high as I could around the edge.  The rock up there was the abrasive and painfully sharp rock found all over the UAE, but still had nothing good to offer in the way of a hold.  I fought to stay on the rock and get a good hold as my muscles tried to give out.  Eventually I found enough of a sloper at the top that I tried to pull myself around the lip but my knee was now preventing forward movement.  I moved back down a bit and freed my knee.  Using everything I had I pulled on the painful rock above and managed to get myself over the bulge and to the anchors.  I initialed the face next to the anchors with the blood dripping from my hand.  Exhausted from the back to back climbs, scraped, sore, and with a hurting shoulder I called it a day.  Some of the group headed out while I belayed Sam on texas chicken.

The rest of us headed out the wadi and stopped in town for some food.  The tiny local restaurant had delicious and very cheap vegetarian “egg rolls.” We all ordered some, then all ordered some more.  After the long day of climbing it was just what we needed.  As we headed back through the border I was a little nervous about having a Wonderwall repeat.  Only a little though because every guard or security person always loves Sam and would probably let her anywhere without having any ID.  It wasn’t a problem.  We cruised back to Dubai looking for a gas station.  The gas light had been on for half an hour and there was still no gas station in sight.  I didn’t particularly want to break down on Emirates road since everyone drives 150kph on it and I doubted people would stop (unless I hid in the car while Sam stood on the side of the road looking distressed).  We managed to find a gas station just at the point when I thought we were actually going to run out for sure.

 


Bouldering Wall!

Why not go out on a limb?  Isn’t that where the fruit is?

-Frank Scully

 

1/18

Math I was moved to Wednesday so I had no class!  Honestly don’t even remember what I did during the day, probably spent most of the time trying to do Senior Design.  The real interest of the day was going to the Rech Cave.  A local climber, Gordon, had invited me to come over on Tuesdays because he has friends come over to hang out and climb, but up until now class had been in the way and I could never get a ride.  Sam’s schedule had changed (somehow she’s the one person who I can convince to come get me to do stuff) and Tuesdays worked for her now.  She picked me up and we headed to Ace and Mirdif to since we never made it before.  After getting quicklinks and webbing we headed to Gordon’s.  It was interesting getting there because, despite living in a fairly large villa community, the turn into the community from the highway just looks like you’re driving off into the desert.  After a few hundred feet the pavement returns, but for some reason neither end is marked or paved at all.

We went in and introduced ourselves.  There were a handful of other people there; it was the most climbers I had seen since being in UAE.  And best of all:  Gordon’s climbing wall which spanned three panels wide, a box feature, and a ceiling panel.  Even better the wall was composed of all problems that were just right difficulty for me to work on for a while and eventually get.  Every time I say I want to travel more this is the counter argument.  When I get homesick, it’s homesick for a climbing wall like this, well, that and moms cooking.  I helped Gordon scheme up new panels to add since apparently lots of what’s there was only recently put in.  We contemplated moving light fixtures, covering the ceiling, cool feathers, and just about anything that would increase awesomeness and size of the wall.  Everyone turned out to be really friendly and fun.  We even made plans to go climbing the following weekend (or more made plans for me to join them since they were already planning on going).  We headed out with plans for the weekend still floating through my head.

 

1/19

Islamic Culture class has been a letdown in terms actually learning about the reality of Islam and Arabic culture.  As a result we have rallied some of the local students and arranged for them to teach us what we really wanted from the class to begin with.  The first class was a little crazy because we had three kids teaching us stuff sometimes at once.  Overall it was great though and I was quite impressed with their preparation and eagerness to teach us.  The first thing I learned is how to write my name in Arabic:

ديلان

 

1/20

The start of Dubai Shopping Festival! Oh joy, just what I’ve been waiting for.  We headed to Dubai Festival City (don’t get excited, it’s just another mall) because our free bus was going there and it’s pretty close to where they were shooting off fireworks.  We grabbed some dinner and headed to Dubai Creek Park in a taxi.  Four of the six people ended up wanting to stay a bit longer at the mall so it only ended up being just Nina and me.  We got dropped off and began exploring the park.  I don’t know whether to call it torture or amazing: there were free bounce houses, inflatable slide, and obstacle courses all for free, and all for little kids so I couldn’t play on them.  A parade banged, clashed, drummed, and sang as people dressed up in all kinds of costumes from across the world and some just from someone’s imagination walked by (some of the costumes were a little reminiscent of West Hollywood Halloween).  As soon as the parade passed everyone began to flood toward the creek so we figured fireworks would start soon.  I found a random tower platform that had some kids in it.  We climbed up and sat in the front and waited for the fireworks to start.  We had the best seats in the house.  The fireworks were spectacular.  Every kind of firework I knew as well as many I hadn’t seen before light up the sky.  The show lasted for 25 minutes just for a shopping festival.  The fireworks ended and we headed back to Festival City to try to catch the free bus going to EA.  Traffic was terrible so we began to walk.  As we headed across a parking lot just outside the park I heard a screech and snapped my head up in time to see a car hit a little boy and send him flying through the air.  I was horrified; it was the first time I’ve ever seen someone get hit by a car in real life.  The mom shrieked and a crowd gathered around the boy.  As we walked past the boy looked to be at least mostly alright and I felt a little better that he looked to be about 10 (initially I thought he was about 4 or 5) and there was no blood gushing.  We continued on, crossing over the creek and headed toward the mall.  Of course, as soon as we were away from traffic we couldn’t find a taxi to bring get us there faster.  We made it back at about 9:45.  Unfortunately the bus which used to leave at 10:30 had left at 9:30.  We gave up and flagged down a taxi to get back to EA.

 


World Travels

New experiences are the key to happiness.

-Unknown/me?

 

Alright, it’s official, I need to travel more!  I just got the following ratings.

  • Worldliness:  is a scout
  • Off the beaten track:  occasionally strays off track
  • Roughing it:  likes a bug-free bed and hot showers
  • Danger:  takes a little risk
  • Shrewdness:  Stays alert while traveling

And the map of my travels so far…

 

I’ll admit that I haven’t been to tons of countries, but this thing really needs to account for more than just locations traveled to.  I spent a month in New Zealand living out of a van or tent, I lived in a abandoned van for a month in Moab, and I have camped in the middle of nowhere just about everywhere I’ve been and this has the audacity to say I like bug-free beds and hot showers?  Bring on the bugs!  There’s just nowhere to put if you stay in a Holiday Inn or a ditch (I usually choose the ditch).

I’ll play along with the shenanigans though, I just need to start ticking off places I want to go.  Here are a few on the higher end of the list in no particular order:

  • Patagonia (Chili & Argentina, especially everywhere including Las Torres and Cerro Torre)
  • Mexico (especially El Portrero Chico)
  • Costa Rica
  • Venezuela (especially Mount Roraima
  • Columbia
  • Brazil (especially Agulha do Diabo near Teresopolis)
  • India
  • Spain
  • Greece (especially Meteora & the islands)
  • Italy (especially Italian Alps)
  • Switzerland (uhh, Matterhorn anyone?)
  • Norway (especially Prekestolen)
  • Canada (especially Bugaboos, Squamish, BC, St Johns, and Mount Thor)
  • Pakistan (especially Nameless Tower and the northern mountains)
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Japan
  • Jamaica
  • Cuba
  • South Africa
  • Australia
  • Iceland
  • Finland
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Russia (especially Siberia)
  • Turkey
  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
  • Nepal
  • Egypt
  • Morocco

…Remember these are just the ones higher up on my list.

If you can’t tell by the list most of my destinations are based on climbing, but if there’s climbing all over the world why not start with those places?  I have a lot of travelling to do and this doesn’t even account for time in each country!  If I don’t answer my phone for the next 1-50 years you should all know why.

 

More posts about my current adventures in progress and coming soon!


Mall, Meatless, & Moving

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.

-Leo Tolstoy

 

1/15

Disaster!  The plan was to climb with Sam Saturday because she was playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tourney Friday, but in her tour to victory she messed up her knee and couldn’t climb.  We made plans to meet up in the evening to go to a vegetarian restaurant (I love having other vegetarians around to eat with) and get some climbing stuff.

