Shortly after our Jebel Qatar hike, we learned that the UAE Trekkers were planning a bigger, longer, and more exciting hike the next weekend…Jebel Shams, Oman’s tallest mountain. Having just hiked Jebel Qatar the previous weekend we were a little on the fence, but decided in the end to go for it. So, on Thursday, January 30th, I picked Rebecca up from work at 4:00 pm and we were headed back to Al Ain. We passed the Mazyad border crossing around dusk and continued through Ibri, Bahla, and Al Hamra finally reaching the rustic Sunrise Resort at 2000m on Jebel Shams at almost 10:00 pm. The drive took 6 hr to complete including the border crossing. We met the group for a briefing in the restaurant, made our bag lunch for the next day, then turned in for the night.
On Friday, we woke up at 4:30 am and had a quick breakfast before joining the convoy to the trailhead. The trail begins near the Jebel Shams Motel at about 1800m. It was still dark and freezing when we started out. Rebecca and I agreed that I would join the “Summit or Bust” group and she would stick with the “Potential Summiters” group. The group I was with was pushing pretty hard only stopping to rest for 5 minutes every hour. The terrain was quite difficult as it consisted of loose rocks both big and small. There was no defined path, but hundreds of way-markers painted onto the rocks so you had to choose your own path always looking to see where the next foot would go.
The trail wound its way up the Saydran Gorge, a side wadi of Oman’s Wadi Nakhur or Grand Canyon. It is also referred to the Grand Canyon of the Middle East. We reached a col offering great eastern views at 2,700m around 10:30 am. We continued upwards and reached the southern summit at 2,997m around noon. The northern summit is slightly higher at 3,009 m but access is restricted because of a military installation. We had lunch on the summit and started our descent around 1:00 pm. I caught up with Rebecca about halfway down the mountain learning she had made it to the col at 2,700m. We spent the afternoon walking down together and reached the car just before dusk. It was a long day and probably the most challenging day hike I’ve ever completed, ascending and descending 1200 m over 21 km of tough terrain. That night, we were terribly exhausted and didn’t make it much past dinner.
After breakfast, I noticed that our car had a nighttime visitor…a goat had jumped onto the hood and up onto the roof before jumping off. This was easy to deduce as the car was coated in the fine dust from the dry dirt roads. So on the way down the mountain, we were trying to get a few photos of the goats. We noticed a few crossing the road ahead of us so I stopped where they’d crossed and parked. When I peered down over the edge, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a goat hanging upside down from a low lying thorny tree. I would never have seen it from the road. I shimmied down the rocks and saw that it must have lost his footing while eating the berries and wedged its leg into a crook in the branch. (Side note – goats are fairly agile and will climb almost anything for a berry or a fresh flower.) I picked it up by the fur on its back, but then didn’t have a hand to get its leg out. Becca came down to help me and together we got the goat out of the tree. It was having trouble walking on its leg and after 5-10 minutes it was apparent that the leg was likely broken. We got back in the car and continued down the mountain thinking we could stop at the next village and let someone know about it. We came across four Omani boys walking on the mountain road so I stopped, got out, and tried to tell them about the goat. They didn’t speak English and must have thought I was crazy so I piled them into the back seat of the car and drove them back up to the spot where we’d left the goat. I tried again to tell them that I found it hanging upside down in the tree… I hoped they didn’t think I had hit it with the car. So we all piled back into the car and I dropped them at their tiny nearby village. We don’t know the fate of the goat but still hope the villagers went back up to retrieve it.
We stopped in at the town of Bahla to tour the old fort. Bahla Fort is one of the most famous architectural monuments in the Sultanate of Oman and was constructed during various historical periods, beginning in pre-Islamic times. It was quite a large fort in comparison to some of the forts we’ve toured in the UAE. With the fort tour complete, we were back on the highway headed for Abu Dhabi.