There’s so many adventures to be had in Oman, I just can’t squeeze them all in to one post. Having worked out there for 2 seasons, totalling about 10 months altogether, I’ve had a fair few. The climbing and trekking scene out there was by far the two most developed activities, and to date I think it still is, though I believe canyoning and caving have definitely seen an increase.
I think the only thing I knew about Oman before I went out was the beautiful and awe-inspiring peak, Jebel Misht (meaning ‘Comb’). From the South it looks like the bow of the largest ship you’ve ever seen, carving it’s way through the desert and land below, like a boat through a calm sea. From the East or West it looks like a giant’s door wedge, breaking through the cloud as it stands solitary from the rest of the range. I have never climbed it, but as much as I would like to think most of my climbing days are over, I would still very much like to drag myself up it one day.
I didn’t lead many climbing days out for guests, these were more personal adventures, and I had some great fun exploring the canyons and mountains of fresh limestone, which had the texture of a porcupine and the brittleness of a bone china cup.
Khubrah Canyon fast became a regular haunt of ours, with relatively easy access from the city and a short walk in, it got enough shade that you could be climbing different parts of the crag throughout the day and not get too caned by the sun. Most of it was bolted for sport, but there was one route I really enjoyed, Crack the Ripper. I hate jamming, but this was pleasant, and it hadn’t been bolted yet.
Many other great locations existed and I could bang on about them forever. I managed to do something which I am proud of, which was contribute to two first ascents of routes, that on Jebel M’Seeb and Jebel Asait. These were such good fun, once again the feeling of an unknown adventure of what lies ahead. The chap I happened to be climbing with was not the kind of person I would have chosen as a partner, and this started to show half up on the first day. It’s a pity when this happens, and it’s just completely two different trains of thought and ideas about climbing, but we did one more day. I was pleased when he returned to New Zealand, to see that he had included me in his post he made to the Alpinist, another accomplishment whilst out in Oman, that would unlikely be repeated any time soon.
Sport climbing was by far the sport taking dominance, but being a trad man, I just had to suck it up and crack on. There were some brilliant climbs really, and La Gorgette had been long established and bolted, and was relatively clean rock due to it capturing significant amounts of water from the surrounding 2000+m mountains. Not that we were, but you could climb anywhere from 4+ to 8c on this crag, and was keenly sought after as a bit of a warm up to all the other adventures surrounding this valley.
Sharaf al Alamayn offered several outings, about 200m in height from a road side, up to the summit. The exposure was amazing, and offered a great view of the valleys around us. Getting down was probably the bigger adventure.
3 years before, in 2008, I was climbing on this crag with a friend FranÃ§ois, and a piece of rock broke off that he was holding. He fell hard on to a shelf, breaking his heel. We decided that ascending would be the safest and fastest option. This was full of various issues, which included the descent via a gully whilst supporting him, and abseiling/lowering him to shelves was tiring and hard. The last abseil brought issues when the rope got stuck in a crack, to which I had to solo up to retrieve this, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to make the last abseil. Eventually we returned to the 4×4 completely devoid of energy and returned to Muscat, which took 3 hours, a lot of it being off road. He wasn’t particularly comfortable to say the least, but seeing the hospital was a moment of relief.
Other types of climbing included deep water soloing (DWS), this was amazing, yet for me, terrifying. The water in the Gulf is fairly stable and rarely has crashing waves, you’d think this was an advantage, but no, no it isn’t. Climbing up to only 4m and the water is mostly in the shade so there is no scale of height or otherwise. Not to mention the water is relatively still, so if you land with your feet ajar just a slight, as a bloke anyway, you tend to be nursing two incredibly tender plums afterwards, as the water tension is like hitting concrete.
Jacob Oberhauser collated all the known routes of Oman in the Climbing in Oman guidebook, I would highly recommend a visit and a climb. There is just too much to have a go.
This was to be my primary source of income in Oman, taking clients across the North of Oman to various locations to see the amazing hanging mountain villages, like Sap Bani Khamis, to the summit of Jebel Shams (2999m) or on coastal walks from the beaches of Ras al Jinz and walks in the wadis passing remote and isolated villages.