In the mean time the Roc crew was planning on heading off to Ibn Battuta Mall on the other side of Dubai so I decided to join.  We did the usual hop skip and a jump and were at the mall.  As we walked up to the front we found a huge balloon tied down.  We debated whether it was an actual hot air balloon or just another mall decoration.  As we approached the entrance we found ourselves in Egypt.  The mall is broken down into different countries (Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, and China) and decorated accordingly.  Walking through the mall we found statues and figures in each one as well.  Egypt had an early 25ft sun dial, Persia and the Elephant clock (though not working was cool since we learned about it in Islamic Studies), and China had an enormous ship.  We walked to the China end where there was an outdoor garden with restaurants.  Mike, Maddie, Steve, and I got some amazing food at Lime Tree Cafe.  I had an awesome orzo salad and eventually gave in and went back to get a huge, delicious slice of carrot cake.  Hunger sated we continued exploring the world.  The other three went to get some Yongen Fruz so I headed into GoSport to check what they had for climbing gear.  I was disappointed that their entire stock consisted of one glass cabinet with a few slings, biners, and cams.  I was interested to see some Wild Country Zero series cams.  They had the smallest one which was only rated to a few kN, was so light I could barely tell it was there, and had lobes only a couple mm wide.  Clearly not a piece you want to fall on (it’s only used for aid climbing).  I met back up with everyone and we wandered a bit more before I decided it was time to head out so I could get groceries at Lulus and meet up with Sam.  As I walked out the door I noticed the balloon in front of the exit was now a hundred feet up.  It was no open and taking people up for rides.  It was, of course since this is Dubai, the largest tethered balloon in the world.

The trip to Lulus on the metro was longer than expected and compounded with the impossible to find entrance I got there about when I was supposed to meet with Sam.  I dashed around getting what I could find off my list and was just about done when she got there.  I had only found a fraction of the things I wanted but evenings are just not the time to do any grocery shopping anywhere in Dubai so I called it quits.  We headed off to Bur Dubai to the vegetarian restaurant (the one Andy, Stan, and I made it to after the long search).  Saravana Bhavan (the restaurant) was delicious as expected and of course neither of us had any idea what we were actually buying but it’s all vegetarian so we didn’t care.  On the way back to EA we planned to stop at Ace hardware to get some quicklinks for climbing and Decathlon to get some webbing.  The only problem was our navigation or lack thereof.  Neither of us remembered what road Ace was on, just that it was between Emirates road and Sheikh Zayed road.  We took a guess and ventured off.  Our plan didn’t quite work.  If you’re not familiar with roads in Dubai they are a nightmare.  The great Maine saying “ya cant get theya from he’ya” was taken to heart in the construction of the roads here.  Roads don’t lead where they seem to and never have exits where you want them.  Eventually we ended up in Sharjah, the next emirate up from Dubai and couldn’t seem to find our way back to Emirates road.  At one point we saw a sign saying Dubai.  We followed the indicated direction only to find at the next roundabout another sign saying Dubai pointing back the way we had just come.  Call it a miracle, call it luck, call it my mad skills driving when Sam and I switched (her hurt knee wasn’t fond of driving), but eventually we managed to find our way back to Emirates road.  We had abandoned the attempt at Ace and Decathlon long before so I headed back to EA and said bye to Sam.

 

1/16

My roommate Tido had requested to go back to a single (aka boot me out).  I had talked to RIT people and everything was supposed to be arranged for me to get my new room key and move out between Thursday and Saturday.  That was all well and grand but the only person from EA that knew about it was apparently sick and didn’t tell anyone else about it.  I checked in with the front desk three or four times over the weekend to try to get it sorted but nothing got resolved until Sunday night.  I loaded up my stuff and moved down the hall.  I went from living with Achmed to living with Ahmed.  It was rather uneventful although amusing to see exactly how much stuff I have here.  The real amusing part is that 75% of it is climbing and camping gear.  I had been shoving little things in my pockets to carry them to my new room.  This however turned out to be a terrible idea with superglue.  I pulled a handful of junk out of my pocket and the lid got pulled off in the process.  Thankfully I realized quickly what had happened.  As superglue poured onto my hand I managed to toss everything else on the floor, grab the lid and cap it.  My index finger was covered in glue and I barely managed to remove my middle finger from it before the glue set.  Close call, but it only resulted in some glue on my finger and no fingers glued to phones (caugh caugh).  Moving didn’t take too long and it was relieving because I didn’t start until almost midnight.  My stuff in place I headed to bed.

In the middle of the night I got a phone call.  I answered without looking at the number or thinking about it.  It was some random person looking for Mario.  I told him he had the wrong number and was ready to go to hang up.  He wasn’t.  He insisted it was Mario’s phone and kept asking how I got it.  I was too grogy to think to hang up on him so I kept explain it was my phone.  Then he started threatening to call the police because I stole Mario’s phone.  I was pretty unimpressed.  He clearly didn’t know I had the cheapest possible phone.  I explained one more time and was about to hang up but he beat me to it.  I had talked to him for two and a half minutes, at 3:30AM.  I found out the next morning that Andy had received a call from the same number a minute before but hadn’t answered.  Michelle and I called the number back that afternoon.  The guy said his name was Achmed but wouldn’t give his last name.  Trying to figure out who it was Michelle asked if Bruno (RIT student) was there, the guy asked if she meant Brazilian Bruno.  It was an RIT student.  That was about as much as we found out, but if it didn’t cost to call people I would call the number back all the time and annoy the hell out of them.


SDR & 5.12s

To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.

Gail Sheehy

 

1/13

It was a crazy, hectic, week from hell preparing for my System Design Review (SDR).  Andy, Allie, and I spent almost every waking minute trying to prepare.  Thursday came well before it was wanted.  The day started out with a tour of the local desalination plant in Jebel Ali.  It was great to see the largest desal plant in the world, especially since we learned about it in my Renewable Energy Systems class and are doing desal for our Senior Design project.  It was disconcerting to find out that they don’t even remove fish from the water before blasting it with chlorine and killing everything.  There was even a large dead fish floating in the first reservoir.  Unfortunately the actual flash desalination takes place in large chambers that are not visible, but we got to track the entire process and see all of the other processing that goes into creating drinking water from sea water.  To top it off we even got polos, a computer mouse, and fed mini sandwiches at the end that were tasty and vegetarian.  Interesting, informative, and free food: all the components for a good tour.

We headed back to RIT for our last few hours of preparation and our SDR.  We practiced the portion of the presentation we had each decided to present for a few hours until the time came and the real thing got underway.  Dr. Hensel, the head of the ME department was in Dubai for the week and attended our review in person so we were a bit nervous about it.  Other than skype working even more poorly than normal, the whole thing went alright.  Having Dr. Hensel there in person turned out to be very helpful as we could talk with him in person for the first time during our project.

The three of us made it back to EA just in time to grab a bite of food and head out to celebrate with the rest of the gang at Fibber McGees.  We had dinner, chatted, belted out songs we knew when they were played (ok, that was mostly just me and Andy) and had a jolly good time.  Much later than I should have been back since I was climbing in the morning the first group headed back to EA and I joined.

 

1/14

I woke up to my phone ringing.  It was Brian.  He was already at my building to pick me up.  Apparently I forgot to set alarms or just slept through them all.  I grabbed my climbing gear, some water, and some snacks and stuffed them into my backpack and ran out the door.  I was still exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated when we got up to RAK to climb.  The group ended up being Brian, Renata, Ludmil, and me.  I pounded water, ate some of my snacks, and we walked up to the base of DickinaDozer to climb.  I skipped the easiest climb and worked my way up the other four from the 5.10a (Motivate) to the 11.b (Reach for the Sky).  They were a good set of climbs and by the time I had done a couple of them I totally forgot about being hungry or thirsty, I just wanted to climb more.

(Me on Dog Leg Interruption, 5.10b/c)

Brian and Renata headed off while Ludmill and I did the 5.11b so once done we headed around the corner to Zombie Skull where there were some more routes.  There are several easier routes that we had done during xmas break but I had my eye on the prize:  The Space Between.  It’s a F6c+ in the book, but the consensus is that it’s a 7.a+ (5.12a) route that goes up the almost blank side of a giant boulder.  I geared up and started to lead it.  I got as far as the first bolt and kept trying some ungodly hard moves to get higher off a razor sharp two finger pinch.  It wasn’t working.  After a while of trying things I finally gave up and came down.  I was planning on leading and easy trad line that I could use to get to the top of the boulder and set a top rope when a guy showed up.  He introduced himself as Ralph, the guy who had bolted the newer and easier (than 5.12a) routes Renata and Brian were on.  We chatted for a bit and he told me that the bolts on The Space Between were weird and that I actually don’t really follow them but stay to the left more.  Before resorting to the TR I gave it another go.  This time things worked out better.  I stayed to the left and made it past the second bolt.  The holds were tiny and sloped, but I pulled through and made it up the first part.

