Sleeping under the stars on Jebel Shams the Grand Canyon of Oman
Saturday morning; Lenny, Matt and I, after a breakfast at the Jebel Shams resort, went about packing the bags for our next couple of days up Jebel Shames, alongside the Grand Canyon of Oman! This experience in itself showed us that in spite of the Oman Tourism Boards rating of ‘relatively easy’ this was going to be anything but! With just liquid rations alone, we were all carrying 10 litres each, plus food, clothes and a sleeping bag. Getting the bags from the room to the car was hard enough! And off we went. The start to the hike ‘W4’ in the Oman Trekking Explorer book is just back down the mountain from the Jebel Shams Resort and along side the next accommodation you come across – which I believe is the Jebel Shams Motel, where you can actually camp as well if you so wish.
So we loaded up our packs, all complained about how ridiculously heavy they were and off we went to tackle the mountain. Bearing in mind your trek starts at 1900m, and with an extra 20kg on your back, you can imagine that it’s hard work!! After an hour, we started to dump water for the trip back down – so as to pick up the bottles the following day. We hid them in trees and bushes and marked them on the GPS. We found three out of four on the way down!
Walking up the well marked route, offers some absolutely stunning views of the mountain and of course of the Grand Canyon of Oman. It’s truly spectacular and MASSIVE! We had set off a little later than planned but started walking by about 10am and in spite of what many maps and books will tell you, whilst it is cooler than let’s say Dubai, we were still battling 37 degrees during the heat of the day. And this became apparent at about 3pm when we had no choice but to stop and set up camp. I have never experienced anything like it before, but I had cramp in my quads and sartorial muscles, to the point where I could not move without the agonising pain kicking in. So bad was the pain, that at one point I was literally grabbing the muscle and holding it for fear of it snapping off! (At least that’s what it felt like) The amount of water and more importantly salts that had been sweated out had taken it’s toll on me for sure and I couldn’t go anywhere else that day! So we managed to find a flat piece of land, dropped some electrolyte tablets into a bottle of water set up camp. That took 3 minutes, as camp was a roll mat and a sleeping bag. That being done, we rounded up some wood for a fire later on and then it was time for some dinner. We had one pot, one stove and three forks. Dinners was going to be pasta, with tuna, corned beef and a nice spicy pesto sauce. Pasta, check. Tuna, check, Corned beef, check (even though it looked and smelt like cat food) Pesto – no check. Pesto still in the cool box at the bottom of the mountain – check!
With no plates, we also had to get creative – three empty water bottles, take machete or multi tool and chop the top quarter off. Voila, make shift bowls for eating pasta mess out of. We added the soup base from some quick noodles, along with chili powder stuck the pasta in and then mixed in the tuna and corned beef. Culinary delight it certainly wasn’t, but at that stage it was a very welcome hot meal (of sorts) The remainder was cooked for breakfast the following day. We all vouch that pasta with tuna and corned beef is not nice for breakfast! Especially as it’s had all night to soak up the starchy water it was cooked in! Lesson learned – don’t forget the pesto! For at least that would disguise the taste in the morning.
We had set up camp at about 2300m and once ‘dinner’ was done, we just lay down – and chatted for a bit, waiting for the sun to go down. As sun set, the temperature dropped, the fire was lit and was roaring within minutes, more for light
than heat though. With no tents, we were just under the stars. Sounds great, but in reality, it was one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in ages! The moon was beautiful, but like a spotlight shining down, the bugs obviously have direct access to you and the flying ones, as always make straight for your ears!! I tracked the moon across the sky and must have dozed off, woke up again and she was gone, but that also meant we would be getting up soon as dawn approached! 5.30am we were up, by 6.15 our ‘lovely’ breakfast had been consumed. My legs were sore, but the night’s rest meant that at least I could control them again. We left everything except water at the campsite, marked it and made for the summit. Even without packs, as we climbed higher, it was hard work and my legs in particular were remembering the strains of the day before. But again, with amazing views and the conviction that we would get to the top, we kept going. Water was a concern as it was further than anticipated and we were down to 1 bottle each plus whatever was left in camelbaks and a Pocari sweat each! By 9.30 we were at the top. And what incredible views down into the valley, it was tough, but we’d made it. Reward was some Gu chomps, some water and 20 minutes just taking it all in.
