By Alan Goldbetter
Expeditions, like an illness, often begin with a single moment. If you are willing to look back and comb through the details of you life long enough with an objective eye, you can almost always find that first point of contact. The time the bug bit you or when the person behind you at the grocery store sneezed. Maybe it was fast and obvious; like that cover of a climbing mag featuring our hero pumping their way up a wall of greasy, overhanging limestone in a far-off land. Or that video clip on Youtube that made you do a double take and say, “wooooooow!” Other times, it’s more subtle—a small trail of cookie crumbs, often left by a climbing partner luring you into their finely laid trap. “Gosh, isn’t crack climbing awesome?” they say. “What do you have planned for Thanksgiving?”
It was in this latter manner that the idea for this expedition took hold. One of my best friends was stationed in Bahrain with the U.S. military. A tiny island kingdom in the Persian Gulf, it is not the easiest sell as a vacation destination. Even so, my friend kept making subtle hints, asking if me, his most adventurous friend, would be up for a visit. Intrigued, I scoured the internet for climbing opportunities in the country. Finding only two references (one for a climbing demo/exhibition held on a temporary rock wall a few years prior, and, the other, a Mountain Project page noting that indoor climbing wall on the U.S. military base was the tallest climbable structure in the country), I quickly lost interest and dismissed the notion. Little did I realize though that the damage had already been done. The illness had taken hold and was now lying dormant, just waiting for the right catalyst to set it off.
Four months later, I found myself hitting the eject button and bailing out 10 days early from a month-long climbing trip in Torres Del Paine National Park. For 20 days we had weathered out cold, storms, and hunger near the base of the incredible Central Tower of Paine. In all that time, and with three major attempts made, my partner and I hadn’t even been able to make it as far as the base. With the forecast only getting worse, we opted to cut our losses and return home early. Demoralized and beaten, I was in need of a win, or, at the least, a little bit of R&R.
Listening to the howling winds across Patagonia on those last few nights in camp, the idea of Bahrain resurfaced from the depths of my mind and positioned itself front and center. Warm and sunny (it is the desert after all), offering an opportunity to experience a new culture and spend time with an old friend, it seemed too good to pass up. With no real post-expedition plans, a visit to Bahrain quickly rose to the top of the list.
The link between climbing expeditions and actually climbing is tenuous, at best. A month-long alpine big wall climbing expedition and all I managed to climb was one boulder problem (my partner climbed two). This is why I always make it my goal for climbing expeditions that the journey should be worthy in its own right, even if no climbing is ever achieved. What does this mean? Well, it means that you choose your partners carefully, based on more than just their climbing prowess. Do you work well as a team? Do you find them good company? It means choosing destinations that calls to you as a person, not just as a climber. Are you interested in the culture, the language, the food, the way of life of the land you will travel to? It means being honest with yourself and asking the hard question, “if I don’t get to climb, will I still be glad I went?”
And it was with the answer to this last question in the affirmative that six weeks after my return home from Patagonia, I found myself on Google Earth at 2:00 AM, scrolling through the entire Kingdom of Bahrain, looking for any and all signs of potential climbing locations. A few nights later, with less than a week until departure, I amassed a list of sites that I planned to visit, and with any luck, unlock the secrets of Bahrain’s (potential) hidden climbing gems.
Part one of two from adventure-climber and Misty Mountain Ambassador, Alan Goldbetter. Stay tuned for part-two, where he will travel to and climb in the Kingdom of Bahrain.