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Scaling New Heights: The Unlikely Emergence of a Rock-Climbing Paradise in the Middle East


"Scaling New Heights: Saudi Arabia's Uncharted Path to Rock-Climbing Prominence"

In the tranquil expanse of southwestern Saudi Arabia, Abdulrahman Alabdu hangs suspended off a cliff, a solitary figure in a landscape untouched by the outside world. As the first certified rock-climbing instructor in Saudi Arabia, he diligently drills into the rock, placing stainless steel bolts that pierce the silence of this remote region. According to Alabdu, only a handful of outsiders have ventured to this hidden gem, where the locals tend to their sheep and the spirit of exploration prevails.

Beyond his role as an instructor, Alabdu dedicates his spare time to establishing new climbing routes, a mission fueled by a desire to draw more enthusiasts to the sport. In the past four years, he has bolted 11 routes in Tanomah, contributing to the emergence of Saudi Arabia as an unexpected rock-climbing destination.

As Saudi Arabia makes substantial investments in sports on both the global and domestic fronts, Alabdu aims to elevate the profile of rock-climbing personally. Amid headlines of extravagant football contracts and the launch of the LIV golf series, Saudi Arabia's sports investments have drawn attention, with critics labeling it as "sportwashing" to divert attention from human rights concerns. However, officials assert that these endeavors are part of the Vision 2030 plan, aimed at diversifying the oil-dependent economy.

Internally, the country is actively promoting a healthier, more active lifestyle among its citizens, aspiring to increase the number of Saudis engaging in physical activity weekly by 2030. The government's initiatives include organizing sports events, nationwide campaigns, and competitions. While football remains the nation's most popular sport, the significant growth in sports federations, including the establishment of the Saudi Hiking and Climbing Federation in 2018, reflects a broader commitment to fostering diverse athletic pursuits.

Amidst the shifting landscapes of sports and tourism, Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast emerges as a potential luxury tourism destination, signaling a unique and multifaceted transformation in the kingdom's aspirations.

Abdulrahman Alabdu's journey into the world of rock climbing is a testament to the transformative power of discovery and perseverance. Born in the southwestern city of Abha and raised between there and Jeddah, his climbing odyssey began in 2014, taking him to the craggy landscapes of 17 countries, from Australia to Vietnam. However, upon returning to Saudi Arabia, he faced a challenge — the inability to find the quality rock faces that fueled his passion abroad.

Everything changed in 2016 when Alabdu ventured to Tanomah, a region blessed with moderate temperatures year-round and the majestic Sarawat Mountains stretching from southwestern Saudi to Yemen. Here, he not only discovered solid, safe rock faces but also a plethora of climbable routes accessible from the town itself. The convenience of reaching the crag in less than 10 minutes from the hotel became a game-changer for Alabdu, making Tanomah an ideal climbing destination.

Inspired by this newfound haven, Alabdu embarked on a journey to Nevada, training with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). In 2019, after completing the AMGA single-pitch instructor program, he achieved the distinction of becoming Saudi Arabia's first certified rock-climbing instructor. In 2021, he founded Granite Climbing, a company dedicated to consulting with the government and businesses interested in establishing climbing activities in the country.

Alabdu's role extends beyond instruction; he leads expeditions for tourists eager to conquer Saudi Arabia's mountains and offers private and group lessons. With a passion for breaking down misconceptions about the difficulty of the sport, he emphasizes the inclusivity of climbing, catering to all skill levels. His joy lies in witnessing individuals surpass their own expectations, transforming from novices to dedicated rock climbers.

Since becoming an instructor, Alabdu estimates that he has shared the art of climbing with approximately 300 people in Saudi Arabia. While many start with a single introductory course, a notable few have become regular clients, a testament to the growing allure of rock climbing in the kingdom. As Alabdu fervently rummages through his backpack, tools in hand, he embodies the spirit of a climbing advocate, spreading the love for the sport and proving that, in the realm of rock climbing, everyone can find their ascent.

When Abdulrahman Alabdu isn't imparting the art of rock climbing to enthusiasts, he can often be found in Tanomah, fervently engaged in the meticulous process of bolting new routes. This intricate task involves meticulously cleaning rock faces, strategically placing stainless steel bolts, and drilling them into place. On a September morning, against the backdrop of Alsharaf Park, Alabdu focuses on a rock face soaring approximately 2,300 meters high.

While he has already charted 11 paths in Tanomah, Alabdu's bolting endeavors extend beyond, encompassing around 10 routes in a small town south of Riyadh. His bolting mission is not only a testament to his eagerness to share his passion but also a pragmatic solution to a unique challenge in Saudi Arabia. Climbing often requires partners for belaying—a crucial technique providing ground support to the climber. Given the relative novelty of climbing in Saudi, finding belayers can be a challenge.

Addressing this issue, Alabdu astutely recognizes that popularity is the key. "The more traffic you have, the less problem you have finding partners," he asserts. His bolting efforts, therefore, serve a dual purpose – to attract climbers from the GCC (Gulf countries), Saudi, and internationally, making the climbing areas more popular while also ensuring a steady supply of belayers. In his own words, it might sound a bit selfish, but as he chuckles, "Then I will always have belays."

In this unique blend of personal passion and community-building, Alabdu's bolting missions become a cornerstone in establishing Saudi Arabia as a vibrant and thriving hub for rock climbing, echoing the spirit of adventure in the kingdom's evolving narrative.

In conclusion, Abdulrahman Alabdu's journey into the world of rock climbing not only exemplifies personal passion but also serves as a catalyst for transforming Saudi Arabia into a burgeoning hub for this exhilarating sport. When not imparting his expertise to climbing enthusiasts, Alabdu dedicates his time to bolting new routes in the breathtaking landscapes of Tanomah and beyond. This meticulous process, involving the strategic placement of stainless steel bolts, is not just a means of expanding climbing opportunities but a thoughtful solution to the unique challenge of finding climbing partners in the nascent Saudi climbing community.

Alabdu's bolting missions, driven by a desire to share his love for climbing, also address the practical need for creating popular climbing destinations. As he humorously notes, the more traffic these areas attract, the easier it becomes to find climbing partners. This dual-purpose approach reflects the evolving landscape of adventure sports in Saudi Arabia, where personal passion intertwines with community building, creating a vibrant climbing culture.

As Alabdu envisions attracting climbers not only from the GCC and Saudi Arabia but also internationally, his bolting efforts become a cornerstone in establishing the kingdom as a global destination for rock climbing. The laughter in his acknowledgment of a "selfish" motive—the assurance of always having belays—adds a touch of camaraderie to his mission.

In this dynamic narrative of discovery, community, and personal fulfillment, Abdulrahman Alabdu emerges as a pioneer, shaping the landscape of rock climbing in Saudi Arabia. His dedication, both as an instructor and a bolter of routes, contributes not only to the growth of the sport but also to the broader narrative of adventure, perseverance, and the transformative power of pursuing one's passions in uncharted territories.