Hot days, cold nights: British new routes in Oman

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 04/03/2013
Dave Wynne-Jones on the Kawr plateau after the first ascent of The Dark Side. In the background is the vast south face of Jabal Misht (2,090m), home to many fine routes on excellent rock. Paul Knott

During December and January British climbers Paul Knott, a New Zealand resident, and Dave Wynne-Jones climbed several new routes in Oman's Western Hajar. However, things did not go quite according to plan.

The Western Hajar has great potential for 'alpine' rock routes on substantial exotic limestone formations, the most famous, Jabal Misht, having routes on magnificent rock up to 900m in elevation.

The desert environment means there is a high diurnal temperature range: the winter days are still hot, but they are quite bearable for climbers on the vast expanses of white limestone. However, it can get decidedly chilly at night and wind chill could make it feel as cold as -10°C on the summits. 

This was Knott's fifth visit, and to take advantage of a waning moon, the pair decided to throw themselves immediately at the committing north face of Jabal Kawr (ca 2,700m), further west than previous lines.

This part of the wall had previously been neglected, as it is hard to observe in good light and lacks a convenient descent route.

The pair left the roadhead early in the morning, wearing light clothing and carrying only a few energy bars and four litres of water.

Following a pillar with smooth slabs on each side, they completed The Dark Side, which gave 680m of climbing (17 pitches) at an overall grade of TD- UIAA VI-.

The pillar topped out at a large terrace, from which there was no escape except for scrambling up to the main Kawr plateau at ca 2,400m.

They were now faced with a long, complex descent, and the events that followed highlight the fragility of ultra-lightweight climbing on the big massifs of the region.

Darkness descended, and after failed attempts to navigate a route through a number of drop-offs, the two resigned themselves to spending a frigid night out. Fortunately, they discovered a shepherd's stone shelter on the plateau.

Next morning, as they hunted for possible escape routes, the two became separated.

Knott was forced to continue alone, but found a route that took him past Jabal Asala, familiar ground from previous visits. Wynne-Jones had no prior knowledge of the area and faced a survival situation with no food or water, only a torch, the ropes and a lighter.

Knott returned to camp and managed to enlist the help of a search team from Muscat. Next morning they all went back up and much to everyone's relief found Wynne-Jones in good shape, though severely dehydrated.

He reported that he'd been warmer on the second night, having found a few old blankets left by Bedouin.

Some days of recovery were now essential, but afterwards the pair travelled to the south side of Jabal Kawr, where they made the first climb in an impressive cirque that surrounds the remote settlement of Nadan.

Triassic Superbowl takes the north side of the Nadan pillar (430m of climbing, TD- UIAA VI-), and the pair descended south along the route put up by Knott and Richard Simpson in 2007 (AD+). On their way down they found a rock shoe dropped on this ascent.

In little-explored outlying areas they climbed three more new lines.

Above Sidaq village, north of Jabal Misht, they put up Giant Slab (193m of climbing, V-), while left of Amqah Tower, north of Jabal Murri, they climbed a steepening slab via Arabian Knights (311m of climbing, D+ VI-).

Finally, they added a third route to the striking Jabal Nakhus, where in 2010 Knott had put up the aptly named Hand Grater. This time it was Karst Corner (242m of climbing, V). The rappel anchors from 2010 were still in place.



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