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Asia, Oman, Western Hajar Mountains Report

Western Hajar mountains report. There has been another bout of new route activity since my last report in AAJ 2001. In November, possibly the best line in the range was climbed on Jabal Misht by resident guide Jacob Oberhause (Austria) and Brian Davison (U.K.). The direct line up the crest of the south pillar had been much talked about. The guys stormed the 1,200m route in a day at ED3 (5.11+) and named their line “The English Arête.” An interesting and possibly frightening development during the winter of 2001-02 was the arrival of the highly prolific Austrian team of Albert Precht and Sigi Brachmayer. This pair have dominated new route developments in Jordan’s Wadi Rum over recent years and have now turned their attentions to the cream of Arabian limestone, all at the invitation of Oswald Oelz.

Oswald and Albert were part of a team attempting Makalu 25 years ago. Since then Albert has declined high altitude mountaineering in favor of his exploratory alpine and subalpine rock climbing. Oswald, though, went on to climb many Himalayan peaks, sometimes with Reinhold Messner. This invitation was designed to be a reunion as well as to ensure that this pair of mountaineering gentlemen summited a big piece of rock together after all this time. A nice touch.

The eastern wall of Jabal Misht, known as the Al Jil wall, had received an ascent courtesy of this author and David Barlow in 2000, but our route avoided the obvious difficulties of the central pillar. After an exploratory ascent of a line called Half Moon Corner with Gerhard Hafner, the Precht, Brachmayer, and Oelz team climbed the central pillar and named it in Oswald’s honor as the Doc.Bulle pillar (500m, TD).

The Precht-Brachmayer team then took to the southwest face of Misht to climb the left edge of the wall. Watergate (500m, TD), takes the obvious corner system with the difficulties predominantly in the lower half. Not satisfied with this new route, the Austrians swung around the back and climbed a 200m new route on the north face of the First Tower at TD, just to fill in the rest of the afternoon!

In March 2003, Geoff Hornby with Mark Turnbull and Susie Sammut climbed the face right of Watergate to finish up the front face on the upper pillar. Sorely Misht is 600m, D sup. The Austrians added another independent line up the central section of the south face of Misht at TD, with 800m of climbing. Yet again, they were up and down with a fair amount of the day remaining, and Oswald, who watched them through bino’s, described them as mutant dwarfs. Way of the Dwarves, or Wichtlmannchen, looks like a good outing. The British team of Peter Bishop, Aqil Chaudhry, and David Barlow attempted the right-hand pillar on the southeast face. Riddle in the Sands (850m, TD inf) traverses into Intifada for three pitches at half-height, and so loses some of its attractiveness, but was an excellent voyage up an obvious feature.

From Misht, the view southward is dominated by the mass of Jabal Kawr. This so-called “mountain of waterfalls” is surrounded on all sides by walls of between 400m and 900m in height. On the northeast side a system of towers become visible with the changing light of the late afternoon. The Austrians invited me to join them in exploring the potential of these towers, and I couldn’t refuse. Our first venture was the striking north ridge of Jabal Asait. This beautiful towered ridge rises for 600m above the small village and provided us with steady climbing: a few pitches of 5.9 and a steep 5.10c. “Internationale” is one of the finest routes I have ever done, and deserves repeat ascents.

The north pillar of Jabal Asala gave 500m of TD rock and a further 500m of scrambling, which is a good day in its own right, but not enough for Precht. So he soloed a 500m line on Asait’s north rib as he passed it on the way down! Solo Climb (D sup) now has a pair of parallel lines, courtesy of myself and Susie Sammut, named Two’s Company and Three’s a Crowd both 500m and D sup. Brian Davison soloed the wall left of Three’s a Crowd to give Alone in Space (500m, TD) and two shorter and easier lines further to the south end of the face.

An attractive tower to the West of Asala’s summit has become known as the Asala Tower. First out the full Austrian contingent climbed the Luadabuam pillar at TD and 250m. Whilst the others wound their way down the back, Albert soloed down another line before soloing back up a third line. These two lines are Down Hill and Straight Up; both contain climbing to 5.9!

Whilst this fiesta of solo climbing was going on, Peter Bishop and myself were beavering away on Asait’s West face. This 600m wall is brilliant. Our route, Snake Charmer climbed the pillar separating the NW and SW aspects and went straight to the summit. Face climbing, cracks, and grooves, never harder than 5.10a—it is truly superb. Our ascent was made during the Islamic festival of Ramadan and we descended from the hill and into the village at sunset feeling totally trolleyed. We had been watched by the shepherds all day and they then invited us to break the fast with them. Sitting around the camp fire with the whole village, sharing dates and drinking cardoman coffee, whilst the children did imitations of bouldering moves, was very, very special.

Aqil Chaudhry and David Barlow cranked away at a steeper line to the left of Snake Charmer. After six pitches, including E2 offwidths, the boys hit a patch of soft rock and were forced to rap down. Left as a climb in its own right, they named it Muscat Rap, and graded it TD sup.

The next day, Albert and Sigi left their last mark on the range for the year with a second line up the North face of Asala. Rock Fascination weighs in at TD and has 600m of climbing and 500m of scrambling. The British posse then took off to investigate the potential of Jabal Misfah at the head of Wadi Ghul. The only existing rock climb on Misfah was the excellent looking Sisi pillar up the south buttress. We took to the southeast face and added a pair of fairly moderate 400m climbs called Sunburst and Shadowlands.

Our last route of the trip was a second line on the beautiful Mistal Tower. This gorgeous- looking feature did not provide us with the quality climbing we were expecting, and The Way of the Goat is an apt name (450m, TD-).

Oswald Oelz was not finished though; back he came in January of 2002 with Robi Boesch to add a third line to the west face of Asait. Close to the top of this sustained TD (5.9) route the pair found a bizarre man-made bridge between two towers of rock. Unable to conclude how and why this feature had appeared, they named their route Mystery. I presume that the shepherds had found a spot that their goats occasionally escape to and had climbed over the summit to build the bridge.

The Brachmeyer- Oelz-Precht team returned in November of 2002 to continue their explorations. They climbed another pair of lines on the Mystery Wall of Asait, Annas Tango (400m, 6+) and Meshmeshkela (400m, 8-). On the west face of Asala they added Jabalistas (400m, 6+) whilst on the north face of the same peak they added Ramadan for Bolts (450m, 6+).

When this teamed left the mountains, Brian Davison, Susie Sammut, and I arrived from the UK. Davison completed an extensive program of soloed first ascents on Jabals Asait, Asala, and Khormilla, whilst the three of us added two important first ascents on previously untouched mountain features. Jabal Manzoob is a subsidiary peak of Jabal Kawr; it provides a handsome 600m north face. Our line climbs a 400m arête on the left side of the face; Gully Arête weighs in at ED2 (5.11).

On the other side of the range, Jabal Ghul has an extensive ridge line with north facing buttresses on it. From the highest point drops a pair of 650m high pillars and we climbed the eastern one via a series of walls, ramps, and corners to give Original route (5.11).

Geoff Hornby, The Alpine Club