When people think of Arabia, they tend to think of big sand dunes with Lawrence of Arabia standing in a pose with his hand on his hip and maybe a falcon on his shoulder for good effect. They don’t think of the mountainous country that is Oman. Peaks as high as 3000m and shear faces of up to 1000m, which should appeal to climbers everywhere. While it is literally covered in rock, due to the tectonic plates being pushed up from the Indian ocean, it is difficult to find good rock or at least the kind that appeals to sport climbers. Oman is, in fact, an incredibly beautiful country that makes for a great escape for those climbers stuck in European or North American winter weather. Pretty much guaranteed sunny weather all year round with ample amounts of climbing and other activities, it’s hard to think of why one wouldn’t consider coming to Oman.
Historically speaking, climbing in Oman is relatively new. The first mention of climbing in Oman was when Frenchman Raymond Renaud climbed the aptly named French pillar in 1979 with siege tactics to tackle Jebal Misht (1100m). Rumor has it that the Sultan had a helicopter pick the team up from the top and whisk them off to a celebration to commemorate their ascent. While this seems unlikely, it wouldn’t be the first time something outlandish happened in the gulf. Renaud and other French guides have been coming to Oman ever since and indeed have been behind much of the early development. There were also a number of British developers as well. Jeff Horby for one, who developed many adventurous routes up Jebal Misht and elsewhere.
In more recent news, Oman has had several famous climbers come and climb and get media coverage. People may remember Alex Honnold’s visit to the coast doing some DWS. Along with Jimmy Chin, Hazel Findlay and Mark Synnott, they made a short film about their climbs in Musandum, Oman.
Interestingly many of these routes had already been climbed by a group of British climbers (Tim Emmett, Neil Gresham, Mikey Robertson and Seb Grieve) and local strong men Read Macadam and Toby Foord-Kelcey.
A short time after that, Chris Sharma and Stefan Glowacz came to Oman to climb out of a cave, literally! They called the route, what else but “Into the Light”. This was the same name that Read Macadam and Jacob Oberhauser called the route they climbed out of at a nearby cave a month earlier. As unoriginal as these names seem Red Bull had an issue with two routes being called the same name. As Red Bull paid so much money and spent so much time organizing the trip and expedition, Read and Jacob graciously renamed their route “Out of the Dark” (Has to make you smile, right?). Both climbs were filmed and are available online:
However, as far as sport climbing in the Muscat goes, it wasn’t until Patrick Cabiro and Nathalie Hanriot were commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism that Oman started to see its first modern sport routes (2008). In fact, they were the driving force in the development of Wadi Daykiah and “La Gorgette”. They were also the first to bolt in Hadash. More importantly, they gave the impedes to local residents to start developing their own routes close to Muscat.
Enter Kim Vaughn and Bill Huguelet, two local residents keen to develop routes close to home, who developed several routes in Kubra Canyon. They spent a lot of their own time and money developing these routes. We have a lot of thanks to give to Bill and Kim as Kubra is still one of the best afternoon crags. It’s also a great place to start your climbing trip in Oman with lots of moderates and a great bolted multi-pitch. Bill and Kim first called Kubra “Secret Canyon” as they kept the development a secret from the now bustling climbing group. One weekend they surprised the group with a new crag! A nice surprise to a have an additional 40 some odd routes added to your climbing inventory.
So in a few short years, Oman went from about 5 sport routes to about 80. The only problem was that most of these routes were in the French grade 6 range (5.10). Very few 7’s (5.12) and no 8’s (5.13) had been developed. Not to mention one of the more picturesque crags (Hadash) was generally over looked. Here comes the Canadian influence, Read Macadam and Larry Michienzi. In a few short years Larry and Read started to develop Hadash to its fullest and easily doubled both the number of routes and a number of harder climbs in Oman. While Kubra and Daykia are home to some great moderates, Hadash is home to some of the hardest routes in Arabia and as the altitude of Hadash is 1500m it is a great place to climb from October to April.
So while Kubra has some great moderates and Hadash has some great harder climbs Daykia is still home to the easiest approach (if you have a 4X4☺ ). You can literally belay out of your car if you want. It also has some fantastic 6c’s (5.11a/b)! and some nice moderates as well. Check out the slightly run out Turbo barbeque (6c/5.11a) and Agath Exit (6c+/5.11b/c) if that’s your jam. Insiders beta: head to Daykia early as it goes in the sun by mid-afternoon and even in the winter it can be quite warm.
Wadi Bini Alf is a scenic drive up a wadi that many tourists are drawn to. Climbers have the added benefit of some spectacular climbing as well. Not only is the climbing and scenery a huge advantage, so is the fact that many of the crags are quite accessible in the summer. When temps in Muscat and Dubai are near 50 C it is often in the mid 20’s at Wall of Shadows (afternoon shade) or Brikat Al Sharaf (morning shade). Depending on the season, certain crags are better due to the position of the sun. In the spring and early summer the Wall of Shadows and Brikat Al Sharaf are the best bet for cool temps. However, in the late summer and early fall Le Reef (afternoon) and Makhta Jaber (morning) are better for shade.
As nice as it is to have these summer crags, La Gorgette is by far the cherry on the cake. A beautiful slot canyon with an amazing atmosphere and even more amazing climbing. Walk to the end of the canyon to check out the quaint village of Balad Sayt and camp below the date palms for a full Omani experience. On rest days, take a walk down Snake Gorge (with either rappels, longer version or just pool jumping with the short version). This crag is best from October to March.
Interestingly, the crags are also divided by difficulty and while you can find a little of something for everyone at all of the crags, certain crags seem to be better for certain grades. Le Reef and the Wall of Shadows have excellent moderates and beginner climbs but both crags also have a few harder climbs as well. On the other hand, Brikat and La Gorgette lean toward the harder end with many 7’s (5.12-5.13). In the middle, is the newest crag in Oman, Makhta Jaber which only has a few routes so far but with the kind donations of visiting climbers more routes are sure to appear in the guide in the near future.
Two paper guides have been written about climbing in Oman. The Macdonald Guide (out of print) and a more recent guide also called ‘Climbing in Oman’ by long time Austrian climbing guide Jakob Oberhauser. While Jakob’s guide is very thorough it does lack the availability that an electronic guide can offer and also, while it has many details of the sport climbing in the area, it lacks some of the most up-to-date sport routes and topos. Of course, if it is multi-pitch climbing you are after, this is the guide for you. However, for those that want to do a little sport climbing in the Muscat area, this app is a very good supplement.