Tannourine, Lebanon— The first time David Lama stuck the crux, he knew he had to send. “I figured out that clipping all the quickdraws on the crux section requires too much time and energy,” Lama said in Redbull footage of the ascent. “I decided to skip the two bolts and made a really big runout.” He fought through the roof, reached the good holds on the cave’s headwall, and clipped the chains of the Baatara Gorge’s first route.
Jad Khoury, founder of the organization Rock Climbing Lebanon, and Lama named the route Avataara. The name is a reference to James Cameron’s film while still, by Khoury’s request, maintaining “an Arabic ring.” Lama proposes 5.14d, which would make it Lebanon’s hardest.
“I have basically witnessed all of the hardest routes being sent in Lebanon,” Khoury said. “This is by far the first time I have seen a route this steep being sent. It’s like being part of history.” One of the first serious Lebanese climbers, Khoury often guides intrepid first ascensionists to Lebanon’s largely undeveloped crags.
The Baatara Gorge, a sinkhole of Jurassic limestone, gapes up at aspiring climbers with huge bowls of untouched rock. A thin runnel of water spills over the cave’s lip, falling like a beacon for 800 feet into the black pit. Multiple amphitheaters of blue- and orange-streaked stone connect by verdant archways, forming a series of rooms that looks something like a hybrid brainchild of Isaac Asimov and Michael Crichton.
“When I walked in for the very first time, I almost thought, this can’t be real,” Lama said. In his blog, Lama wrote “the blue and orange limestone and the intense green of the plants immediately made me think of the surreal landscape in the movie Avatar.”
Before Lama arrived on the scene, the Baatara Gorge was devoid of climbs, bolted or otherwise, ascending its parabolic walls. Khoury said Lebanese climbers thought the Baatara Gorge “was maybe too steep, or didn’t have enough features to have a route.”
Lama eventually found a line of rippled crimps, slopers, and tufa pinches crawling out of the cave. “The first half of the climb up to the tufa is not too difficult,” Lama said. “Then it gets really steep, and you have just a couple of small holds and really complex climbing. I think if you remove just one of those holds, the climb would become completely impossible.”
For the full trip-report, check out David Lama’s blog.