Arabian Fantasy–Jebel Misht
Michael P. Searle, England
THE TIMELESS deserts of Arabia spread out across 1000 kilometers of shimmering sand seas, gravel plains and quicksands from the volcanic hills of the Red Sea to the Oman Mountains bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. At the southeastern end of the Rub-al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, there is a mountain of such grandeur that it casts a spell in much the same way as Cerro Torre, Half Dome, the Matterhorn and Kailash.
Jebel Misht is not the highest peak in the Oman Mountains—in fact it is surrounded by the giants of Jebel Akhdar (2980 meters), Jebel Kawr (2960 meters) and Jebel Misfah—but it is certainly the most beautiful. The south face of Jebel Misht rises almost vertically for over 1000 meters straight out of the Empty Quarter and dominates the Wadi-al-Ayn some 50 kilometers northwest of Nizwa, the ancient capital of Oman. It is of Oman Exotic Limestone, a block thrust aboard Arabia during the closing of the Tethys Ocean some 65 million years ago.
During ten years of geological mapping throughout the Oman Mountains, I had known of the existence of this huge south wall of Misht and in the last few years have twice been to climb its face. Peter King, Phil Davis and I went in 1982 to reconnoiter the face and were invited by the villagers of A1 Ayn for coffee and dates. We learned from them of a French group which had nailed its way up the main face. The old sheikh, amid peals of laughter, gave us graphic descriptions of hammering in pitons. These Chamonix guides had been helicoptered off the summit straight to the Sultan’s palace in Muscat. Such is fame!
We spent the following day climbing the line of least resistance, a pleasant 500-foot route to the prominent col at the western end and finally up the knife- edged arête to the summit pinnacle at the western extremity of Misht (III, 5.6). I spent several days in the area skirting around the mountain, looking up the awesome cliffs on the main part of the face. These cliffs looked like the big Dolomite walls, but they were untrodden and probably required a lot of aid.
The following year saw us once more camped below the magic Misht. Peter King and I returned with our Yosemite man, Dana Coffield, and Dave Mithen. Bouncing along the Wadi-al-Ayn in our Land Rover, Dana agonized over leaving his bolt kit in the USA. Ahead of us appeared the Nose—1000 meters of as yet unclimbed 5.12 + .
We planned to get onto the main part of the face somehow. The next morning, starting at five A.M., we scrambled to the base of the cliffs. Dana and I led six pitches of excellent climbing on razor-sharp limestone. At about mid height, a broad terrace cut across half the face. Above this, the wall steepened to vertical and the summit ridge looked a long way above. We had two choices—to continue straight above to a deep chimney with a massive chockstone that looked desperate, or to continue traversing right onto the biggest part of the wall.
We chose to continue our rightward-slanting traverse and, several pitches higher, looked across at the full majesty of the 1000-meter vertical limestone wall. Pitch 15 took me, with mind-blowing exposure, up a chimney crack to a small tower clinging precariously to the face. Above, lay the crux, a 25-meter wall with only flaky limestone ripples, no protection and the most incredible exposure. Dana led this final pitch, dancing up and yelping with delight at this dream of a climb, not knowing where the top was until he had only two moves to go. I pulled over the top as the sun touched the far horizon in a brilliant dazzling red ball. It sent waves of golden light over the crimson sand dunes of the Empty Quarter. Dave and Pete soon joined us on the summit for the special euphoria that comes with a magic climb on a fantastic Arabian summit.
Summary of Statistics:
Area: Oman Mountains, Arabia.
Ascents: Jebel Misht, 2090 meters, 6857 feet, via west side of the South Face and West Ridge (III, 5.6), February 11 and 12, 1982 (Peter King, New Zealand, Philip Davis, Michael P. Searle, United Kingdom). Jebel Misht via South Face (IV, 5.9), February 17 and 18, 1983 (Dana Coffield, United States, David Mithen, United Kingdom, King, Searle).