(Me on the lower part trying to get up to the second bolt)

(Me about to reach the top of the lower section)

The route got a positive grade and I scrambled up the 15 ft to the next section of hard climbing.  I was on the left side of a rounded edge of a slab face with no holds.  I worked my way up and down a couple times trying to find a way to get myself all the way onto the slab.  I managed to find the two smallest crimps and with some tricky footwork and lifting my foot above my waste I found a sequence I thought would work.  The first couple moves worked out but as I had to stand up onto my foot which was on a steep slope and balance using holds that were well blow my waste when I stood up I was precariously positioned.  Before I could reach up to find another hold my foot slipped and I went sliding backwards off the rock.  Back down 15 ft below I was disappointed, but knew it would work if I could balance.  I went back up and tried again, this time I was more unsure of my foot.  I had to bounce a bit to keep sliding it up and reposition it which is never a fun thing to do when one foot is the only thing I had to hold me up.  It worked though.  I stuck the move and finished some slab moves up to the top.  So much for the difficult part at the bottom, this was definitely the crux.

After Ludmil had a go on The Space Between on TR we moved the rope over and I TRed Cyclops Eye (7a in the book, 7b or c by consensus which is 5.12b or d).  I was already tired but managed to haul my way up the decent holds and hard moves to the top with a few stops along the way.  It was no clean run or even a lead, but it sure worked the muscles.

(Throwing up a heel hook to get over the lip of the roof)

(In the eye of the cyclops)

Still not burned out enough I decided to lead Axis of Evil (5.10b) because it was the only bolted route there that I hadn’t done.  It was a good finisher, fun moves, but not terribly hard or requiring lots of energy.

After that we headed back to the car.  Despite the rough start and not having a real meal all day it had been a great day of climbing and I did the most routes I had done in a day in the UAE, including an 11b, 12a, and TRed 12b/d.  Before I didn’t know that I could even do a 5.12, but as I headed back I decided I have a new goal:  climb at least one 5.12 every weekend.


Borders and Boundaries

Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

-Miriam Beard

 

1/8 – Wonderwall day 2

We slept in after the previous evening’s epic.  Finally I mustered the energy and rolled out from under my blanket (I still didn’t get my sleeping bag or pad back so I was just using a blanket).  I started a fire using the well earned wood.  I loaded my pot with the largest portion of oatmeal that could fit, cooking the mix of oats, raisins, walnuts, apple, and banana on the open fire.  It was amazing.  Part of that may have been due to my residual hunger, but it was pretty tasty anyway.  We ate, packed up camp, and headed over to where we wanted to climb.  Ironically camping at the crag didn’t get us started any earlier in the morning.

We started on High rise, a moderate 3 pitch sport route.  I climbed to each set of anchors and set up the belay.  Much to my chagrin the more I climbed the more I realized I could have linked two of the pitches if not all 3.  At least the climb got Sam’s average down to 50% epics on multipitch climbs.  The route put us on top of a big ledge.  To the side were two more great looking climbs on the vertical face continuing up.  I choose Zoot Allures (5.11a) because it was harder and looked less confusing.

(Inspecting my route up Zoot Allures)

I set my camera up using my gear to angle it up at the climb, but unfortunately the ledge wasn’t big enough to get the entire route in the frame.  I started off on some not too difficult but pumpy moves on an overhang.  Pulling through that the route continued on a very sparsely featured face with tiny crimps, smaller than half a pad on my finger.  The climbing continued like this 80 feet to the anchors with occasional good holds thrown in.  It was an excellent climb.  If that description somehow didn’t bore you then you might be interested in checking out the full climb here.  We walked off down a chute between the cliff and the huge slab of rock that High Rise was on.  Back at the bottom we decided to head over to the opposite end of the crag to check out a couple different areas that looked to have some good routes: Mordor and Gondor.

On the walk there we spotted a cave at the base of the cliff.  Depending on where you were the dark and light blotches on the wall of it made it look like there was either a large cat, G’mork from Never Ending Story, or some even larger beast.  The final scramble lead to a shelf at the base of a small face with an 8 ft wide roof at the top.  This is what I came to Mordor to climb: the Uruk-Hai Overhang (5.11a).  I gave Sam an anchor so she couldn’t risk stepping back and tumbling down the slope and started the route.  The face was fairly space, but not especially difficult.  The roof was a beast.  There were good holds through the roof, but by the time I tried to pull the lip back onto the vertical I had no energy left in my arms and no love for the razor edges on the hold I was pulling on.  Sadly I didn’t get it clean, but I managed to grab the sharp rock and pull myself up to the chains.  Cleaning my draws off the route while on rappel was quite an adventure too.  Finishing that I decided there was enough daylight to get in one last route so we headed over to Gondor and climbed My Precioussss.  It was another moderate face climb and ended up being a great end to the weekend.  We headed back down to the car and made it there at the perfect time to get as close to dark as possible without having to actually hike down in the dark.

Thoroughly exhausted from the weekend of climbing and unanticipated hiking we headed back toward Buraymi, the UAE, and Dubai.  We only got as far as the first.  We waited our turn in line at the border crossing again, but instead of the slew of questions this time they just said no.  I, of course, was the problem.  I had officially exited the UAE, but never received an entry stamp from Oman and they would not issue a new entry stamp for UAE unless I had entered and exited another country.  We were handed a set of poor directions that didn’t really show anything and told we needed to go 50km back the way we came.  Annoyed that we hadn’t received any instruction on what to do the first time through when we had told them we were only going to Buraymi we headed back through the land of no country to find the mysterious Oman border.  It actually wasn’t hard to find since it was back the way we came.  In fact, we even passed the small turn off that lead to Wonderwall on our way.  We found the building and went in to get our stamps.  I handed him 200dhs and he stamped my entry and my exit at the same time.  We turned back around and headed for Buraymi, again.  Once again, we didn’t get far.  There was a small shack with a guard collecting slips of paper from everyone who had gone through the border.  We had no piece of paper.  Whether it was because we didn’t actually go through the border or because the guy had just forgotten was unknown, but we were beckoned to pull off the side.  Sam explained our lack of the all important paper to the guard and he got on the phone.  It was decided that a couple dumb Americans were not a security or customs threat and we were allowed to continue on.  Our second attempt to re-enter the UAE proved successful, although the wait in line was much less exciting (they have a TV and on the first attempt they were playing something about climbing).  Back on the right side of the fence we headed back to Dubai, two hours after we first got to the border crossing.

 


Epic at Wonderwall

Good memories not good decisions

-Unknown

 

1/7

The weekend epic began with an early start.  I was up by 5:30 with only a couple hours of sleep but with the enthusiasm of looking forward to two days of climbing sleep was far from my thoughts.  Nearing the end of my allowed time in UAE I had to leave the country to get a new passport stamp.  The plan to go back to RAK for the weekend was foiled, but instead a new opportunity arose.  RIT would pay for my passport stamp so I could finally climb in Oman.  Keeping this in mind Sam and I settled on Wonderwall, a large and highly talked about crag just over the border.

We arrived at the border between Al Ain and Buraymi and the confusion began.  We drove through the toll booth style entry.  Nobody inhabited the booths so there was no getting checked and no instructions given.  Sam, familiar with going to Oman, knew we needed to go inside to get our passports stamped.  We found some parking spots and a poorly marked building.  Half a dozen doors spattered the side of the building.  Our first attempt was unsuccessful.  We were told we needed to go farther down the building.  Some border officers noticed the dumb, lost Americans and played a nice game of hot-or-cold with us to direct us to the correct door.  When it was our turn we walked up to the desk.  Explaining our plan to go climbing several times they kept asking if we were only going to Buraymi.  Confused we just said yes and paid our 35dhs a piece and continued on our journey.

We came out though a road cut that revealed a great vista.  The desert ahead spread into a small village and beyond the village was the piece de resistance, Wonderwall: a long stretching wall 150m tall.  We drifted our way through the soft sand to the base of the scree and boulders.  Abandoning the car we trekked up the slope to the base of the first area we planned on climbing: Spaghetti Western.  It was a smooth blank looking slab from farther away, but provided sufficient crimps.  Already having picked out the first climb to be a two pitch sport route, Hang em High.  It was good fun climbing through the whole route.  This was Sam’s second multipitch route and the first one where she didn’t get stuck on top for hours in the dark with no light.

Keeping with the trend we moved to another route where Sam got her second lead climb.

