On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov 14th, I hit the highway straight after work. It was the last weekend in my 30’s and I was off to tackle Oman’s E35 trekking route, a two-day hike traversing the Eastern Hajar Mountains. It was a seven hour drive through some pretty heavy showers to the Wadi Bani Khalid parking lot. I arrived after dark and got my camp set up for the night. I then met a couple locals who offered to lead me to the trailhead so I would know where I was going the next day.
I packed up camp in the morning and loaded my backpack. It was a little heavier than usual as I was packing water for both days, 11L in fact. It also had my tent, sleeping bag, food, fleece jacket, and windbreaker. I set out at 6:15am after meeting fellow hiker Patrick who, with four others and two local guides, was planning to hike the same trail as me. I walked past the pools that make this wadi so popular with tourists, expats, and locals alike. The trail climbed steadily from 600m and I took it easy with my heavy pack. The sun was hidden until about 9:00am which allowed me to reach the cooler mountain air in the shade. I reached the highest point on the trail at 2100m around 12:00pm. I had a well-deserved break and took in the views where I could see the Wahiba Sands to the south and the Gulf of Oman to the north. I continued on and set out across the plateau. I crossed a flat pan and spotted a few donkeys when I was caught by the group of five and their guides. I learned that their hike had been organized by a meetup group called Trekkup Dubai and that I had previously summitted Jebel Shams with one of the gals, Kathy. They had started later than me, but were obviously moving faster. I also learned that they were not carrying as much water or camping supplies as they were being supported by a tour company who were bringing their camp to them from Wadi Bani Khalid. They were all nice people so I pushed myself to keep their pace and enjoy the company. We reached a large antenna and road around 3:30pm and the tour company was there waiting in a Landcruiser pickup. Kathy informed me that the trail is the road we had reached and continues for 11km down to where the trail picks up again and where they’d camp for the night. They offered me a ride down to the camp site and a hot meal, but I declined as I wanted to complete the trail self-sufficiently. I reached the T-intersection around 6:30pm, got out of my wet clothes, and set up camp. I could see the campfire of the Trekkup group, but knew it would be too tough watching them eat a hot meal. I was exhausted anyways and figured I’d sleep like a baby, so I crawled into my sleeping bag at 7:30pm. I soon realized there was a problem…I would not be warm enough. The temperature dropped to 11°C as I was still at 1700m. I have two sleeping bags, one rated to -15°C and one rated to 5°C. I had taken the latter and was instantly regretting not packing the former. I rolled in and out of sleep all night staying mostly in the fetal position to keep warm.
Daybreak, and it couldn’t have come sooner! I packed up camp as fast as I could and hit the trail by 6:30am. I was finally warm again. The trail soon begins its winding descent into Wadi Tiwi. The Trekkup group caught me much sooner than the day before. Again, I really pushed myself to keep their pace. We finally stopped for a break at a great lookout and I could see down to the villages of Sooee and Mibam that I had hiked to on a previous adventure. I asked our guide, Hussein, if he knew the guide we had on that trip, a young petroleum engineering student named Yaser. Hussein knew him. I had kept in touch with Yaser for some time, but seemed to have lost his contact information. We started the grueling final descent into the wadi bottom and back to civilization. I say grueling because it is steep, relentless switchbacks through loose scree and because I was exhausted, had blisters forming, and was starting to make mistakes with my legs. We finally reached bottom into the shade of the date palms and beside the cool water flowing in the falaj. Wadi Tiwi is beautiful and another one of Oman’s top destinations. I plunged my aching feet into the pools that the guides had led us to and some of the others had a swim. Hussein commented that he had never seen a group reach the pools before noon, it was 11:30am. As we walked through the village of Sooee I began to think about another large task in front of me…finding a ride back to the Jeep some 175km away by road. As we reached the Trekkup’s van in Sooee I looked over and saw none other than my old friend Yaser. He would be traveling to Muscat in a few hours, but he was instrumental in arranging transportation for me with his friend Hamed. The price was set and the deal was done. Hamed didn’t speak English, but I was comfortable enough that he understood the task at hand so I said so long to Yaser and the Trekkup bunch and we were soon heading down the wadi in a car that I believe was nearly as old as me. We stopped in the coastal village of Tiwi where Hamed got changed into his town clothes and upgraded us to one of his family’s much newer taxi cabs. And so we were off, headed south down the rugged coastline. I fell asleep just after Sur and woke as we made the turn off of the 23 for Wadi Bani Khalid. Hamed dropped me at the Jeep which was now VIP parking as the wadi was full with carloads of day trippers enjoying the cool waters. I couldn’t resist a dip and was in bad need of a rinse off. I walked up to the pools, jumped off the bridge, and had a swim in the oasis. I was on the road by 4:00pm and back on the Abu Dhabi Corniche by 11:00pm.
I must say I now consider this hike to be the toughest of all of Oman’s official routes. Maybe I wouldn’t have this opinion had I been supported like the Trekkup team. The trail map mentions the distance as 28km, but I believe that to be the distance without the 11km road walk. Patrick’s GPS showed the total distance of 42.75km. Couple that with 1774m of elevation gain and you’ve got yourself a very big weekend. Thanks to Trekkup Dubai for the company and encouragement and to their Omani guides, Hussein and Ali. And to my old friend Yaser and my new friend Hamed!