JEDDAH: Saudi climbing enthusiasts in search of a “new high” have been gathering in the desert near NEOM to try out 100 new routes opened late last year as part of Rise 100, the Kingdom’s first climbing festival.
The single-pitch routes have become a favorite destination for a fast-growing and tight-knit group of climbers and adventurers.
Single-pitch climbing routes are up to a half-rope length (about 30 meters) with an anchor at the end, and are accessible to climbers of all abilities.
Rise 100 last December set the stage for NEOM’s diverse adventure sport offerings, which are designed to encourage greater environmental awareness, educating thrill-seekers beyond just the sport.
Now indoor climbing gyms are opening around the country, while a growing number of events bring international and local climbers together.
The result is a fast-growing community of young, but highly committed, climbers.
Abdul Rahman Abughazala, a 25-year-old mechatronic engineer, said that after developing an interest in the sport in college, “it took over my life.”
The young adventurer’s day now revolves around climbing.
New routes opened in NEOM “mean a lot to the climbing community,” he added.
“Newer climbers can experience different rock types and styles of climbing that are absolutely beautiful. And it is easier for Middle Eastern climbers from the north to visit Saudi and try climbing here,” he told Arab News.
Bolting more routes around the Kingdom will offer climbers more exposure and variety as they learn how to deal with different climbs and rock types.
Pioneering Saudi climber Faisal Al-Dosary said that hard granite rock gave Tanomah, a popular climbing destination in the Kingdom’s southwest, an advantage.
“Granite is stronger and more difficult to break,” he said.
“In NEOM, they are a bit closer to sandy rock, which makes them fragile. Fortunately, the routes are safe because they are bolted extremely deep. These kinds of differences will ensure that the climbers will be able to deal with any type of rock around the world.”
Abughazala agreed that the wide variety of rock types in Saudi Arabia could play a huge role in attracting overseas climbers to the Kingdom.
Al-Dosary, who was part of a team that worked together to open the first dedicated indoor climbing center in Saudi Arabia, said that it is encouraging to see so many younger climbers joining the sport.
“It is a skill that we need to develop at an early age, and it helps with flexibility and strength,” he said.
Follow this path, the climbing veteran said, “and we will have Olympic-level climbers.”
Abughazala said that he is excited about the future “because I know our potential, and I know that it is just a matter of time until our community thrives.”
Growth in the sport will also lead to greater environmental awareness and have “a big impact on the perception of nature,” he said.
“As climbers and nature lovers, leaving the place as it is, or in even better condition, is as important as the action of climbing. It is every single person’s job to care for it as much as the workers or the government body around the area.”
Climbers believe the NEOM routes are merely the start for Saudi Arabia, with the Kingdom’s desert areas and mountains destined to attract climbers from around the world.