It was still early afternoon so we decided to go to the next section over and do a long moderate 3 pitch trad climb that had been rated highly in the book.  The route, Toothless Fox, proved to be confusing from the start.  I had to search to even find the start and ended up climbing ~40ft before I could place any gear or get onto what I knew was actually the route.  The pitch continued in the same manner, only offering up gear placements ever 40ft until I reached a small round alcove which I could stand in, the belay spot.  The problem with this was there was almost nowhere to place pro, especially the 3 minimum pieces for an anchor.  I moved all around trying to find any good crack but was not rewarded.  Finally I returned to the alcove and began to try to place gear.  Testing my first attempted cam placement I yanked on it, breaking the flakey rock it was on and slammed my elbow against the rock.  I attempted a tricam but only managed to punch the rock again and cut up my knuckles when I tested it.  Eventually I managed to find some tenuous placements: a sling looped through a hole, a solid tricam, a sketchy tricam that popped out of it’s cam position but held as nut, and a scary looking but relatively solid cam placed in the constriction on the outside of a runnel.

Sam climbed up, the anchor help, and I started the second pitch.  It was more of the same:  the description was poor and more confusing more than helpful.  I ended up traversing, per the book, creating absurd rope drag when I got to the long sloping ledge that was the next belay  spot.  Unable to pull the rope through I was forced to sling a bit of rock and down climb to my last (and first of the route) cam.  Searching the ledge there was no protection for an anchor.  The ledge sloped inwards to a large wide crack leaving nothing but a crack twice the size of my largest cam.  I found one large boulder in the crack that I hoped was actually attached.  After moving other rocks around to get to it and testing if I could budge it the rock seemed solid.  I built an anchor of three pieces on the boulder and hoped it would stay.  Sam didn’t really test it, but it remained in place.  The third and last pitch finally provided a growing number of gear placements.  The climbing eased as I neared the top so although I finally had the option to place enough gear, I passed up the opportunity anyway.  My run-out tactics were not without reason though.  Darkness was quickly approaching and we needed every minute possible, dealing with gear would have just slowed me down.  It was only Sam’s second multipitch trad climb and I had told her she wouldn’t have to climb in the dark as she had been forced to do before.  She made it to the top just as it was getting dark.

Descending was a whole new epic.  The book describes a slanting rake that is the only way to the top for hikers but we found no such path.  Sam had her headlamp, but I had been sure we started early enough that I didn’t bring mine.  We found what we believed was the decent path and traversed a zig-zagging ledge.  Thanks to the darkness I could not tell, and therefore could forget easier, that next to me the cliff continued hundreds of feet down to the ground.  Several minutes of this moonlight traverse on the narrow ledge brought us to the end.  The ledge melded back into the cliff and we had no way down.  Still not knowing how high we were I decided not to try to rap off from an outcrop of rock fearing it was too high.  It was a good thing because the next morning I spotted our location 2/3 up the cliff).  We turned around and hiked back to the top.  I was sure that we needed to continue farther along the cliff top to find our decent, or worst case find the rap rings for climbs a ways down Wonderwall.  It looked like an awkward traverse around a bulge to continue along the top so Sam decided she’d had enough uncertainty.  We walked back a bit and descended the scree on the back side of the cliff to walk around.  It soon proved to be a primrose path.  The farther we descended the farther we had to go.  Trying to find the end of the crag I walked over a ridge while Sam kept going down to get off of the scree.  The end of the crag was not over the ridge or over the next one either.  From there I could see the clear cliff line stretching way out in front and to the left.  Unfortunately we had already committed to going this way and neither wanted to hike back up and figure out another way down.  I headed back to catch up with Sam but all I could see was a flickering dot in the distance.  I sped down the remaining scree to catch up, going as fast as I could carrying my rope and rack without having any light.  I got down to the flat, rocky desert but could no longer see any sign of light.  Perfect.  I jogged in the direction of the end of the cliff with my gear rattling like a cowbell on my harness.  I held still for a minute and heard a pleasant sound:  “cling, cling, cling.”  No light but I could still hear the gear on her harness.  I kept jogging, pausing ever few minutes to listen and reorient myself.  I caught up quickly in part thanks to Sam because she stopped, thinking she was being stalked by a goat.  We walked.  We walked.  We, oh yeah, walked more.  Finding some good boards to use for firewood we picked them up and continued on carrying our new weight.  After an eternity we made it to the edge of the small town that had looked so far away from the top of the crag.  Lights shown on something exciting, judging by the yells, happening on the other side of an out of place looking fence with barbed wire.  Semi trucks screamed passed us several times a minute from a nearby mining operation.  We continued walking.  I execrated the cliff and more so our decision.  Trucks sped by.  We (wait for it) walked more.  We continued to trudge around the cliff until time faded and reality blurred.  Our usually great conversation had been replaced by internal musings of taxis, ATVs, camels, horses, buffets, pot lucks, and feasts.  Eventually trudging even took over all other thoughts.  Thankfully Sam was no kvetch and stayed positive despite our weariness.  Still thinking we needed to turn the corner before we would be in front of Wonderwall I was pleasantly surprised when Sam mentioned trying to find a path through the rocks to the dunes in front of the cliff.  I inspected the area: we were almost back to Wonderslab.  Life came rushing back.  A couple more minutes of walking barefoot through the sand and I was treated to the best sight all day: Sam’s car.  It was a glorious sight.  We dumped the gear and laid in the sand, easing aching shoulders and hips that carried rope and gear for our entire epic.  I checked the time to see that it was after 10:00.  We had topped out before 6:00.  Our journey had taken over four hours.  I kicked myself for not insisting we continued around the awkward traverse to find the decent route or some rap rings.  Unfortunately my rope bag and backpack were still up at the base of the climb.  I hiked back up to get my stuff while Sam set up camp.  We at the best tasting cold rice and beans of my life and went to bed without bothering to make a fire with the wood we had just carried for miles.

…to be continued


Climbing Video!

Climbing may be hard, but it’s easier than growing up.

-Ed Sklar

 

I added a climbing video to youtube!  This is from 1/7 at Wonderwall.  I didn’t edit it down to the action sequence so it’s as long as it took me to climb and unfortunately I could get the camera angle to include the overhanging start.  The blog post will come soon but I’m still working on catching up.  My life has been consumed by Senior Design all this year, but I should be able to start catching up now that my review is done.  In the mean time check out my video:

 


Ending the Year in Style

I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads.  Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.

-Rosalia de Castro

 

12/29

I spent the morning cleaning up my room, cleaning my rope and gear, and packing it up to go climbing.  By the time I had finished I felt like I was basically moving out of my room.  I had my backpacking pack filled with my camping stuff (primarily the tent I borrowed from Michelle which took a lot of room) and food, my regular pack filled with climbing gear, my rope bag, and a 5L jug of water.  I got a hold of Brian, a Michigander who’s been living in Dubai for several months who I climbed with at RAK, and we planned to meet at the nearest mall between 4:30-4:45.  I loaded all my stuff into a taxi and headed to the mall.  Unfortunately my driver didn’t really speak English or know where Decathlon (the store where I was to meet Brian) was in the mall.  He dropped me off at the main entrance.  It was still only 4:20 so I figured I would just hang out there so I didn’t have to carry my stuff all through the mall.  After a while I started getting concerned that I still hadn’t heard from Brian.  I tried calling but there was no answer.  By 4:45 I decided to at least walk to the entrance by Decathlon so I asked directions and headed to the NE entrance.  After a while there I decided to go in and check the store only to find out that it was on the opposite side of the mall.  Looking like a fool I tromped back outside and down to the SE entrance.  Please note that every time I walk somewhere I have a big backpack on, my smaller but heavy backpack of climbing gear on the front, a rope bag on one side, and a 5L jug of water in the other hand.  I definitely looked like a vagrant.  Down at the other end of the mall I didn’t have any better luck.  I walked into Decathlon, received some very weird looks, and found out that Brian wasn’t in the store either.  I began to debate calling it quits and getting a cab back to EA since it was after 5:30.  I headed back outside to wait near the parking lot.  Seeing come shopping carts I finally had the idea to get one to carry all my stuff.  An hour late, but still helpful.  Unfortunately it cost a dirham to get and I had no coins.  Instead I waited until an unsuspecting victim exited the mall with a cart and walked to her car.  As she closed her trunk I pounced:  “Would you like me to take that for you?”  “Oh, yes please.”  At last, I didn’t have to haul all my stuff.

A minute later I got a call from Brian saying the grocery store had taken longer than expected and he didn’t bring his phone in, but he was on his way now.  With my cart in tow and ride on the way I headed back into Decathlon and looked at gear until Brian, Renata, and Athina (Renatas adorable 4 year old daughter) arrived.  We headed out at 6.

