CHEKKA, Lebanon: The way to the sea caves of Chekka was long and steep, but the payoff, I was told, would be worth it. The jagged surfaces were ideal for deep water solo rock climbing, in which the climber simply jumps into the sea at the base of the climb after completing a route, but getting there was an adventure in and of itself. Like finding the way anywhere in Lebanon, we didn’t have maps to show us the way, just landmarks.
It was 10 a.m. and we were looking for an abandoned warehouse off the highway in Chekka. Our car was older than we were, but snaked down the paved road toward the coast with relative ease. That is, until we came upon a dense thicket of shrubbery. The warehouse in question was to our right, but the train tracks that were supposed to lead us to the hideaway was nowhere in sight.
We took a number of wrong turns before we found the right path. Our first mistake was believing that the train tracks lay behind the dense thicket of thorn bushes. By the time we acknowledged we were heading the wrong way, we were covered in scratches and bleeding. We turned back, repeating the ordeal, brushing away the vegetation despondently.
When all hope was lost, we discovered a clearing in the path and – gasp! – the tracks that would lead us the right way. But the journey wasn’t over. The tracks led to the edge of a cliff, which we descended carefully, from boulder to boulder until we found ourselves skipping over a series of salt deposits by the deep azure of the Mediterranean Sea.
Without the security of a harness, deep water soloing requires experience of rock climbing and confidence in swimming. A bad fall can result in serious injuries, but in my experience, fear of falling inhibits climbers more than falling itself. And most routes along the caves we discovered in Chekka, the highest point around 16 meters, were not very high.
It isn’t a year-round sport either; in Lebanon, the best times to go are between July and September, when the tide is relatively calm.
We set ourselves up at the head of the crag and jumped to the mouth of the cave. Apart from climbing shoes, little is required equipment-wise. To prevent injury some key precautions go a long way: Check how deep the water is and make sure your fall won’t be painfully broken by a submerged boulder.
But you can’t prepare for everything. Scuttling crabs and slithering water-borne reptiles are likely going to be companions while you climb, and have the habit of appearing when you least expect them – when lunging for a groove on an overhang, for instance.
Thought of as a new style of climbing, deep water soloing actually originated in Dorset, England. While there are well known destinations for the sport in areas across the Mediterranean coast in southern Europe, locations in Lebanon are known mostly to its small but growing climbing community.
Perhaps the rough journey to the caves in Chekka will keep away those looking to lounge around on the beach, but the added value of the relatively embryonic sport in Lebanon is precisely that it doesn’t attract large crowds – yet.