National Geographic : 2014 Jan
145 day’s catch, left on ice in old refrigerators. The variety of their haul is impressive: sharks, tuna, grouper, snapper, needlefish, and mackerel. The Kumzaris are an extended family with their own language, a legacy of the cultural col- lision that has been going on here since ancient times. Linguists don’t know exactly how Kumzari developed, but it’s genetically related to Persian and Arabian languages, with words borrowed from Hindi, Portuguese, and even English. One theory is that the Kumzaris were originally from the mainland and were pushed out onto the tip of the peninsula by Bedouin Arab invaders in the seventh century. Another, more intriguing theory is that their ancestors had contact with shipwrecked sailors who washed ashore, perhaps as long ago as the Middle Ages. From Kumzar we sail east toward the Fakk al Asad, or “lion’s mouth,” a narrow strait named for the fanglike red and orange limestone pillars that jut from overhangs at its entrance. Alex and Hazel spend the day working on a 200-foot route up one of the pillars. That night we anchor in the bay at the base of a 500-foot Gothic tower we dub the “sand cas- tle.” Before joining Alex and Hazel for the climb the next morning, I suggest that we take along ropes and safety gear. As expedition leader, I’m responsible for keeping everyone out of harm’s way. The young climbers scoff, saying that to them it’s nothing more than a hike. I think of myself as a young 44-year-old, but trying to keep up with these two has made me feel old. During a climb earlier in the trip Alex had scampered up a 1,500-foot wall with our rope in his pack. “Hold on a second!” I’d yelled. What if the rest of us needed it? “Don’t worry,” he’d replied. “I’ll stop when I think it’s appropriate for us to rope up.” Once again I’m slightly annoyed that neither of them seems to care whether I’m comfortable climbing without a rope. As a father of three, I have a healthy preoccupation with my well-being. “You’ll be fine,” Alex calls down, as he and Hazel disappear from view. The rock here is badly shattered, what climb- ers call choss. As I cling to the dead-vertical wall, I test the integrity of each hold by bang- ing it with the heel of my hand. Sometimes the rock sounds hollow or even moves, and these places I avoid. Staring down between my legs, I see the catamaran bobbing in the bay far below. The last 20 feet turn out to be the hardest part, a steep, crumbling wall that leads to a tiny pin- nacle so pointy we have to take turns climbing up onto it. “You lived,” Hazel says, slapping me a high five as I plop down on a ledge beside Alex and her, my nerves frazzled. Below us the clawlike fingers of the Musandam Peninsula glow orange with the setting sun. Looking down at the tortu- ous shoreline, which fans out in every direction, we’re gazing at a lifetime’s worth of climbing. As I turn to my youthful partners for their thoughts, I see they’ve already packed up. For them the moment has passed. “Let’s go,” Alex says impatiently. “If we hustle, we can get in another climb before dark.” j I think of myself as a young 44-year-old, but trying to keep up with these two has made me feel old. To make this first ascent, Honnold not only scaled the towering, jagged pinnacle but also climbed back down the exact same way—an even more challenging task. Photo comPosed of two images. see our digital editions for a video of the climbers clinging to cliffs above the gulf of oman.