And then the fun began – the descent. I am blessed with funny feet which mean my second toe is longer than my big toe. In hiking terms this means that long thin toe bears the brunt of every downward step on the mountain. And an hour into the descent, knowing there was still another 4 hours ahead, they were hurting! We got back to our camp site and undertook the unenviable task of making our packs heavier once again! And we were off, pinpointing water drops and heading down the mountain to pick up the much needed liquid. My pace started to lag as it became harder to actually go down hill, but we pressed on. About an hour from the bottom, we heard the first sounds of the mountain grumbling. And for the last 40 minutes, the thunder carried on making itself heard, intermittent rain drops and we were thinking ‘it would be great if it rained as we are all boiling’. Be careful what you wish for right! As we reached the car, I threw my bag down in painful disgust and quickly freed my poor feet from their ‘Merrell’ prison. No sooner had I done that and the hail started pouring down!
A swift packing of the car and we were heading out of the Wadi we were parked in before the exit became too slippery. Back to the Jebel Shams Resort for a quick shower and refresh in the communal facilities and would be you believe it, a cup of tea sat outside in the grounds. No rain here! Fully refreshed – there is something so satisfying about running water and a shower after 2 days up in the mountains – we packed up the car and headed down the mountain. It was at this point we realised just how lucky we were. 2 minutes into the trip and we were back into torrential rain – we passed the wadi we had been parked in and again counted our blessings that we weren’t trying to get out now – just 25 minutes later. We progressed slowly down the mountain through patches of torrential downpour and then dry road. As we drove through the valley we noticed the waterfalls coming off the mountains. This was the first time any of us in 9 years had seen water in the wadis. As we stopped to take photos, we saw a lot of brake lights further up the road. Our questions of why is everyone stopping were soon answered. Our path was blocked – by what was effectively a river, in full flow!
Water had swept down the wadi and it’s path now went straight across the main road. And we are not talking about a small amount of water, this was a rushing ‘river’ of water flowing fast over the road, it had washed a load of rocks and debris across the road to form a barrier on one side and was free flowing across the road on it’s way to the Wadi bed. We got out and watched in wonder at this demonstrations of nature’s power and then like everyone else, got back in the car and just waited. After about 15 minutes, the flow started to subside, and the first Land Cruiser made a dash for freedom – albeit a slow and calculated one! He was through and so it was time to go. Two cars from our side went through and mounted the debris on the other side. One Land Cruiser pickup coming the other way and then we waded through, up and over and continued on our way. We stopped at the base of Wadi Ghul where two days earlier we had stopped and taken pictures of the abandoned village built into the rock face. What a difference a day (2) makes!!? A fast flowing river now effectively closed off the entrance to the Wadi.
The drive back to the UAE through Balha and Ibris was relatively uneventful, until we drove straight into a full on sand storm! At one point the road completely disappeared in a cloud of dust and sand, we literally couldn’t see 2 feet in front of us, which is quite unnerving in a moving vehicle. Having got back in the car in the mountains after being soaked and having to turn the heating on – we stopped at the last petrol station before the border and were nearly blown off our feet as the warm (44 degrees celsius) desert shamal blew through. Talk about contrasting weather!
The border crossing was painless and quiet and by 9pm we were back in the car park dropping Lenny off at his car. Up until the storm, this had been my least favourite of our outings. Not least of which because of the amount of pain I had experienced over the 2 days! But then looking back on it, and how everything happened, we got to the top, we camped on the mountain, we didn’t die of dehydration, we saw the 2nd largest canyon on earth, we were in a full on wadi bed flooding rain storm and then through a hot sand storm. All on a hot summer weekend in the desert when there’s nothing to do!!!
Great boys weekend, thanks Matt and Lenny. I’m looking forward ( I think) to the next adventure!