Lebanon has great potential to be a rock climbing ‘destination’. We found a good base of existing bolted routes, massive opportunity to establish new climbs on solid limestone, basic services ready to cater to rural tourism and a friendly climbing community full of the energy and enthusiasm which typifies the country at this point in time.
Our initiation into Lebanese rock climbing began with a day trip to Harissa Tannourine, around 80 km outside Beirut. We made a pit stop at the bakery for fresh orange juice, good coffee and manakish, aka Lebanese pizza, round flat discs of bread covered with zaatar (thyme, sumac and sesame seeds) mixed with olive oil and baked in the oven or on top of a saj. We met other climbers also stocking up on baked goods before heading out to the various canyons on Mount Lebanon.
On the way up the mountain, we passed a caving adventure site popular with speleologists offering guided tours rappelling into a sink hole.
Tannourine crag has around 30 routes ranging from easy to intermediate (7a max.) It is well equipped with stainless steel glue-in routes and modern industry standard ring anchors. The potential for more difficult climbing pitches has yet to be realized but is clearly evidenced by the shape and size of the cliff.
As we chalked up the climbs, the snow capped mountains and cedar trees faded from view under a vale of mist. From our carpet of wild flowers at the base of the cliff we watched the better climbers in our group on the last climb of the day, the bulbous route named Kheops. We hiked out in gentle rain and headed back to Beirut for a victory meal of delicious street food.
Next stop, River Valley, recently established as the capital’s closest climbing area. The wall has a dozen pitches and no approach making it family friendly and a good after work/school crag. It’s a short distance outside Beirut but worlds away. The birdsong and frog-croaks are a nice change from the city’s car horns and the shady river bank is a delightful refuge from the beating sun. Lebanon’s star speed climber showed up while we were there and ran up a route in a flash. Apparently he’s a regular at I Am Gecko, Beirut’s only climbing gym that opened in April 2011.
Kadisha Valley to the North of Beirut is famed for its Maronite monasteries and numerous waterfalls. It’s a spiritual setting for 2 radical new cave walls established by french climber Alex Chabot. Tourists come to marvel at the monasteries built into the cliff and enjoy Lebanese cuisine in the restaurants dotted through the valley. There were no other climbers the day of our visit.
The most memorable day’s climbing was at Wadi Ain Raha on a route named Goldmine, an intermediate grade multiple-pitch (7a.) The climb has standing belay ledges with views across to Tannourine making the potential of that area even more evident.
To celebrate our ascent of the Goldmine we were invited to dinner by the owners of Shogun Sports, one of the few places in town to buy climbing equipment. We first met the owners Adrushan and his wife Nora during our initial exploration of Beirut. After exploring the heart of the city we headed East crossing the Beirut River into Bourj Hammoud, “The Armenian District”, where many Western Armenians settled to build a new life, including many of Will’s relatives. His Grandparents lived there during WWII and Beirut is the birth place of his father.
Adrushan was a great source of information and introduced us to Marcin Prius, one of the main rock climbing route developers for the last four years, and ex-pat turned local John Redwine who found Beirut’s closest new climbing cliff. Over the past few years they have established many routes from one to seven pitches long.
Our last night in Beirut was feted with a roof top party with the local climbing community where we gave a R-A-D slideshow. We met up with Eli Abou Tayeh who runs ClimbingLebanon. Initial internet research prior to our trip led us to the ClimbingLebanon website which has a detailed list of all climbs and difficulty, with links to maps to 5 rock climbing sites. We’d been in touch by e’mail, Eli had been highly encouraging in all our adventuring and it was great to finally get to meet.
The potential for establishing Tannourine El Tahta as an international climbing destination is huge. Cliff development could have a big eccomicial impact for local amenities, from existing hotels to potential camping sites. Grocery stores and restaurants would get a boost from the climber days spent near by. Nothing like have a nice meal with beverages after a hard day on the rocks!
We chose to do a cursory site survey in Lebanon because of the excitement of going somewhere that is misunderstood and to judge it for ourselves. Lebanon was the perfect place to do this, we couldn’t have been treated better and encountered an openness and hospitality that is found few places in the world. Thank you. W&K