BEIRUT: Lebanon’s name purportedly derives from the Phoenician root l-b-n, meaning white, after the snow-capped peaks that crown the country’s famous range. One Lebanese mountaineer has grand plans for what he believes is an unprecedented solo ski across Mount Lebanon. But he’s hoping that the mountains live up to their reported moniker: the unseasonably warm weather has so far failed to deliver enough snow for him to make his attempt.
Karim Ramadan, a 24-year-old student of clinical psychology at Balamand University, is one of Lebanon’s most promising mountaineers. He has skied, climbed and trekked throughout Lebanon, and has also climbed internationally. The idea for his latest project came from a Russian mountaineer he met while climbing in Georgia.
“He crossed the whole Caucasian range in three months and I asked him why,” Ramadan told The Daily Star. “He said, why not cross your home mountain range, and I thought maybe I should do the same.”
His crossing will be on a more modest scale, but it is by no means an easy challenge. Beginning close to Sir al-Danniyeh, east of Tripoli, he will climb to the Cedars, before crossing to Faraya and then on to his finish in the Chouf. He will cover about 120 to 130 km, gaining about 5,000 to 6,000 meters in height, most of which will be on skis. He will carry all his own equipment and food. Ramadan estimates that the crossing, which will be completely unsupported, will take five to seven days.
It’s a tough challenge that will push Ramadan beyond his boundaries, but that’s exactly why he’s doing it. “It’s been a while since I felt like I’m doing something beyond my limit,” he said. He recalls a trip to Switzerland where, having scaled two of a total three summits, he felt he had nothing left to give and was ready to quit. “The next day, when I recovered and woke up, I was like, ‘I’m going for this.’” He completed the third climb, despite his fatigue. “This is something I really enjoy,” he said.
Ramadan first became interested in mountaineering through social media, inspired by photos of climbers in Lebanon on Facebook. As he progressed he began to feel that the sport still had a long way to go. “Everyone was just too focused on the seven summits [scaling the tallest peak in each continent], and this leaves a little margin to get developed in real mountaineering ... I got really interested later on with more technical alpine climbing. That’s why I’m sticking to lower altitudes – anything below 5,000 m.”
Lebanese mountaineering has plenty of potential, Ramadan believes. “We have world class routes ... that maybe less than 10 [people] in the world can climb,” he said. Nonetheless, the standard of the climbing scene is “low for what we have here [in terms of potential].”
He worries that the mercantile attitude for which Lebanese have been known since Phoenician times can put off foreign climbers from coming to Lebanon. He notes a Facebook page set up to connect climbers in the country. When a foreign climber mentions an interest in coming, “someone directly would tag this page that would take money if they want to guide them. This is not really supposed to happen. It’s a free page where you can get a free partner just to go and enjoy the climbing.” In response, Ramadan is founding a new organization: “I’m trying to start the Lebanese Alpine Club for absolutely free training or guidance ... to bring people from abroad.”
Nevertheless, there are plenty of positives in what is overwhelmingly a supportive, friendly community. He points out that some of the equipment for his crossing – a solar panel, a down jacket and a GPS – has been provided by friends. “I’m really lucky with this project because I have a lot of people that are fully supporting me,” he said.
But there is one factor threatening Ramadan’s attempt to cross Mount Lebanon: the weather. Despite good snowfall last season, he says climate change appeared to be affecting the snow cover on the mountain. “Last year was an exception,” he said. “My plan was to start training from somewhere in mid-December but I couldn’t [due to lack of snow] so I started training a couple of weeks ago ... This really affected my training and how much I am ready for the whole thing.”
Normally, he said, it takes a couple of months of training to prepare for the heavy loads and high-level aerobic fitness necessary for activities like this. “I had to squeeze it into two weeks,” he said.
Still, the unpredictable nature of the expedition is part of the appeal for Ramadan.
“I got really excited because it’s beyond my limit in terms of navigational skills and I think weather will control the whole thing.”
The scale of what lies ahead was brought home to him recently while training near the Cedars and he looked out over the seemingly vast distance to Faraya that he will need to cross.
“When I saw this I asked myself, ‘why am I doing this,’ and I haven’t asked myself this question for a long time. I’m glad this project brought this feeling back to me,” he said.