I spent most of the ride up to RAK being the eagle while Athina was the horse until she fell asleep.  We found our camping spot near the crag and set up camp.  I opened the tent I borrowed from Michelle and gawked at its enormity.  It could easily fit 6 people and when set up I could easily stand in it, and not just in the middle.  We scavenged wood, made a fire, and hung out for a while before heading to bed.

 

12/30

I woke up several times starting  at 6am but seeing that nobody else was up continuously went back to sleep until it was nearly 8.  Everyone slowly roused and packed things up.  They wanted to explore the area so we headed up a bit of a canyon.  Remains of old Bedouin buildings were scattered all over the area.  Just before the wadi ended there was a cluster of huts more intact than the rest.  It was neat to see one that, other than part of the roof, was completely intact.  It emphasized the diminutive design of the buildings.  The doorway was only a small square just off the ground only big enough to fit my shoulders diagonally.

We eventually arrived at Zombie Skull, the area where Brian had heard there were 20 new routes, by late morning.  The problem was that there were only a few new routes.   We climbed them anyway although none were very difficult and I alternated between playing with Athina and climbing. While Brian was on the top of a climb a goat meandered across some ledges a hundred feet above him, as if to say “whacha doing down there?”  People think of monkeys as climbers, but I’ve also seen goats do things that most people cant do.

(Click to enlarge so you can see the goat better)

After a couple routes we headed out and went to another area, Disk World.  It had several longer moderate face climbs.  We did one and I wanted to do the hardest one (not that hard overall), but with the sun getting ready to set we headed back to our camping area.  On the way back to the car Athina found a goat horn and a stick and decided she was a billy goat.

(My weekend buddy/entertainment/just plain adorable)

It had been quite a long time since I got to hang out around a camp fire.  We chatted, schemed, and ate around the fire.  More beginner climbers would be climbing with us in the morning so Brian and I decided to head out before 7 to get a few hours of hard climbing in first.  I had abandoned using a tent for the night and strung up my hammock from the thorn tree nearby.  Unfortunately in doing so I had scraped myself up far more than during the day of climbing.  I crawled into my hammock and began my night of sleeping in two hour increments.

12/31

With much difficulty I roused myself at 6 to climb.  After cooking some oatmeal on the fire I attempted to wake Brian.  No luck.  Looks like the early morning climbs wouldn’t be happening.  I scrambled up the nearest ridge and hiked from one ridge to the next all around the area until I spotted signs of life from the camp far below.

We got another late start and headed to Roadside crag.  Brian and I rope gunned some easy routes for everyone else then had some time to do more challenging routes.  I lead Thug Monkey, the 5.11a I had TRed the last time.  I was happy that I cleanly and calmly managed the moves that felt desperate before.  Brian wanted to try another route before then lead Thug Monkey so we pulled my rope and headed around the bend to Peckers Poke.  It was a great layback crack and the first layback I’ve seen in the UAE.  I cruised through it and TRed the unprotectable but quite fun very thin face to the side of it.  From the top I tossed the rope down and headed around to do the same to the two TRs.  Unfortunately once I did this and hiked around to the bottom Brian informed me that one of the ropes got stuck and we needed to re-climb the route to get it.  While Brian chased the rope I headed back up Thug Monkey since Brian decided he didn’t want to do it after all and I had gear on it still.

Eventually we had collected all our gear and loaded back in the cars to go to Farside Crag.  I started on Devils Slide.  I climbed an easy section 25 ft tall before I could clip the first bolt.  From there I fist jammed through 35ft of a smooth crack with bolted protection until it opened up for 35ft of trad in which I decided to only place 1 piece of gear before I decided it wasn’t worth the time.  It was an interesting and certainly diverse climb.  Last, but not least was Angels way: another tall route, this time all bolted, that varied from chimney to face climbing resulting in some great and interesting climbing.

The sun had set.  It was dark in the wadi (canyon basically) as we cruised down the windy road back into Ras Al-Khaimah.  It was New Years Eve and I still had no idea what I was going to do.  After a quick talk with Andy it didn’t seem like much was going on in Dubai so I decided to head to an unknown party in the desert organized by John, the 65 year old climbing machine who has set most of the routes in RAK.  I was uncertain what it would be like but as we drifted through soft sand lights were visible over the dunes.  We crested the hill and all my doubts about this being boring melted away.  Arriving at 9:00 we were already on the late end of things, at least compared to the hundred or so people who were already gathered around the bonfire and many barbecues.  Someone even brought a pair of huge speakers that we blasting from the back of a truck.  We join in the ruckus, meet people, danced, and had a great time.  My New Years Eves seem to have finally recovered from two bad ones in a row.  Now I just want to continue 2011 the way NYE was: climbing and festivities.


East Coast Exploration

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

-Jawaharial Nehru

 

12/27

Spent most of the day doing nothing but ended up hungry with no food and it was still too early for the dining hall (more of a catered dinner each night).  It was the perfect opportunity to explore the restaurant in the labor camp.  Stan and I ventured out the gates of EA, past the mosque, and across the dusty dirt soccer “field” to the restaurant.  We walked in and took a seat.  A marker board hanging on the wall listed about 12 options.  Not knowing what anything was and not wanting to get something with meat I attempted to ask what was vegetarian.  It was quite confusing because he barely spoke English and I don’t speak any Hindi or Arabic.  After quite a bit of confusion I managed to order Alu Palak which I was pretty sure wouldn’t have any meat and some roti.  The food arrived in a couple minutes.  The roti was the largest I have seen, about a foot in diameter.  The alu palak was not quite such a large portion (and had no meat), but both were excellent.  After we finished up our food we got our check.  11dhs.  My part was only 4 ($1.08).  Great food.  Amazing price.

After dinner I went to play soccer with Andy, Stan, and Omar.  Unfortunately the field had already been reserved.  We went on anyway and played on the unused side of the field.  A kid of the people who reserved the field came and played with us so we played 2v2 with Andy in goal.  He was pretty good considering he was only about 8 and barefoot.  The only problem was that he was scared of Omar after he blasted a shot that Andy unintentionally saved with his face.

 

12/28

We woke up early to head out on a hike to Wadi Wurayah.  Michelle and her friend Akheel picked Stan, Andy, and I up at 5AM to head to the east coast for a hike.  Unfortunately we missed some turns and took a bit of the long way around so we went all the way up to Ras Al-Khaimah, down to Fujairah, then back up almost to Dibba turning our 1.5 hour trip into a 4 hour trip.  Our plan to arrive before sunrise to see some wildlife was further foiled by the terrible directions we got online.  Not quite knowing where to go we stopped at a parking lot next to a dry dam.  We were pretty sure we weren’t at the wadi but hoped we could hike the last bit to it.  We hiked down to the dry creek bed.

The mud from past floods tiled the ground and curled up where it had cracked apart.  We found feline foot prints dried in the mud and small wild melons all over the cracked floor.  Most of the melons were dried up, but a few were still healthy looking.  I cracked one open with my knife and tried a little piece.  It may not have been bad but it certainly wasn’t ripe.  It was the most bitter thing I have ever tasted.  I washed my mouth out immediately.  That didn’t help.  I ate an apple and drank some more water.  Eventually the bitter taste subsided.  We spotted a small offshoot that looked interesting and began hiking up it.  Exploring and meandering we worked our way up the dry bed a little ways passing a hole or den some kind of cat had dug out.  After a bit we agreed that we needed to figure out where we were going a little bit more if we wanted to actually make it to the wadi.  I volunteered to climb up to the top of the nearby peak and see what I can see; Akheel wanted to come too.  I set off scrambling up the ravine as it turned from a moderate hike to true chossaneering.  To avoid pulling off some loose rock, pitching over backward, and tumbling hundreds of meters to my certain demise I shook, hit, pulled, and kicked every rock before I put any weight on it.  I conquered mountain at last and scrambled up to the carren.  I looked around soaking in the 360 degree vista.

From the top I could see back to Indian ocean and Snoopy Island.  Surveying the cry washes to determine the direction of the wadi I noticed a road, paved and all, heading up one branch.  That was where we needed to go.  Our meager directions had lead us to the dam rather than the waterfall of the wadi.  We headed back down to meet up with everyone and trekked back to the car.  The entire hike I had been noticing the abundance of garbage lodged in every crack of dried mud and every recess in the rock.  I began to grab a couple pieces on our way back and before I knew what was going on Andy had joined with gusto so by the time we got back we had collected so many bottles, pieces of foam, and even 5 gal water jugs we could have filled several full sized trash bags.

