Climbers edge way across roof of massive Omani cave

German and American take on Majlis al Jinn - one of the largest cave chambers in the world

Two men have attempted to climb out of one of the largest cave chambers in the world, big enough to swallow the Great Pyramid of Giza, in an unprecedented two week ascent involving upside down climbing with no aid other than a safety rope.

Thu, Mar 20, 2014, 11:01

Majlis al Jinn, located in the Hadschar Mountains in the south-east of the Sultanate of Oman, is one of the largest cave chambers in the world - estimated to be big enough to swallow up the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Only a few cave researchers are believed to have had the opportunity to visit the cave, but it’s said nobody has ever tried to climb out of it.

German climber Stefan Glowacz and American Chris Sharma began their attempt earlier this month, hoping originally to complete their ascent from the floor of the cave through a 250m climb to one of its two major entrances in seven days, but allowing two weeks.

Glowacz, three-time winner of the coveted Rock Master title, 1993 vice world champion and participant in countless successful expeditions, was working together for the first time with Sharma, a well-respected rock climber who has ascended some of the world’s most difficult first climbs.

The 13-pitch climb, which involves multiple stops for safety, is claimed to be among one of the hardest in the world, but Sharma said the timeframe as much as the scale of the climb itself was intimidating.

“That was one of the really nerve-wracking and stressful sides of it for me - like, we have two weeks - are we going to be able to do this huge climb in two weeks, all the work that needs to be done?” he asked.

“It was really overwhelming, so I wasn’t sure that we were going to be able to do it,” he added.

After beginning the climb from its deepest point, 160 metres straight down but 250 metres across the cave’s arch, the two climbers used suspended climbing platforms to rest and mark their progress as they staggered their exhausting effort over the two-week period.

The pair used only safety rope to assist their climbing, but abseiled in and out to their campsite above ground every night and morning, using rope.

Glowacz said the most difficult part was making the transition from the vertical climb up the side of the cave wall to climbing on the ceiling of the cave, upside down.

“At the end, after the fifth pitch, we just climbed in the roof section and it’s, you can say it’s maybe the biggest roof on earth, and maybe it’s a world record,” he said.

“But this was not the objective for us, to climb the biggest and maybe a world record there, but we wanted to climb this unique project,” he added.

Locals came to watch the final stages of the gruelling assault that saw the two climbers battling a lack of sunlight in many places, on top of the exhausting stamina needed of the days and days of climbing, as well as the sheer scale of the cave itself.

As Glowacz approached one of the final sections of the last pitch, where a mark is made in the rock to help suspend the climbers in case of a fall, one of the hand holes his weight was resting on gave way, dropping him into the cave.

The German climber injured his hand during the climb, which forced him to rely on using the rope to finish the climb in order to stay on schedule.

On the 12th day of the climb, Sharma managed to finish the remaining metres and successfully complete one of the largest natural roof climbs.

Glowacz said the satisfaction of completing the climb was immense.

“I’d say maybe ‘proud’ is not the right word to describe the feeling,” he said.

“I think this project is so outstanding and we are happy that also the route is an outstanding route - it’s not just a route out of the cave, it’s one of the best routes we’ve ever climbed, multi-pitch routes we’ve ever climbed - and this makes us happy, that we have a perfect project with a really, really perfect route into the light,” he added.

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