Palestine's West Bank: A rock climbing guide

An in-depth guide to rock climbing in Palestine's West Bank.

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THE PLACE


Climbers walking out to the crag in PalestineSport climbing on the West BankClimber reaching for the next hold in PalestineSport climber clipping a quickdraw in PalestinePhoto of the crags in PalestineSport climbing in Palestine with a view over the West Bankhiking in the West Bank Palestine





The West Bank of Palestine, with its bucolic rolling hills, vast deserts, and deep valleys is known for its biblical history and for the modern Arab-Israeli conflict. But rock climbing turns out to be a wonderful way through which to explore this culturally, politically, and historically rich “Holy Land.” The visiting climber can expect to find incredible single-pitch limestone sport climbing in a setting unlike anywhere else in the world. Beyond the climbing, visitors will see and learn about a complex political reality, meet welcoming locals, eat delicious food, and maybe learn a little Arabic!‍

The best way to introduce climbing in Palestine is by quoting the authors of the “Climbing Palestine” guidebook, Tim Bruns, Ben Kornff, and Albert Moser: "When you strip away everything non-essential about climbing - that is equipment, ego, grades - climbing is in its essence about movement. Rock climbing moves us through unique environments and takes us to places where we could otherwise not go. By learning how to climb rocks, we expand our freedom of movement.‍

In many places around the world, freedom of movement is taken for granted. Most people are free to move around their own country and to explore their natural environments. This is not the case in Palestine. Decades of conflict and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank have made climbing a political act, often keeping Palestinian climbers from visiting spots that are located close to their home, deep within Palestinian territory. ‍

Nomadic Bedouin have been scrambling the rocky landscape of Palestine for centuries. The first modern rock climbing started in the mid-seventies in the Hinnom Valley, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem, when two visitors from the US started putting up routes on a small cliff that can still be climbed today. (The rock is more polished than your grandma’s silver.) [...] It was not until a couple of years ago that Palestinians Marwan Tarazi and Hani Thaher began setting up top ropes on the cliffs near Ein Qiniya village and inviting friends and family to climb with them.‍

In June of 2014, Tim Bruns (author) and Will Harris, two American climbers from Colorado, moved to Ramallah with the idea to establish the first indoor climbing gym in Palestine: Wadi Climbing. Their vision was to leverage rock climbing as a tool for social empowerment in a place with few recreational opportunities. While looking for investors and a location for the gym, Tim and Will received a modest grant to start developing some outdoor sport climbing routes in area “A” of the West Bank. After hearing some rumors about Marwan Tarazi, they took a hike with Wahid Masri near El Qiniya village and spotted the cliffs that would become one of the staple climbing areas for climbers from Ramallah. ‍

After establishing a number of moderate climbs in Ein Qiniya, Wadi Climbing began to hold introductory climbing trips for beginners to build enthusiasm for the sport before opening the gym. [...] Climbing development started shortly thereafter. In March 2016, with the help of climbing gm owners from Colorado and the growing local climbing community, Wadi Climbing, a bouldering gym, was opened to the public. To this day, Wadi Climbing has led hundreds of outdoor climbing trips and thousands of people have learned to climb on trips and in the gym. With the contributions and dedication of both foreign and local climbers, over 170 new sport climbing routes have been bolted at sites around the West Bank, making it a wonderful climbing destination for climbers of all abilities!‍

Perhaps the most inspiring development has been the consistent growth of the local Palestinian climbing community. The visiting climber will find a warm, enthusiastic and diverse group of locals who climb at various crags around the West Bank throughout the year. We encourage you to seek out the locals, swap belays, learn a little Arabic, and maybe even try some of the Qalayat Bandoora (friend tomatoes) that often gets cooked over an open fire at the crags."


THE CRAGS





Palestine has been occupied by the State of Israel for over 50 years. As such, visitors can only access the West Bank by flying into the airport in Tel Aviv. From there, head east to Jerusalem and cross through the Separation Wall into Ramallah, the de-facto capital of the Occupied West Bank. Start off your trip by visiting Wadi Climbing, Palestine’s first indoor rock climbing gym, where you can meet an eclectic mix of passionate local climbers and expatriate volunteers, journalists, and diplomats. ‍

For your first outdoor climbing day, check out the local Ramallah crag called Yabrud with over 50 routes between French grade 4 and unfinished projects in the 8a to 8b range. You can warm up on the beautiful Hai Hilalik (5b), a beautiful slab with a crescent moon hold that gives the name to the route, then move to the fantastic Dubke Dance (6a+) and if you have it in your chords don’t miss the beautiful Tannourine Dream (7b): a natural line up the tufa with a fun crux at the top - this route has been climbed also by the famous climber Nina Caprez, it is truly a dream! A day at Yabrud is characterized by engaging climbing on bulletproof limestone and crag-side tea or fried tomatoes prepared over an open fire. If you are with local climbers, it is likely that someone will bring a hookah to smoke between routes!