We piled back into the car eager to get away from the flies the coated everything (as they seem to do in all of the UAE) and headed back down the paved road to take the road we hadn’t chosen before.  We headed on down the road until the pavement ended again.  This time seemed much more hopeful and after walking only a few hundred meters we spotted the wadi.  A hundred meters below.  Our most recent road had lead us to an overlook where we could see the green reeds, lush plants, and waterfall of the wadi, all covered in spray-paint and litter.  I located a spot where I could make my way down the steep scree to get to the wadi.  Akheel decided to brave to slope but Stan, Andy, and Michelle weren’t so brave and decided to go back to what looked like a better path a little farther back.  As I made it down to the bottom I found a small goat skull and a bright scarf.  I named it Fred.

The wadi was great and terrible.  As I mentioned before, it was covered with litter and spray-paint which was quite sad, but it was still beautiful.  I veritable fountain of life in the middle of the harsh desert.  I climbed around the pool of water and inspected it.  It was crystal clear and looked pretty deep.  I looked up to see the ledges above.  Oh yeah.  I went back and walked into the water.  It was cool and refreshing, even to the point of chilly compared to the toasty desert.  I swam across to the deep pool and dove.  It was plenty deep (around 4m).  I got out and climbed back around, convincing Akheel to jump oh the ledge that was about 3m.  Wanting to get pictures of me jumping I waited for our stragglers to jump.  About 40 minutes after us they finally strolled up.  They had decided to try to drive back and all the way up to the wadi, but eventually ditched the car due to the rocky track and walked a ways in.  Once I had recruited a photographer a walked around up to the top ledge.  I stood and debated my leap.  Trying to determine how high it was I asked around and the common answer seemed to be 25m, but I don’t think it could have been more than 20m.  After a minute of contemplation nerves (related to the depth of the water mostly) got the better of me and I moved to another slightly lower ledge.  With Andy’s waterproof camera around my wrist I leaped from the ledge.  Encouraged by the fact that I didn’t even come close to the bottom I ran back to the top and hurled myself off the tallest ledge.


Orienteering (minus the map and compass)

Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.

Anatole France

 

12/26

I woke up and flipped my computer open as has become my morning habit.  An email from Ian only a minute old asked “you up?” so I opened up Skype.  It was midnight at home and they had just finished playing the new game we go for Christmas.  We chatted again and I said hi to Frankie and Erica.  They departed, Mom and Ian went to bed, I got up.  The time difference is still funny to me.

Unable to find anyone to climb with I resorted to exploring the city some more.  Based on a suggestion from Sam I set out to find a vegetarian restaurant near the textile souk.  The only directions that I remembered were rather simplified and lacked detail:  go behind the Dubai Museum, through the textile souk, there will be a vegetarian restaurant on each side of the road, go to the one on the right.  I set off with Andy, Stan, and Omar in tow.  We got off at the nearest metro stop knowing it would be a bit of a walk.  There was a bit of confusion trying to find the museum, but without any wrong turns and only a bit of second guessing we found it.  The by this time I was kicking myself for not remember the directions better (I knew there was something about turns in there before getting to the textile souk) and for not trying to get them again from Sam earlier.  With just my recollection of the conversation we traversed the streets in search of the souk and the restaurant.  Souks are an interesting thing, I never quite know when something is or isn’t a souk.  They usually have areas around them that are, for all actual purposes, the exact same yet are not considered part of the souk.  This was the case as we wandered through street after street of textiles thinking we were in the souk.  Eventually we got to the end and I knew we had gone to far.  We zig zagged up and down a couple times until we were about ready to find anywhere to get food.  Just as we decided we just wanted food we made it to the water taxi port and the wooden roof of the actual textile souk.  I knew it had to be here.  I walked down the street and to my pleasure there was a large sign saying “Vegetarian.”  We walked in.  The place was nice, but didn’t seem like a place that sees lots of tourists.  The people spoke very limited English.  The menu was extensive and uninformative, only having names with no descriptions.  But the food was great and cheap.  I’m really not even sure what I ate, but we shared food a bit and it was all very good.  I can’t wait to go back and try more.

After dinner we headed out and wandered through the actual textile souk.  Eventually we looped around to take a water taxi across the creek.  We boarded the abra and set off chugging up the creek.  It was a small vessel with a bench in the middle for people to sit facing either side and a small roof overhead, but nothing else besides the small motor and pulley driven rudder.  About 20 other people joined us on the for the trip across the creek, and for only 1dhs who wouldn’t want to take the ride?

The great part about the ride was that it didn’t just bring us to the other side but it brought us up the creek toward our destination.  We found ourselves standing in front of the spice souk.  We headed in to practice our bartering and investigate frankincense and myrrh.  We both wanted to buy more spices but need to investigate prices first so we don’t get taken.  It was entertaining haggling with the shop keepers, but we didn’t stay too long before making the trek back to the metro.  We heard the announcement saying the train had arrived at the platform.  Hurrying to get down the the platform we jumped in the elevator.  It descended to the platform and we all stood, uncertainly as the door didn’t open.  “Over here” a voice chimed in from behind us.  We turned around and notice a second door on the opposite side.  We got out of the elevator and took two steps before the doors shut and the train sped off.  We sat and waited for the next train.


Christmas in the UAE

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.

-Anthony Brandt

 

12/24

Christmas Eve!  Andy, Stan, and I headed off in the morning to get the breakfast special at Fibber McGee’s.  We walked into the Irish pub and looked around.  Nobody else was there.  We hung out there for a few hours eating breakfast and hanging out trying to wait for the metro which doesn’t open until 2pm on Fridays (Islamic day of worship).  Eventually Andy and Stan decided to cab it back to EA so they would be there in time to get cleaned up before going to church with Michelle (recent RIT grad who does student services at RIT Dubai now).  I decided that it was a better use of my time to head to the the organic grocery store I spotted.

Organic Foods was, well, organic and therefore great.  I loaded up on peanut buttery goodness before heading to the other grocery store to pick up a few things I was missing.  While I was checking out I noticed a guy wearing the traditional garb and a thought dawned on me.  This was the first non-Caucasian I had seen in either grocery store.  Whether it was the stores or the time/day I don’t know but somehow I had stumbled upon the whitest place I have been in Dubai.

I was sitting in my room enjoying my traditional Christmas Eve burrito when one of the guys from Harriot Watt walked in and asked if I wanted to play soccer with them.  The Harriot Watt team had a friendly match against a Chinese team staying at EA at 7:00.  It was 7:04.  I stuffed the second half of my burrito in my mouth at once, grabbed my cleats, and ran out the door.  It was the first time I had played a full 11v11 game of soccer since high school.  The game was fun, quite high scoring (6-7 at the end I think) and in general not the prettiest game.  There was a lot of dribbling through, or into, people and a lot less passing than there could or should have been but it was still fun.  I even scored a left footed goal that soared over the keeper and hit perfectly in the top corner.  I was pleased:  both about the game and that my burrito kept going down despite all my running.

 

12/25

Christmas Day!  There were no presents, stockings, or trees when I woke up.  It’s hard to feel Christmasy when there’s no snow on the ground and no family around.  Instead Stan, Andy, and I headed out in a rental car to Snoopy Island on the east coast to go snorkeling.  Driving across to the east coast in the morning was quite the experience.  The road we had chosen to traverse the country was a two lane road with fairly wide shoulders.  The vehicles on the road however didn’t seem to know this.  Trucks drove half on the shoulders going 70kph while cars weaved around each other in the center of the road, some times reaching 4 vehicles abreast.  Despite the interesting and often scary driving we made it there without too much trouble and parked at a public area in sight of the island.  The only problem was we still had no snorkeling gear.  We walked across the beach to a nearby hotel to inquire, but they only had kayaks.  We kept walking down the beach hoping to find somewhere to rent snorkeling equipment but eventually got yelled at by locals to not go further (they didn’t want us near their families and wives).  Deciding that we needed to go down the beach more we headed back to the car and cruised down the road a little more.  We found the hotel that we had been told had snorkeling gear, but once we found out it was 70dhs just to get on the beach there before rentals we decided it wasn’t worth it.  We jumped back in the car and drove 10 minutes back up the road to Dibba to look into buying our own gear.  After driving straight through town without seeing anything promising we stopped at a tiny little general store and found some masks.  Good enough.

With our minimal gear we headed back and stopped at a public beach (next to the correct hotel this time).  We had the interesting choice of gear when we crossed the broken Heineken bottles to the beach:  Andy with his goggles and camera, Stan with his goggles and snorkel, and me with my goggles and banana.

