Updated: Jan 12, 2020
December 16. 2019
It was on my fifth morning in Cairo when the jet lag faded and I was back to waking up to the usual 6 am dark winter sky.
My previous days were spent in Sahel el shamaly: the Egyptian north coast, three hours away by car from Cairo. I woke up hungry to climb, as I do most mornings. But this morning I was especially excited to explore the climbing potential of Wadi Degla: a nearby limestone valley on the outskirts of Maadi Degla (my childhood neighborhood).
I organized myself after eating a hearty Egyptian breakfast, collecting my climbing shoes, helmet, chalk, snacks and water in a blue messenger bag. Ready to go, I made way for the door but quickly remembered I was no longer living alone. I lifted the bag off my shoulders and went to say bye to my mam. She was enjoying her mug of coffee to the rising sun shining softly through the large windows of the annex. I leaned over to hug her good morning and quickly told her I was going to Wadi Degla (I knew she would have something to say about it and wanted to avoid any concern she could present). I wasn't quick enough...for the next thing I knew I was waiting for her to get ready to join me in the valley. My dissatisfaction with the situation wasn't because I don't enjoy spending time with my mother, rather it is the fact that she can't tolerate risky behavior. I knew having her around while I climbed would make me nervous and overly conscious of the risks I was taking, mind you I would be climbing without a pad or rope.
My dissatisfaction quickly faded when we entered the valley.
It seemed cleaner and brighter than I had remembered from past years. My history with Wadi Degla reaches far into my childhood; spending weekends barbecuing with my parents' Armenian and German friends and their children. Since those days the Wadi has taken an initiative to reduce littering and its visitors make an effort at maintaining its natural cleanliness. Sadly these efforts struggle to keep up with the inevitable inflow of garbage carried in by the turbulence of surrounding cities.
One kilometer into the valley, on the left side, about two hundred meters from the dirt road, stands a large boulder. About four meters in height and one and a half meters in width.
After walking up the incline towards the boulder, I realized that it had naturally broken off a nearby overhanging high point of the valley. And when it crashed into the sand a questionable number of years ago, it split in half to form a beautiful rectangular boulder with one flat face, one overhanging face and two slab faces.
The north-face of the boulder is flat and made of hard limestone. Shell bedazzled pockets cover most of the left side of the face and strong edges cut across it horizontally. This was the first face I climbed and quickly established the first problem on it, called Habib Mama: in tribute to my mother's worried yet motivating comments.
The climbing was thought provoking, especially that it was only my fifth time climbing real rock. The flaky limestone forced you to reach for safer yet more challenging holds, sometimes requiring you to make a full body shift to progress up the rock.
Before continuing on our search for more boulders we were greeted by a white Egyptian Plover perched atop the boulder. And so I decided to name this first boulder The Bird's Nest.
After passing the first man-made dam, four kilometers into the valley, on the left side, stacked atop many fallen boulders I could see four defined boulders standing tall in a row. I moved quickly scrambling over large rocks and high edges to find that these boulders created a tunnel in which I could climb.
The rock here was much more crumbly and chalk like. Regardless I had fun stretching my legs between the adjacent walls and campusing the deep pockets and pinches. I could feel myself relax and become more playful while enjoying the sweet dates my mam brought with her.
Wadi Degla is definitely a place to explore for the motivated climbers of Cairo. It is close by, satisfyingly challenging and mesmerizing. I could easily lose myself in the limestone valley in search for more boulders and urge anyone to do so, as It is a great exercise of climbing confidence and rock reading.
I must however warn the inexperienced climbers to be mindful of the risks attached to climbing limestone, consistently weathered by sand, wind and water. Limestone is extremely fragile and brittle and deceptively strong looking. Wear a helmet and bring a pad with you.
Update: After some deep research I have found that "Habib Mama" was previously established by Hazem el Shamy on December the 1st, 2019. Hazem titled it "The Lonely boulder" and graded the north-facing problem V3: "Too many creeps".