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Rooted In Lebanon

Rooted in Lebanon

March 31, 2015

Continuing his journey in Lebanon, The North Face climber Sam Elias shares how his love of the outdoors has brought him to discover new things about the land of his ancestry.

This project is about roots. Roots are foundations. The activities and lifestyles of both skiing and climbing are foundations in my life. But, roots can also be connections or originations. My family roots are in the Middle East from my father, and in Poland from my mother. I want to livedeliberately, consciously rooting myself in pursuits and people that are fulfilling. I also want to know more about my family; where they came from, what their lives were like before I became a part.

The goodness of my life is inextricably attached to those who came before me, and being grateful for the opportunities I’ve had means learning those stories and sharing my own. For me, it is about making the effort to cultivate the deeper connections. That’s why I’ve come to Lebanon. By connecting my family past to my personal life in the present perhaps I can better understand and guide myself into the future.

This project, though complex and deeply personal now, started out through the simple mention of virgin rock. In the Spring of 2012, I spent some time in Spain. While there, I met Will Nazarian, and he told me he had been to Lebanon a few times and was developing climbing. From 30 years of international climbing and route development, he knows when a place has potential. He knew Lebanon was ripe. Coupled with his partner Katy and her 15 years of international social and economic development, they have an organization called RAD – The Rock Climbing Association for Development. Since 2011, they have been visitingLebanon and working to develop climbing and the local infrastructure to support it in a small valley called Tannourine, north east of Beirut. They have been working in partnership with the formal municipality and the mayor’s office, and have recently been awarded a USAID grant for Lebanon industry value chain development. It’s an economic based grant to work with, teach, and enable the locals. It is to benefit small and medium sized businesses in and around the Tannourine community. RAD is working with local climber George Emil, as well as Rock Climbing Lebanon and conservation associations to ensure sustainability. With this grant, Will and Katy hope to quickly and efficiently create a successful and lasting global climbing destination.

I visited Tannourine to climb and bolt for the first time in December of 2014 by invitation of RAD. Now I am back for 6 weeks to do the same. The effect that RAD has had on the local community since 2011 is palpable, and Katy and Will are welcomed and respected members. But, this is a new era for the organization, and there is much work to be done. A lot of it is the thankless manual effort to establish each new climbing route. Will is a seasoned veteran, and obtaining this grant has actually legitimized the tradecraft of climbing route development by making it a profession. The next few months will be a very busy and exciting time around here.

After the first encounter with Will in Spain about climbing in Lebanon, I started to piece together more and more personal connections to the tiny Middle Eastern country – My sister, Kayla, has studied the history of the country and region, and speaks Arabic. She went to a year of college in Beirut. We have a lot of family living in country. The history of our family is deeply connected to Lebanon. There is the sea, as well as big, beautiful mountains. There is skiing – The more I learned, the more it seemed like the ideal location and opportunity for me to connect with my family roots through the pursuits that have defined my life.

Kayla and I have been in Lebanon for three weeks. We’ve spent time in Beirut with our relatives, and bounced around the capital city. We’ve been out climbing in Tannourine, and skiing in several places. We’ve also spent days exploring and touring around and doing other activities. This is a marvelous little country, and I’m excited for our remaining three weeks here.

Follow updates from Sam with #RootedLebanon on Instagram.

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