Anxious to get out Andy and I crashed into the water and began to swim.  A ways out we realized that Stan was still struggling with this snorkel.  We tread water and waited.  After what felt like quite a while, since I was treading water, Stan decided he didn’t want to swim out the island.  Unfortunately I had pawned off the banana to him since he could fit it in his pocket.  I decided to head back and get it.  I made it back to the beach, retrieved the banana, shoved it in my pocket, and headed back toward the island.  I made it about half way again before I noticed the banana was no longer in my pocket.  Curses.  It had floated away just after I started swimming, but I wasn’t going back for it this time.  After swimming against the tide the entire way, I finally made it out to the island and climbed up on the rocks for a break.  The island was really just a large crumbly rock with an occasional little plant and frequent piles of bird droppings.  Being me I had to climb the rocks.

That was probably not the best idea.  Most of the island was very sharp fractured rocks that came apart if they were pulled on.  Combining this with my bare feet made my little climb up to the top take much longer than expected, but I made it to the top.  The way down was no easier, especially trying to avoid getting my hands, and especially the open wound on my finger, in bird poop.  It was equally sketchy, painful, and bad of an idea going back down but I succeeded in getting down safely, but not in avoiding bird poo.  Once I was finally back down I noticed a sign around the corner from where I started with a picture of the grim reaper on it.  It said something along the lines of “Danger, climbing could result in death” in about 6 languages.

I rejoined Andy in the water chasing around fish around the coral reef like sharks with brain damage.  Andy delighted in swimming at every interesting fish he saw with his camera outstretched in front of him to try to get pictures.  I contented myself with looking at the interesting ones and swimming through schools of fish trying to touch them.  Eventually we headed back to the beach to rejoin Stan.  The tide had turned so once again we were fighting it.

Still early in the day we relaxed, napped, and read on the beach for a while before moseying back toward Dubai.  Along the way we stopped at one of the many roadside stands and bought mangos, papayas, pomegranates, and several other unknown tropical fruits.

We made it back to EA in time for me to make my traditional Christmas dinner:  burrito, mango, and pomegranate.  I skyped with the family and watched everyone open presents.  It was great to be able to still be there and see the goings on at home.  We even took a family picture, me included.

We are indeed a strange bunch.  After many hours of skyping they headed outside and I headed off to bed.


Christmas Craggin’

The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.

– Alex Lowe

 

12/23

Break!  At last it’s christmas break and I have time to climb, explore, and CLIMB!  My plans have been changing constantly, but with any luck I’ll do a lot of climbing, some snorkeling, and camping.

Only my second trip to Hatta Crag, but it already seems far more familiar.  We headed down E44 toward Hatta, passing dunes, trucks, and the boarder checkpoint before we turned off and bumped down the desert track.  The three of us (Sam’s parents came to down for christmas and her dad decided to join us to watch and take pictures) piled out of the car and began to make the trek up the steep hill of scree.  We zig-zagged up the hill around boulders.  Eventually I found myself staring a one such boulder ahead of me.  I had been watching my footing too much and had to back track to get around the boulder, but why go around?  I’m here to climb right?  There were several inviting scoops in the rock so I climbed the few feet up.  As I stepped over onto the flat ground at the top I grabbed a bit of the rock to push myself.  I heard a crack and the slight force I put on the rock broke off a plate the size of a pizza.  I wanted to move my leg that was conveniently directly under this falling plate.  Not having time to shift my weight and not wanting the rock to go bouncing down at Sam’s dad I just held on to it.  I managed to hang on enough to keep it from bouncing off my shin (or would it have been through?) or attacking Sam’s dad and tossed it off to the side.  I was quite happy at my lack of injury until I felt sering pain in my finger.  My left middle finger no longer had skin covering most of the end.  The rock had sliced a section of skin the size of a nickel off the pad of my finger, leaving a flap hanging by one side with a deeper cut down the edge.  Great.  If the long tradition of stupid injuries I inflict on myself this is one of the most frustrating.  I injured myself before even getting to the crag on the first day of vacation when I planned to climb as much as I could the whole break.  Along with the fact that this is current and all my other injuries are just distant memories made this the worst injury a terrible tragedy.  Sam ran back to the car for the first aid kit and we bandaged my finger with gauze and tape.  I now had a finger the size and shape of a small egg.  Obviously this would be a great day of climbing.

We made it the rest of the way up and got down to climbing.  Not using a key finger made climbing significantly more difficult.  I didn’t do anything too challenging because my finger would scream in pain when I pulled hard on my sliced finger.  We did some sport and trad, both of which turned out to be interesting.  Using sport gear wasn’t too much more difficult but unclipping on rappel was much more difficult trying not to use my middle finger.  Trad was a different matter, especially when I was trying to use my left hand to place my biggest piece of gear.  My bandaged finger just couldn’t fit on the trigger between the wires and the stem so I had to awkwardly hold it with another finger while my middle pointed straight.

(Me looking for somewhere to place gear on Sheepshagga, there weren’t many places)

I crested the top and looked around.  The mountains all around were being eaten away.  An infestation of little ants driving trucks were taking away the mountains bit by bit.  This disturbing plague on the land has already taken a large section out of one ridge and will most likely consume the entire climbing crag in the next few years.  Probably just to make more cement used to destroy other areas.  It is terribly had the mountains can’t fight back.  They need some rock-Ents or a Lorax because around here nobody speaks for the rocks.

We headed over to a climb that Sam had done before and she got her first lead.  It’s great to see other people getting addicted to0.  She doesn’t know it yet, but I even have trad routes picked out, next time we go she’ll get her first trad lead.  Sam’s dad decided he wanted to head down and take some pictures of camels.  Unfortunately the car keys were nowhere to be found.  We decided they must have been dropped or forgotten when we were bandaging my finger.  There was still lots of daylight left so we headed over to do a “steep photogenic” route as the guide book described it.  It was a decent scramble and search to find the area, but we made it and only lost 1 first aid kit along the way.  The route was easy and perfectly framed the climber against the sky and desert a thousand feet below.  Unfortunately with only two of us we had a hard time getting good pictures while belaying.

Not having had any challenging routes yet I decided I had to do something a bit more difficult.  I picked a neighboring route described as consistently pumpy (builds lactic acid in the arms making it hard to hold anything, usually from overhanging routes).  I went for it.  I managed to do the first half of the route without too much difficulty or finger pain.  The crux was a different story.  I had small hold, nothing to actually grip and lots of demand for holding tight with my left hand.  I yelled in pain, grunted, and worked my way around until I eventually made it to the top.  By the time I got there my finger bandage was soaked with blood.

We headed back down to search for Sam’s key.  As we cut across the hill to our path up we walked across the opening of a nice looking small cave.  It even had paw prints in front of it.  We lowered our voices and continued past being very thankful that there was still daylight and we had not heard it yet this trip.  We found the scene of my slicing without too much trouble.  It turned out to be one of the few places on the hill with an abundance of black rocks (coal) which worked nicely to conceal the black key (one of the flip ones so there wasn’t even any metal showing).  None the less we managed to find it and made it down just before dark.


Ugly Sweaters & Huge Malls

I don’t suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute of it.

-Unknown

 

12/17

Once back at EA I started investigating the tickets for the Fifa Club World Cup.  Unfortunately they were completely sold out.  I had been checking every day and every other time I could still buy 12 tickets all sitting together, but I had waited so long trying to get the RIT Dubai kids together since 8 of them signed up that they were gone.  None of this three strikes stuff.  They’ve now bailed on Wild Wadi and this so I’m not going to be organizing anything else with them.  Fortunately the ticket crisis was received well by the group who even were up for still going to Abu Dhabi until I found out we didn’t have to pay any kind of deposit for the bus.

Our “party” turned out to only be our study abroad group, but was none the less a good time.  I had seen great ugly sweaters the week before at Carrefour and of course had to get one.  I was please to see that most people had found some kinda ugly sweater too.  The pot luck even worked out and we even had hot chocolate.  We played games, listened to christmas music, and best of all watched The Grinch.  Despite it only being a few days away it’s hard to imagine that it’s almost christmas or even that it’s winter.  This is the first year I’ve been anywhere other than Maine and I have to say, christmas just doesn’t exist without snow.  None the less, good times were had by all.

 

12/18

For the first time since I arrived in Dubai I slept until I woke up.  No cell phone, no watch, no alarms.  I made it to 11AM, but that was still only 7 hours since I went to bed at 4AM.  I enjoyed the lack of worries and hung out for a bit.  We discussed going to the textile souk and the Dubai Museum, but ended up going to the Mall of Dubai instead.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Dubai Mall it’s really not much of a mall.  Instead it’s several small universes contained in a single building.  It has an arcade with rides, an outdoor street inside, a bowling ally, a mall, a huge fountain, a “Gold Souk”, a skating rink, and so much more.  We started out wandering around just checking out random stores that looked interesting and looked at the olympic size skating rink.  One of the several atrium was home to the largest christmas tree I’ve ever seen and possibly in the world.  It passed all four stories (~25ft each) of the mall and continued into the domed ceiling.  We found the “Gold Souk” modeled after the real gold souk and traditional arabian markets and played with camel statues and shiny thrones.