There isn’t much mapping out here, and what there is I believe the military keep their hands firmly on it. This is not to say that this isn’t changing. When I was out there in 2006 there were a couple of people that had attempted to setup a similar network of trekking paths with red/white/yellow flashes of paint on rock, and in other places, someone had done walks with purple paint. The latter against the grey rock of limestone was a bit of a challenge.
Sap Bani Khamis, the W6 trail, I walked tens of times, it was iconic of the area and a definite marvel in human efforts to remain safe and sheltered. There was everything there you could need, and back in the times of its use, though I can imagine it being very isolated. There was a means of access and egress, which is not followed by a via ferrata out of the back of the village, which leads back up to the plateau above. This I will talk about in Pt. 3. There was obvious signs of dates, where the sweet syrup had long solidified, water source fro the mountain, set back in the hollow of the cliff, and many houses and terraces for growing food.
The exposure for some people is too much, the hollow in the mountain is near enough a vertical kilometre from the valley floor of the Grand Canyon. Truly a massive void, surrounded by impenetrable walls of limestone. In the valley below is a village called Nakhr, which specialise in rugs made of goat hair. I bought one of these, it’s nice, but itchy. The valley is also home to many birds of prey, including Steppe Eagles, Egyptian Vultures and the immense Lappet-faced Vulture, which was truly humongous.
Wadi Mistal isn’t all that far from Muscat in the grand scheme of all this trekking. I think it is one of the best valleys in the North that I visited. A narrow wadi opening up to a massive limestone caldron, surrounded by countless peaks. I was blown away by this place. The trekking here is great as well, with a nice walk from village to village at the end of the valley. Starting in Hadash we walked for the full day, it is a challenging trek, especially in the heat of the day, this was one of the first treks I did in Oman, and I highly underestimated the water required.
The trekking path was W25 & W24 combined to finish in the village of Wakan. The views from the various sections of the walk were amazing, and its the reason I feel this is one of the best day treks in Oman. The villagers of Oman back then were so humble and helpful. I assume little has changed, but western impact on the small local economies was very minimal and seasonal back then, and I am fully aware of huge infrastructure that has been put in place throughout Oman since then. This includes a mettled road in to Wadi Bani Awf, which is renowned for severe and violent flooding, hotels in mountains and the new airport and expressway built in Muscat that would have taken 10-20 years in the west to build, which took half that in Oman.
There are many treks I could talk about, but the last one for me is a trek I don’t actually know the name of. It was marked with the classically overt colour of purple, and has probably faded significantly now due to the intense UV. The route starts in the valley of Wadi Tanuf, where it forks. Here there is a giant slab of grey limestone that you wind your way to the top of. Not far along it’s edge, the path splits, and takes you towards the cliff edge, which is a little daunting to say the least. The walk then becomes a more significant balcony along the cliff, enough to at least feel comfortable, this brings you to another hanging village, one of which I have more photos.
The walk keeps you on edge of the eastern fork of the wadi, up to a village where it is then possible to camp. Here you can walk to the head of the valley and look down in to it’s depths and see where you have walked for the day, and how far down you could have tumbled, if you’d had a shocker.
The following day was just has hot and challenging for route finding, probably more so as the path wound it’s way down through many features of the mountain. It was one of those treks that had an impact on my ambition to work overseas even more, taking people to places rarely visited and seen by a somewhat small amount of people in it’s entire history.
We spent a lot of time working our way down the mountain, which meant not a lot of picture taking. But the Juniper tree, I think it was and the hole in the rock with a plant of some sort inside, we all I could muster. Returning to the shelter of the valley though was of great relief. The sun is so intense.
Best times to climb and trek in Oman are winter time, October through to March, though the early and late side of that can still get pretty toasty. It completely depends what you have planned. When in the mountains though camping, I would highly recommend a good 3-season bag, it can get down to as low as -5C, and I am sure would have got lower in some other places, so maybe even a 4-season. There isn’t much need for a tent, but it does rain, so possibly take a bivi bag if you choose this option. If you want a fire, you will need to collect this in towns. There isn’t usually that much left lying around on the mountains, due to a growing tourism industry and also the local using it for their own fires in winter.
Climbing in Oman by Jacob Oberhauser
Last of the adventures in The Jewel of Arabia Part 3.