Oman: an outdoor enthusiast's paradise
Mcrtchly and I have just returned from Oman. We hired a 4X4 which was our largest expense at around 400 euro. Gas was a mere 22 cents a litre (!). Camping is allowed anywhere, provided you donít encroach on peopleís crops, and you can collect firewood to enjoy a hearty campfire, needed when the searing heat of the day subsides, as the nights are chilly.
After stocking up on food at a hypermarket in Muscat, we headed for the Al Hajar Mountains. Our first camp was at Wadi Bani Auf in the Al Rostaq wilayat. Here, there is a via ferrata with Tyrolean traverses and a monkey bridge over the Wadi Bimah (Snake Gorge) and a 3km route down through the limestone gorge that involves canyoning: jumping into deep water, sliding down waterfalls, swimming through a cave over 35m long and scrambling over and under huge boulders. We spent a fun packed two days here, sweating on the climbs in 38 degrees of heat and enjoying the relative cool in the bottom of the 300-400 ft deep narrow gorge.
Next we drove across the mountains and made camp at the trailhead of a route up to Jebel Shams (The Mountain of the Sun), the highest point in the Arabian Peninsula. Itís a long, high altitude trek across rocky terrain that involves some scrambling and one section of free rock climbing. The route wends its way along the rim of the Wadi Ghul, Omanís version of the Grand Canyon, giving spectacular views. We carried our own camping gear, food and water and did the trek over a day and a half, bivying out on a ledge in a natural limestone overhang above a col 4 km from the summit. The sunset and sunrise were amazing.
The night was cold and we were mighty glad of our camp fire and down sleeping bags. I felt like Bear Grylls falling asleep under a sky misty with stars to the incessant chirping of thousands of insects. Next day, soon after dawn, we set off across a limestone plateau reminiscent of the Burren but scoured by deep wadis. We finally attained the summit at 3,075 metres (10,089 ft) that offered stupendous views. A word of caution - the distance from the trailhead to the summit is given as 9.5 km, but our GPS made this over 13 km - quite a discrepancy. The long trek back was fairly straightforward and a breeze made conditions tolerable. It is vital to take sufficient water for the climb as there are no sources en route, and we drank 8 litres between us.
The Omani Ministry of Tourism is promoting treks and climbs in these mountains; maps can be downloaded from the Internet and purchased online as part of the Explorer series. We also bought the Explorer ĎOman Off-Roadí book to guide us through the mountains. Luckily we made duplicate photocopies of the Jebel Shams route as a goat made off with them and managed to eat one before the rest were rescued!! We plan to return in May to do some more via ferrate and trekking. Oman is without doubt one of the undiscovered gems of the outdoor enthusiastsí world: cheap and totally safe to visit.