We continued through the “souk” and found one of the coolest things in Dubai and in fact in the world:  falcons!  In yet another atrium there were several guys sitting in the center on pillows and rugs with arabian coffee and two falcons, both of which they were happy to share.  The falcons had hoods on and we very docile, but still impressive and just awesome.

After our falconing we headed out to watch the fountain.  The lights went down, the smoke came up, and the fountain started.  Blasts of water shot around the pool weaving into circles.  The music played and the fountains danced.  Water flew over a hundred feet into the air and floated back down.  It was far better than the water show at the Bellagio.  That’s no surprise since it was designed by the same company and this one was $218 million.  Some of the group that had disappeared earlier on met back up with us but missed the first show.  We waited a half an hour for the next show chatting and screwing around.  Just as we started to explain to them that it’ll be easy to know when the show will start because it will be preceded by smoke burst of flame shot into the air all over the fountain.  The show had changed and this one involved fire.  Flames and water mixed and danced and shot around the pool of the fountain to the timing of the music.  It was awesome!

Hearing from the other kids about the roller coaster they went it we headed off to investigate and redeem our discounted passes that Sonic the hedgehog gave us earlier.  Sega Republic was quite a place.  It was a huge arcade with every game imaginable.  Racing games in which you sat in a full STI or GTR, small climbing wall for kids, a spinning/swinging fair ride, and best of all a roller coaster.  I didn’t expect much from a roller coaster that fit in the mall.  Low expectations are the key to great experiences.  The ride whipped us around tight corners, spun our cart in circles, and weaved us through tracks over the arcade and into a dark room.  It was unbelievably good for a ride in the mall and good for any roller coaster.

We walked back into the universe of the mall and ventured through the Herseys store and found some interesting stores.  The first was an action figure store and was full of ridiculously expensive figurines and even a full size hulk statue.

The second store was similar but way better.  It had great looking pieces from some of the best movies:  Indian Jones’ whip, Batmans helmet, the sword and crown of Gondor, sting, the ring, the wands of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Luna, and more, and even a Nimbus 2001.  It was so cool…I’m surprised none of us bought anything there.

Before heading out I made sure to check out an Organic grocery store and cafe.  I did it!  I FINALLY found PEANUT BUTTER!  I was so happy about that and rushed to not make everyone wait that I didn’t bother with anything else.  It had all the right things for a successful trip to the mall:  falcons, roller coaster, HP/LOTR, and organic PB.

(pictures courtesy of Mike Baer-family portrait, Nina Smith-Dr. Seuss and fountain, and Allie Schneider-Camel kiss, falcon, and Hulk)


Rocks in RAK

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.

-Mark Jenkins

 

12/17

Warning: non-climbers may not understand lots of what I say.  For more info refer the all knowing one: wiki Glossary of Climbing Terms.

I woke up early to head to RAK (Ras Al-Khaimah, an Emirate a bit over an hour north) to climb for the day.  I was ready and waiting to get picked up by 7:15.  Back in bed by 7:30.  Finally I got a call saying they were late and would be to EA in 15 minutes.  I went back to sleep for 10.  I finally dragged myself out of bed again, walked out to the road outside the gate to wait, and promptly went back to sleep leaning against my backpack.

After only a few circles (driving from memory again) we made it to the aptly named Roadside crag.  The rest of the group was already there.  We introduced ourselves and started climbing.  The crag was interesting: mostly trad, a little sport, and anchors that were very hard to find.  Did an easy wide crack to warm up.  While I was at the top searching for the anchors some locals in a small vehicle similar to a wrangler started talking to our group.  After a minute they decided to come inspect.  Somehow five young guys emerged from the vehicle and came over to chat with the group and watch us climb.  Climbing is something that seems to be largely unknown and not fully understood by the Arab community.  Sam even told me about climbing once when locals stopped to see if they were alright.  She told them that they were fine and it was a sport.  Despite that they still thought that there was water at the top or she had lost her goat.  Eventually the guys got bored and left.

After a bit I moved over to a cool looking route called Sheban (5.10a/b).  I didn’t bother mentioning to people that I hadn’t really lead much, or actually any, 5.10 trad.  I also haven’t climbed enough lately so I’m not climbing at the level I was a couple months ago.  It looked like a fun route though and I want to push myself more when climbing trad anyway.  It started easy, moving up a wide crack with lots of holds.  A climb continued up the easy hold: it was not mine.  Mine was supposed to traverse left onto a steep overhanging face.  The problem was the holds looked alright, but I couldnt see anywhere to place gear.  I had only placed one piece of gear 10 feet below which would only swing me into the other face if I fell.  Knowing that I needed another piece I searched to find somewhere that would take another piece.  There really wasn’t anything good.  Thanks to my newest gear purchase (tricams) I was able to place one questionable piece of gear.  I called it good and traversed until I could place another decent piece.  I decided to traverse back to pull my piece before to avoid having tons of rope drag.  So far it seemed to be getting better.  I reached a nice little alcove where I could stand without much effort.  The down side was that I knew were I had to go, but looked it a couple times not knowing if I could do it and knowing I had a 20+ft fall since I couldn’t find anywhere to place gear again.  I managed to shove another tricam (my new favorite gear) in a small crack.  I had some potential for not falling as far if I fell.  The emotional support was enough.  I pulled myself back outside the alcove, threw a hand jam, that I didn’t think would hold me, in the crack and hauled with all my strength.  Just before my hand popped out of the crack I managed to grab another hold.  Hardest part completed I cruised up the rest of the pitch without too much difficulty.  It was a great climb, but other than the one difficult part, was more a mental challenge, trusting my gear and doing hard moves over long exposed falls, than a physical one.

By the time we got ropes down and walked off it was getting time to head to another crag that Brian, the one who had organized this trip, wanted to show us since it’s not in the guide book.  Everyone was ready to move out, but I still wanted to get on a 5.11a that they had tried.  The rope was still on it so I TRed it.  Maybe I should always have people waiting for me when I climb because it worked well.  I blew through the entire route in about a minute.  We headed back to the cars and moved on to the next area.

Along the way Brian stopped to point out a couple areas that also weren’t in the book.  Driving up the canyon I must have been drooling:  there was rock all around, most of it looked solid, and I was fairly certain (and confirmed later) that none of it had ever been climbed.  We made it to our destination, Farside crag.  I picked out a good looking trad route oblivious to any grade on it and gave it a go.  It made for good climbing, with some awkward moves, and piles of dust built up all over the rock.  About half way up I made it to a small ledge.  Above it the rock jutted out a bit making a bit of a roof with a crack in it.  I took a look and started trying it, but couldn’t get good jams and had nowhere to put my feet to allow me to move up so I ended up backing down a few moves to the ledge.  After several exploratory tries I decided that the only way to conquer the move would be through a sacrifice.  I plugged a piece of gear and went for it.  Reaching up as high as I could I jammed my right hand in, grabbed a slightly featured area of rock with my left hand and pulled with all my might as I lifted my leg leg above my stomach to find the only hold.  As I started to pull my right hand began to get cold.  Tingles spread from the back of my hand until the entire thing was cold.  By the time I got my foot on I had no feeling in my hand at all.  Not knowing if my right hand would hold me or just go limp I grabbed something with my left and pulled my right hand out as quickly as I could.  There was nothing.  The tingling and cold were gone.  I just couldnt feel it at all.  I stuck another cam in the rock and concentrated on my hand.  In a minute i regained a little bit of feeling enough to use it somewhat so I kept climbing.  I made it to the top and my hand seemed to be slowly getting back to normal, despite its tingling.  I belayed Sam up the climb with nearly as much excitement as I had on my way up.  Without being able to see her and tell what was going on I heard a scream followed by a crash.  She had pulled a hold off sending it crashing down to the ground.  A few minutes later she pulled her wheaties move again and pulled off an even bigger chunk of cliff.  Somehow through both holds falling she managed to catch herself and made it up through the crux like a champ.

We chatted for a bit after the climb and hit the road for Dubai with a successful and very informative day of climbing under our belts.  The possibilities in RAK are endless.  Tons of rock, very few climbers.  It sounds like the perfect situation for some first assents for me.