Nimrod Nahmias redpointing Cairo Slammer (5.12d), Northern Main Wall, Ein Prat, Israel. Photo by Garrett Smith

Nimrod Nahmias redpointing Cairo Slammer (5.12d), Northern Main Wall, Ein Prat, Israel. Photo by Garrett Smith

Perfect limestone in the Israeli desert

Editor’s Note: this issue, we present the first of two Mileages on the Middle East. Pick up No. 279 for deep-water soloing in Oman.

NO TRIP TO THE MIDDLE EAST would be complete without a stop in Israel, a richly historic, beautiful country that also has loads of limestone. If you look past the headlines, you’ll find cool, peaceable people living on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of this small nation. You’ll also fi nd a month’s worth of great cragging on unique desert limestone.

The one caveat is, climbers and the national environmental authorities have an ongoing debate regarding the cliffs, most in national reserves. The authorities hold that Israel is a “bus stop” for birds — migrating between Europe, Asia, and Africa — that nest in certain cliff areas, though the Israeli Alpine Club (IAC; has been conducting research showing that the majority of the nesting species are local. There are no seasonal closures, but many of the areas are only partially developed as a result.

Winter is best — summer’s too hot. It’s good to hook up with the locals and/or find partners through the IAC, the only supplier of bolts, hangers, and anchors to the Israeli routesetters (if you want to open new lines, contact them first). Most of the crags are between 60 and 100 feet, so if you crave big walls, head to Wadi Rum, 50 minutes across Jordan’s border, for 3,200-foot (!) red-sandstone walls. A day trip to Petra is also recommended. Here are Israel’s three principal zones:

The Russian Orthodox monastery built into the cliff at Ein Prat. Photo by Garrett Smith

The Russian Orthodox monastery built into the cliff at Ein Prat. Photo by Garrett Smith

Gita, Western Galil (northern Israel) This and Ein Prat are Israel’s largest crags. Gita divides into the main sectors of Gita East and Gita West, with more than 100 good routes, all sport. Grades range from 5.8 to 5.13c, mostly on vertical walls, with some steeps in the higher grades.

Camping: You can camp below the wall, but it’s almost easier to fi nd a hostel in Haifa (40 minutes) or stay in a kibbutz (15 minutes).

Food: The Druze towns Yarca and Kfar Yassif are 10 minutes away, offering anything you need, along with authentic Druze pita, hummus, shawarma, falafel, and local spicy salads.

Guidebook: A guidebook is slated for late 2009; until then, click guidebookmap.html.

Rest-Day Entertainment: Visit the sea, just 20 minutes west. With its small bay and clear waters, Tantura Beach is a good choice.

Ticklist: Gita East:Walkabout (5.8), Berta (5.10a), Sunny (5.10b), Superfule (5.12a), Alibaba (5.12d), Caffeine (5.13c)

Gita West:Irish Cream (5.10b), Yoav’s Route (5.10d), Cuckoo’s Nest (5.10d), Dimon (5.13b)

Western (Wailing) Wall at sunset, Jerusalem. Photo by Garrett Smith

Western (Wailing) Wall at sunset, Jerusalem. Photo by Garrett Smith

Yonim Cave (northern Israel) Located near Gita, this 30-route crag offers pockets, crimps, jugs, slabs, steep lines, and even an occasional tufa. Since trad on Israeli limestone is no fun (cams tend to skitter), these are all sport routes. Mid-crag, you’ll find a bell-shaped karstic cave, a common phenomenon in the Israeli limestone. Inside are seven overhanging lines, all 5.12 and up.

Camping: Same story as Gita. The town of Carmiel, just 30 minutes away, has good options.

Food: Carmiel has a shopping center with supermarkets and restaurants.

Rest-Day Entertainment: Trek the Amud wadi (Arabic for “canyon”), an hour’s drive away. You can hike the 10-mile trail in two sections or over two days. This wadi runs from Mount Meron to the Lake of Galilee, with numerous other valleys, springs, and treks in the area.

Ticklist:Beauty (5.9), Over the Rainbow (5.11b), OB’s Traverse (5.12c). Inside the cave:Samurai (5.12b), Best of 80s (5.12d)

Ein Prat/Ein Fara (Jerusalem) Welcome to Israel’s best climbing, an oasis just 25 minutes from Jerusalem. It’s also a national reserve that allows climbing only in certain zones. Springs gush from the rock year-round — until the 1950s, this was Jerusalem’s main water source — and you can dip in the small pools along the stream. The canyon features two walls, one facing north, the other south, letting you chase shade. Also of interest is the Russian Orthodox monastery built into the cliffside.

About 90 routes from 5.7 to 5.13d tackle slabs and slightly overhanging walls. You’ll even fi nd a few good mixed routes (sport/trad) and some full-trad ones . . . plus, for you hardpeople, a few open projects.

Camping: No camping at Ein Prat — try a Jerusalem hotel or hostel.

Food: Jerusalem has it all.

Guidebook: For now, click Rest-Day Entertainment: The world’s holiest city has more options than you’ll have time for. Start with the historical tour inside the City of David.

Ticklist: Northern Main Wall:Chocolate Noir (5.10a), Dio-Santo (5.11d), Pigs in Space (5.12a), ”New-Left” (5.12b), Jeremiah (5.13a)

Northern Wall, Monk Sector:State of Monk (5.10d)

Southern Wall, Academy Sector:Border Run (5.11b), $140 (5.11d), Islands in the Flow (5.13b)