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Ascent of Jabal ad Dukhan on 2013-08-12

Climber: James Barlow

Others in Party:Dan Conley
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, August 12, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Jabal ad Dukhan
    Location:Bahrain
    Elevation:134 m / 440 ft

Ascent Trip Report

First, the bad news: I did not have a GPS along as I thought my chances for bagging this peak were next to zero judging by previous trip reports.

Next the good news: I turned a red dot green.

Best news: We had a hook-up with a local Bahrain driver who was actually a citizen of Bahrain and a semi-legitimate ok from a guy in the Bahrain Military Police that helped make this a "go" instead of a "I drove right past this easy thing!"

Mediocre news: I have not bagged a peak in nearly 3 months and I am itching for a fix, so this report is incredibly long...

My 4 day trip to Bahrain, courtesy of my employer, was a resounding success. I worked the first/worst day in port, and had freedom from there. On the second morning, my buddy Dan and I headed out to the Tree of Life to check it out, as it is apparently the thing to do when in Bahrain. After an invigorating 10 minutes sweating in the desert heat, we piled back into the van and headed to pick up the rest of our friends who wisely chose to sleep in. As we left the Tree of Life, we passed the eastern flanks of Jebel Al Dukhan, and it called to me - tantalizingly close. Our ascent on this day was not to be, and we spent the day exploring a fort at the north end of the island, a museum with air conditioning, a movie (also air conditioned), and eating some great Arab food.
Day 3 saw my buddy Tim and I out and about to Al Dar Island (skip it...), where we grabbed the island high point. As the island is 400m x 50m at the largest possible point, and the high point is a mere 3m above sea level, I just felt plain dirty adding it to peakbagger. So, I felt that getting a peak of any significance this month was out of the question. Fast forward to our evening out on the town at the rug shop and we met a guy who happened to be in the Bahrain Military Police (who I bought 2 rugs from). As a group, my friends and I bought around 20 rugs, so the guy owed us. I saw my opportunity and struck.

Me: "So, you are in the military police. Have you ever been out to the Isa Air Base and above it to the radar dome on top of Jebel Al Dukhan? It happens to be the country high point and I like to hike country high points."
Him: "Yes, many times. I like it out there."
Me: "So, I read some reports about foreigners going out there and getting hassled by the military police."
Him: "No, you can go out there."
Me: "Are you sure you can go all the way to the top?"
Him: "Yes, I am not sure why they had any problems. Did they drive out there and walk up?"
Me: "No, they took a taxi and walked up."
Him: "Ah, yes. All the taxi drivers are Shi'a. We in Bahrain do not like them and they must have been up to no good out there. You can go out there. You should go out there tomorrow. It is the holiday Eid this week and the military is not really working anyway."

So, we chatted a little more about it and I thought, that maybe my last day in Bahrain would not be a total bust. Now I had to figure out how to squeeze the time to do it. I had committed to go to a water park with my friends from the ship. There is a core group of us from Medical who do every activity in every port together and for this port, we had a driver at our disposal 24/7. So, I needed to go where the group wanted to go. I figure that it still may be a bust, but at least I had a connection through Abdul to arrange for a trip out there should I ever come to (or worse yet live in) Bahrain sometime in the future.

Our final day in Bahrain started with us heading out to the water park as planned. Naturally, I left my GPS on the ship. Who takes a GPS to a water park? Not me. When it is 40 degrees Celsius (104F), a water park really hits the spot, and it certainly did for us. On our way out there, we had a different driver (Max) than our previous driver, Ashish. Max was actually from Bahrain and lived out near the water park. As we drove out there, a large land mass rose to the southeast, then east. As it turns out, the water park is just below Jebel Al Dukhan to the west. As we drove out there, I chatted with Max about it. As it turns out, he knows that area very well and knows the correct road to get us near the top and even knows where a cool cave is. He and his buddies hung out in the desert there a lot as teenagers and young 20-somethings. He said that he had even been up Jebel Al Dukhan a few times. I asked him about a drive out there, knowing that he may be alluding to the road up to the radar dome. While it would not be a clean ascent, I really didn't care because a country high point is a country high point and if it's easy, who cares. As my buddy Paul back in California says "Some peaks are easy and some peaks are hard." Max agreed to take us to Jebel Al Dukhan after the water park.

