Most people perceive Oman as a laidback and tranquil place where one can watch life pass by at a quiet and unhurried pace. But a team of international rock-climbers are out to showcase the adventurous side of the sultanate that offers a rush of adrenaline and throws challenges not encountered in other parts of the world.
Rock-climbers Read Macadam from Muscat, Philippe Ribiere from France, and Dan Bates from USA made the film The Valley of Giants, shot by Miguel Willis, in the remote locations of Oman. Sponsored by Petzl, Trax Pro and Explore Climbing, the crew captured ten days of their climbing experience in the film, which
“The countryside is amazing, there is so much adventure here that still needs to be discovered,” says Macadam, a Canadian who is now a resident of Oman since several years. He met fellow climbers Ribiere and Bates during international climbing expeditions. It didn’t take Macadam much to convince Ribiere and Bates to come to Oman and explore its raw beauty, and capture their exploits through a film.
Says Willis, the man behind the camera, on the idea behind the film, “The goal was to go somewhere that was pretty much undiscovered, so all the routes we took were being explored for the first time. The general theme was to inspire people to get out, not necessarily in Oman, but just get out and explore wherever they are.”
As veteran climbers with over 20 years each of climbing experience, the team ventured into uncharted territories. The Selma Plateau, Hadash Village, Khubra Canyon and Um’q Bir Village in the secluded interiors of Oman were the locations that the crew chose to indulge their passions in. The climbers scaled boulders that ranged from four to five metres high, without using harnesses. Crash mats sponsored by Petzl were laid below the boulders to cushion the fall as each climber attempted his climb, while a member would stand ready to support in case of a drop.
“The climbing sport helps to open our minds to the difference in cultures,” says Ribiere, for whom it was his first visit to the country. Ribiere, who was born with Rubinstein–Taybi syndrome, is an outstanding example of sheer determination and will power. Devoid of strength in his forearms and flexibility in his wrists, the Frenchman is a champion climber who refused to give up despite facing challenging experiences in his climbs here. “I have been climbing for 22 years and have never asked myself how my life would be without this passion. I would not take the responsibility to be a hero for the physically challenged. I guess I am an example in the world-climbing scene through my efforts to promote climbing for the handicapped. I spent 12 years of my life to show up my handicap, to communicate about it; even though many people did not believe in my abilities and my wishes,” says Ribiere, who was the force behind the creation of the Paraclimbing category in the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup in 2011.
Bates, who was lured into climbing as a child, considers himself lucky as it has become a way of life for him and is something he does full–time. “Every time I go climbing I know I’ll be challenging myself physically and mentally to be my best. Climbing has taught me to deal with fear, make better decisions, and motivated me to travel to the most amazing places on earth.”
Assessing the field in Oman, Macadam says the climbing scene is very adventurous in the sultanate. “We in Oman are lucky as the boulders in wadis are so massive.” Willis says that the activity is pursued by a small but active and passionate group of about 200 climbers in the country, of which about 15 are the best. October to March is the best season for climbing.
Ribiere, whose visit to Oman was immediately after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, was instantly taken in by the hospitality and kindness of the people of sultanate. “The village people welcomed us really well in their lands and it made a good connection, especially with children who came often to hang around with us.”
The diversity of the landscapes was the most attractive factor for Bates. “The beaches, the sand dunes, the Selma Plateau, the wadis, and the villages made for a very rich experience. Also the contrast between the earth tones of the land and the vibrant greens and blues in the wadis and on the water were really beautiful,” he said. Comparing Oman’s topography for climbing, among those in other parts of the world, Bates says that he realised he was witnessing the discovery of a top-class climbing area. “I think I saw more rock here than I’ve seen in other countries! Oman still needs a lot of exploration to find all the best spots for climbing. What’s been developed so far is really fun and good quality, and has the potential to be a very special place for the sport.”
Regarding shooting challenges while filming, Willis says he used a smaller camera over the bigger ones he normally uses. “It’s not easy while climbing and hanging onto a rope.” The desert atmosphere inevitably posed a challenge as well. “The equipment, food and drinks, and everything else came to about 20-30kgs, and the climbing locations were about 20mins hike from the base, so it used to be tiresome in the heat.”
So what is the film about? “It is geared for an audience that is interested in climbing and adventure,” says Macadam. And how did the name of the film come about? “’Valley of Giants’ refers to the huge boulders, which take on the form of giants,” says Willis. “The boulders are from five to 15m high.”
The 30 minute film has been screened in several countries and film festivals such as in Bolivia, Tunisia, UAE, UK, and Slovenia. It is is available for free viewing on their website www.valleyofgiantsfilm.com.