Avaatara – A journey back, and a journey to Lebanon

It has been quite a while since I had been as motivated to sport climb as I was last spring. Even though I began climbing at crags, my focus has been directed towards mountaineering for several years now. But last spring, rock climbing projects at home, in the US and elsewhere got me psyched again. One of the more outstanding projects led me to the Baatara Gorge in Lebanon.

Avaatara Libanon David Lama

It was a photo taken from behind a waterfall that showed the gorge with its bizarre arches and overhangs that inspired me to climb there. Jad Khoury, a Lebanese climber, was willing to support me on this project.

In reality, the gorge was much more spectacular than in the photo. Three natural arches, a waterfall that falls into a dark hole 100 meters below, the blue and orange limestone and the intense green of the plants immediately made me think of the surreal landscape in the movie “Avatar”.

Just like countless other promising looking walls all over Lebanon, no one had ever climbed at this place. I started scanning the overhangs for features and holds that would make a climbable line.

The obvious lines that I first checked out turned out to be wet, dirty, loose or simply unclimbable. Had no climber left his mark at this unique spot because there was no possible line?

I had almost given up already when I rappelled again, to yet another part of the wall. Finally, I found a wild line of crimps and slopers that seemed to connect through the entire, near-horizontal roof. Once I had placed the bolts, I tried to link the holds with a series of burly moves.

Avaatara Libanon David Lama

A few sections were surprisingly tame, but one sequence in the middle of the roof was unobvious. From the last good hold, a tufa jug, you move left to a painful undercling crimp. From there on, there are very few holds and I tried to find the right beta for hours. It had been a very long time since I had spent so much effort to decipher a single sequence. At some point, I felt like I intimately knew even the tiniest of bumps on the route. Working this section so thoroughly paid off. I eventually found an unobvious little slit that helped me get set up perfectly for the next moves.

Avaatara Libanon David Lama

On my next try, I climbed to the middle of the roof before falling. I tried once more, but could not find the rhythm and fell quite low. My skin was suffering from the small, sharp crimps, and I decided to postpone my next attempt to the following day so my hands would get a break.

My strategy worked out well and I went back to the route with less raw fingers a day later. When I got past the crux move for the first time, I did not want to let anything get in between me and the send, and thus the first ascent of this line. I knew that there were another couple hard moves until I would reach the jug at the edge of the roof, where the difficulties end. I gave everything I had, did not clip any of the quickdraws in the roof, and fought against what felt like increasing gravity. As Jad later told me, it seemed odd to him to see such a huge loop of rope between me and the last quickdraw, but all I had in mind was the final jug, to which I fortunately made it.


Jad, who had patiently belayed me on my attempts, suggested that we give the route a name that has an Arabic ring to it. We talked a bit about what makes this project special, and agreed to name the route Avaatara (9a), referring to its surreal location – the Bataara Gorge.

I was happy to have successfully finished the project. Two days after I had sent, my fingers were still completely destroyed. “Avaatara” is not for the fainthearted, just like the last night that we spent partying in Beirut. There is a reason why Jad calls it the “party capital of the world”.

Avaatara Libanon David Lama
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