Climbers Describe Breakthrough Ascent Out of Cave

Stefan Glowacz and Chris Sharma talk about the amazing first ascent of Oman’s Majlis al Jinn cave.
Stefan Glowacz roping down into the cave.
...into the darkness © Klaus Fengler/ Stefan Glowacz GmbH

Elite climbers Stefan Glowacz and Chris Sharma spent more than two weeks working their way up Oman's Majlis al Jinn, one of the world's largest cave chambers, which at 13 pitches is almost certainly one of the biggest roof climbs. The unique first ascent was one of the hardest and most challenging experiences for both of them. And for Stefan, it nearly ended very badly.

What was special about this climb?

Glowacz: Normally, climbers go up mountains. Here we had to abseil down first into the earth and then come back up again. It was also impossible to see and visualize the route. We saw crack lines we thought we'd have to jam with our hands and fists but when we got there you could fit a whole body in.

Sharma: Usually when we go climbing you have these amazing vistas and you can see into the distance. In the cave you're just in the dark so much. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. there was light but before and after we had to use head torches. It was an interesting experience to spend so much time in the dark and a little bit claustrophobic for sure.

Chris Sharma climbing up the last pitch in the roof of the cave.
Totally inverted © Klaus Fengler/ Stefan Glowacz GmbH

How hard was it?

Sharma: There was one pitch that I was very close to sending that was 8b+ and it would have made the route perhaps the hardest in the world, but we ran out of time and opted to find a way around it. But every pitch was quite serious. It's a world-class climb for sure. When you climb a 300-meter (985-foot) wall it's normally a lot more vertical. This was just so over-hanging.

Glowacz: We prepared all the pitches, placed bolts, climbed by aid and then we redpointed every pitch. The rock was very solid, beautiful limestone but there were some sections of rotten rock. We expected worse though.

Stefan Glowacz and Chris Sharma after the climb.
Bivvying below © Klaus Fengler/ Stefan Glowacz GmbH

Stefan, you had a fall…

Glowacz: That was almost a drama. I was going up the rope using jumars [ascending devices]. I unclipped the first one to get around a quickdraw. As I took out the second one, kinks in the rope caused it to spin so fast my first jumar came off. As I fell down I grabbed the rope and burnt both my hands before the fixed rope held my fall. If it had not I would have fallen 80 meters (267 feet).

Sharma: It could have been very serious. He was lucky. It was a good wake-up call. Someone like Stefan has so much experience – it goes to show you always have to be aware and conscious of what you're doing.

Stefan Glowacz hanging on the rope during the climb.
Whip it real good © Klaus Fengler/ Stefan Glowacz GmbH

But that didn't spoil the party?

Glowacz: I taped my fingers and took some painkillers, but I couldn't climb properly. It was still a great experience and such a unique project, especially to climb with Chris.

Sharma: I'm always trying to find the combination of beautiful places and cutting-edge routes. It was huge privilege to have the opportunity to be the first to climb there. It exceeded our expectations.

So what's next?

Glowacz: I'm currently training on a road bike. I have an idea to go climbing on a bike like the old climbers in the 40s and 50s, cycling from Munich to the Dolomites, climbing a hard route and cycling back.

Sharma: There's a 250-meter (820-foot) big wall near Barcelona in Spain. It's going to be very difficult, and I need some time to see if I can get to the top of that.

Photos: Climbing Out of the Majlis Al Jinn

Stefan Glowacz
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