As we left the water park, we grabbed some American food, much to my distaste. I had already struck a bargain with my friends. I will do anything you want if I can get this peak. I was in for a treat... Generally on our travels, I am an elitist snob when it comes to food. When I can escape from the slop they pass as food on the ship, I refuse to eat at the usual American chain food places that seem to be omnipresent on this planet. In Korea, I ate only Korean. In Thailand, I ate mostly Thai and some Indian. In Dubai, I ate Arab and Lebanese food. Thus far in Bahrain, I had managed to only eat Arab food. So, anyway, I told my friends that I would do just about anything to get this peak. Being the gracious friends that they are, and knowing how much this means to me, we all readily agreed to go for the peak. The downside: I ate my late lunch at Fudrucker's - gross. The veggie burger was still better than the ship's food, but a far cry from the hummus we had enjoyed the previous 2 days for lunch. I ate without complaint and even said how much I enjoyed the food and what great taste they all have in food. They saw right through my bullshit....

After our marginal meal, we were off to the northern base of the peak. I really wasn't too sure what Max had in store for us on this trip, but I was giddy with glee at the prospect of not letting August be another blank spot on my snapshot grid on peakbagger. We pulled into a large turnout, somewhat hidden from view to the west (where the Isa Air Base is). The van was comprised of 7 of us plus the driver, yet Dan was the only guy to hop out of the vehicle ready for a hike. The rest of them sat there in the air conditioning. Tim raised the alarm about a sign he had just seen about a "military restricted area." I half-heartedly said "I don't know what you mean by that" and we were off. We started out at a brisk pace so that the rest of the van would not be waiting long. once on the north ridge, we found what amounts to a use trail heading right for the summit. Dan was savvy enough to know what we were up to, and that this was marginally poaching a peak. Our ace in the hole was our Bahraini driver Max, who would be shown deference by the Bahraini military, and Abdul's phone number programmed into my phone. We knew these two things were a bit thin, so we jogged along the north ridge at a brisk pace. As the radar dome facility came into view, Dan called out to me to remove my bright red Phillies hat. Good call. He also stripped off his bright red shirt. This would be less noticeable against the white to light-tan rock as we hurriedly approached. On the summit, we had quite a breeze going, which made for a comfortable stop for pictures. I took a few of Dan; he took a few of me; and I did a few self-portrait shots. I also snapped one view shot to the northeast, which was surprisingly nice. We took pictures next to the barbed wire fence that Lyngve Skrede took his pictures next to for proof of our visit. No summit register was to be located here - no surprise. I had very little time to look around as Dan and I ran from the summit and made the fastest possible time back down to the van. It took us 9 minutes to summit and just over 5 to return with around 2 minutes on top. I wish that we had more time to look around and enjoy it, but we didn't want to keep our friends waiting and we certainly didn't want to meet the Bahraini military. As soon as we hit the van, we peeled out of there and on our way back to Manama for our official work dinner.

Overall, it was a great 15 minutes outside running in the desert hills. I just wish that Bahrain would open this area up to hiking. It is rather enjoyable and pretty up there, overlooking all the oil fields and being surrounded by the green waters of the gulf.

To poach this beast, you can find our semi-hidden turnout this way:
From Zallaq Hwy, head south on Avenue 76 about 2.5 km to a road that heads straight across the northern flanks of the peak in a due southeasterly direction. Follow this road 500m to a Y junction and continue SSE. Less than 50m past here is a dirt pullout. Don't stop here. Go 150m to 200m from the Y junction to a larger pullout at the mouth of the canyon between the 2 northern ridges of the peak. This pullout shows up as grey on the satellite view on Google maps. I actually can't even remember if it was cement or grey gravel just hours after returning. We climbed out of the parking area and headed SW to the main ridge. Once on the false northern summit, we noticed a fence down in the canyon blocking travel up in that direction. Good thing we took the ridge route! The hike is never more than class 1 if you want it to be. We made it class 2 for speed over a few rock obstacles.

Overall, I am incredibly happy that I poached an off-limits country high point in the Middle East.
Summit photo
Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Looking down the NW ridge from below the summit of Jebel al Dukhan, almost all of Bahrain beneath our feet. Temperature: 115F/46C (2013-08-12). Photo by James Barlow.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:60 m / 194 ft
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:60 m / 194 ft
    Route:North Ridge
    Trailhead:74 m / 246 ft
Descent Statistics



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