We all know that Dubai is a city with lofty ambitions, from the size of its buildings to the height of its climbing walls. In 2009, Dutchman Maurice Doreleyers thought it was high time that there was a focal point for the city’s fast-growing climbing community, and set about creating a local facility for Dubai climbing enthusiasts. ‘It’s an outdoor climbing centre,’ explains Maurice of The Wall, which was designed by Dutch company Vertigo Climbing Structures. ‘It’s for beginners to professionals – it’s a wall for everybody.’
But with so many other outdoor activities taking place here in Dubai, why climb? For one, climbing develops physical and mental dexterity: working out how to navigate a vertical route from point A to point B involves plenty of problem-solving, while the actual process of pulling yourself up a wall develops muscle strength, endurance and flexibility. While this could be said of many sports, climbing also helps to build self-confidence and independence – conquering a summit, whether it’s one metre tall or several storeys high, brings with it a real sense of achievement. ‘Climbing can be dead easy,’ agrees Maurice. ‘It’s like climbing a ladder – left, right and off you go. You always have a choice where you climb and how you climb. You [can develop] at your own speed. You climb to your own level: one metre at first, then two…’
According to Toby Foord-Kelcey, author of UAE Rock Climbing, the sport is also something at which women tend to excel. ‘Rock climbing is all about attitude, balance and power-to-weight ratio. [People with] slender physiques should definitely try it; those with burly rugby physiques are at a disadvantage!’
There’s also an element of teamwork to it: climbers are assisted by a belayer (the person holding the rope to prevent you falling). Not only does a belayer prevent you taking the quick route down in the event you lose your footing, but they’re able to guide climbers up a route thanks to their vantage point from the ground. It’s because of this ‘buddy system’ that climbing is an inherently social sport: to make an ascent, climbers have to place trust in someone they might not necessarily know.
Maurice says one of the main purposes of The Wall is for climbers to learn the basics and become confident in themselves before braving the rocky terrain of the region. ‘There is a large outdoor community, but we train people to understand the basics before they go out. We keep them safe. It’s a very friendly community. If you want to climb outdoors, we can put you in touch with the right people.’
An introductory climbing class is Dhs75; adult starter courses cost Dhs350 for five sessions. Outdoor expeditions are scheduled to start on April 1. All equipment is provided. The Wall’s two-year anniversary is on March 23, and will feature rock climbing demos, competitions and free sessions. For details, see www.climbingdubai.com.
Toby Foord-Kelcey, author of UAE Rock Climbing, reveals the best places to climb around the UAE
‘The climbing sites in the UAE and Oman are all within the Hajar Mountains, which run for 700km from the tip of Musandam to Muscat and beyond,’ says Toby. ‘Though the rock is all limestone, there is a surprisingly large variety of different cliff types. However, rock that sits in direct sunlight can become fractured and loose, so I’ve learned to look for rock that’s in the shade and is kept solid by occasional water flow.’
‘This spot is in northern RAK, where I was fortunate to discover and pioneer a beautiful line, Acquiescence, that climbs a 130m vertical dry waterfall.’
‘This deep canyon in Fujairah channels water from one of the UAE’s highest peaks. A couple of friends and I spent almost a year developing new routes there in secret. A very vertiginous climb there, Jebel Jebel, is on the front cover of my book.’
‘These elegant water-polished boulders are in Wadi Khab Shamis near Dibba. The rock there is the best in the region.’
‘The whole Indian Ocean coast of Musandam has almost infinite scope for a sub-sport called deep-water soloing (DWS): scary, but fairly safe, climbing up to 20m without ropes above the sea. The routes are accessed by dhows or speedboats rented from Dibba port. DWS can be happily intermingled with snorkeling and other aquatic distractions.’
‘In a different category, Jebel Misht in Oman offers a massive 1,100m southern face – probably the tallest in the Middle East. In the 30 years since it was first climbed, the classic French Pillar route has seen fewer ascents than Everest sometimes gets in a single day. It is only five hours’ drive from Dubai, yet I am the only UAE-based climber who has invested the effort to do it so far.’
UAE Rock Climbing is available at www.redarmadapublishing.com