 After exploring the Ramallah-area crags, venture a little further to the amazing Ein Fara valley with its hundreds of routes, beautiful wildflowers, and natural springs that you can swim in! Ein Fara is considered one of the best sport climbing sites in the Middle East, both for the quality and quantity of climbing and for the spectacular location. Grades range from easy warm-ups to multiple routes above 8th grade. We recommend Russians in Space, an 8b+ with tough overhanging start followed by a technical slab, and, for milder grades, Beef Shoulder, 6b+, very nice, juggy, sustained, and overhanging classic.  It is also a starting point of the second section of the Wadi Qelt hike. The route is the ancient path between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. On the way, you will pass monasteries, Roman water channels that are still functioning, Bedouin herder communities grazing their animals, and interesting fauna and flora.

You should also head north from Ramallah to the ancient city of Nablus where you can climb at a cliff that overhangs the city. Here we recommend Mr. Sinter, 6b+, tough spiky crimps, and a Tufa (what more can you ask for?). Afterward, check out a Turkish bath and eat some of the famous Middle-Eastern dessert “kunafa” that originated in the city. On rest days, soak in the healing waters of the Dead Sea, explore the historical cities of Hebron or Jerusalem, visit the famous Banksy hotel and museum in Bethlehem, and eat food with the local climbers who will show you all the hidden gems! 

This is just a taste of the incredible variety of crags and climbing styles of the 9 areas already developed in the West Bank. For thorough information on climbing and traveling in Palestine, pick up a copy of Climbing Palestine, available online here or at the Wadi Climbing Gym in Ramallah and the Educational Bookshop in East Jerusalem.‍


THE LOCAL COMMUNITY


Wadi Climbing

The climbing community in Palestine revolves largely around Wadi Climbing, the first bouldering gym of the West Bank opened by the Americans Tim Bruns and Will Harris in 2015. The gym is currently managed by the very talented Ahmad, supported by local climbers such as Momen and Mujahed. They organize outdoor trips to the crags and are always keen to meet and welcome international climbers and show them around. Below a bit of background on who they are and what brought them to climbing.


Momen and Mujahed, rock climbing guides in Palestine




Momen

Momen is a 28 years old lawyer, born and raised in Ramallah. He “met” rock-climbing only in 2015, when the American climber Tim Bruns opened the first bouldering gym in the West Bank, Wadi Climbing. He immediately fell in love with the sport, to the point that now he is managing Wadi Climbing with his brother Mujahed and is organizing climbing trips to show the many crags to local and international climbers. 

Rock climbing changed Momen’s life: it turned into a door-opener for living more his own country and to connect with the rest of the world.With Wadi Climbing and with the “excuse” of climbing, Momen and many other locals started to discover beautiful natural areas that they never thought existed within Palestine. Given the limitations to freedom of movement they are forced to live with, this climbing “explorations” became the source of thrill and adrenaline for many young people in Ramallah during the weekend, creating a tight and fun community. Momen then started getting more involved himself with Wadi Climbing, also organizing trekking and bike tours to explore even more the beautiful country.

But climbing turned also to be a bridge to the rest of the world. As more routes were developed, some professional climbers started coming to visit these “biblical” crags. One day Momen met Miranda Oakley, a rock guide working in Yosemite, and invited him to visit. The next year Momen did his very first trip to the US, going for nothing less than a multi-pitch next to El Capitan. These international meet-ups happened over and over, with Palestinian and international climbers gathering in different countries like Spain, Germany, and Jordan. 

Climbing for Palestinians like Momen is really a force for change and for good, opening doors and creating communities and movements beyond the limitations imposed by the political situation. It is an amazing way to explore the country and Momen and all the other local climbers at Wadi hope it can become a magnet for international travelers seeking nature, authenticity, and beauty.