Dahab: Egypt – a new bouldering destination
“I heard you like highballs,” said Fred from the Arch Climbing Wall. “You should come to Egypt, there’s loads of highballs, untouched. It’s amazing.”
… Those who know Fred also know he’s not one for overstatement. In fact, quite the opposite – level-headed doesn’t come close to describing him. I was intrigued. Resisting the temptation to make a joke about the pyramids, I probed further. He ran behind the counter and came back with a book. ‘It’s just a draft, I did it last year’. On it’s black and white cover was printed A Dahab Bouldering Guide: bouldering in Egypt’s South Sinai. Inside was page after page of immaculate looking blocs in a stunning desert setting. It looked like bouldering on the moon…
Fred Stone first came across Bir Wadi Qu’nai (also translated as Wadi Qnai or Wadi Gnai) in 2005 when he was working as a free dive instructor in Dahab. What he didn’t tell me initially was that he perforated an eardrum which meant he couldn’t dive – I got that bit from Ros his wife. It lies about 30 minutes drive along a road and along a valley – only accessible by 4×4 or camel. For the past eight years Fred and teams from The Arch have been developing the boulders, which culminated last year in Fred producing a draft guidebook to the area. It’s a beautiful item, far superior to many so called professional guides out there.
The rock is a desert Granite, smooth and largely solid. The pervading angle is slightly steep to slabby, with some fantastic vertical test pieces. It also offers steep climbing, but the best stuff is of a gentler gradient. It offers very little friction due to being water washed, which leads to some comical top outs. This also makes it very skin friendly, with multiple days on possible, trying the many high-quality slabs.
One attractive feature is that it’s projects galore. There are scores of great looking lines to be done for the more adventurous boulderer (sounds like a paradox, I know). There’s nothing harder than about 7B/C there currently, with the majority of established problems between 5-7B. But Fred’s included pictures of what will be futuristic blocs in the high 7s and 8s when the right people turn up. A little while back some Czechs visited and put up some cracking lines. Although a little easier than they initially said, I can now appreciate how hard it is to guage difficulty. I put up a number of 5s and 6s, all thoroughly enjoyable, and a handful in the 7A-7A+ region. One or two harder things escaped me this trip, ready for if when I return.
The boulders are scattered on the sandy valley floor and side walls. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other. The season for bouldering is Sinai winter, November to February, when temperatures hover between ten and twenty degrees, although can feel much cooler with a breeze. Transport to and from was provided by a Bedouin local from one of the better diving companies in Dahab, Desert Divers. It’s based in a little hostel we were staying at on the sea front, Marine Garden, which does rooms from about £6 a night. The main Bedouin local guide, Khaled, is also a keen boulderer and has put up some of the new lines himself. They have some small crash pads you can borrow. Khaled makes copious amounts of intensely sweet mint tea, just the power boost needed to propel you up the blocs. He makes lunch too, a simple spread of tuna salad, falafels and freshly baked sand bread, a Bedouin speciality.
Dahab is a unique climbing location and should be on any boulderer’s radar for a number of reasons. It hardly ever rains, so conditions are stable. It’s a nice escape from the harsh of North European winter, warm but still offering good climbing temperatures. It’s very cheap out there, and there are cheap flights to Sharm El-Sheikh. There are a stack of new problems of all grades to put up, including loads of obvious ones. The Bedouin culture is easy going and the people of Desert Divers are very friendly. No where else in the world is it possible to free dive or scuba dive and boulder on the same day – Thailand offers sport climbing but not bouldering. And most importantly, the climbing’s bloody good, you should try it.