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Letters from the Oman Trail – Too steep

Letters from the Oman Trail – Too steep

It has been almost one hour and I haven’t done more than a few hundred meters. I want to cry. I know I’m in serious troubles and panic mode is on its way. I’m alone, I have no signal on my phone, It’s hot as hell, and there is no cavalry coming to rescue me.

From the beach I have two options available. Going back through wadi Al Abriyeen and climb up the plateau from the village of Fayq, or stay down alongside the beach towards wadi Tiwi ? It’s a no brainer, I have to go back and take another go at it. To see Abriyeen again, but this time from the opposite direction, and with a morning light is too tempting.

Oman Trail wadi al Abriyeen
Wadi al Abriyeen

And needless to say, I’m not disappointed at all by my decision. Once out of the wadi, trying to find the right track to climb up is a bit tricky.

A first attempt, a second, a third, all dead ends. When finally I manage to find the right one, I’m confronted with a very, very steep path guarded by a warning sign. I’m only guessing it’s a warning sign because it’s in arabic, and seems fitting given the look of the trail. In front of me stands a cliff ! It’s as vertical as you can imagine, and what pretends to be a trail climbs it straight up. It’s full of loose gravels, rocks of various sizes, and a ravine in its middle shows that it has been battered by recent rain falls. I don’t see any tire marks on the ground, which tells me nobody has been going up or down this way in quite a while. All this says “Don’t Go !”. If it looks that bad at the bottom, I can’t imagine how worst it’s gonna be at the top. Because one thing experience as taught me; it never improves as you climb, only gets worst.

Oman Trail Al Hajar Mountains
Going straight up !

I try to have a better look with my binoculars, but too much is hidden by large side rocks. Finally I decide to walk back down to the few houses that stand below me. In the first one a woman is sitting down combing a small goat. Unlike men or children, local women do not address you. Me coming uninvited like this is probably not the proper way to do things, but I see nobody else around. As politely as possible I try to ask her about the trail, if it’s good to go, or a treacherous dead end. I point towards the car, the mountain, act as if I’m driving holding the wheel pointing in the direction of the summit, and ask it is ok to go.

– Ok ? Good !? Good !?

She first says something in arabic, then concludes with a gesture pointing towards the top of the cliff.

– Good ! Good !

Alright, children we have the green light, we are good to go. Time to climb.

Now, as I just said before, if it is bad at the bottom, it probably ain’t gonna get better towards the top. And this climb is a prime example of that. Despite the old woman reinsurance, it isn’t good at all, It’s bad and moving rapidly to worst. It’s loose and serious rocks are in the way. That means getting out of the car to remove them. Only problem, my hand break isn’t able to hold the car with a climbing ratio that high. The gear box having to support the entire weight of the car won’t like it either, so to avoid the unnecessary stress, I have to put a rock under my wheels each time to ease the pain.

Then, if that wasn’t enough of a problem, the edge of the track is now gone, leaving too narrow of a passage for the car. I have to climb on the side rocks, tilting the car at a scary angle, to move forward. It is so narrow it makes it impossible to turn around. I’m getting nervous, mad at that lady for giving me such obvious misinformation, and mad at myself for being so naïve and believing her, when everything was so clearly telling me otherwise. It has been almost one hour and I haven’t done more than a few hundred meters. I want to cry. I know I’m in serious troubles and panic mode is on its way. I’m alone, I have no signal on my phone, It’s hot as hell, and there is no cavalry coming to rescue me.

Stop ! Take a deep breath, park the car where you get the chance, and get out. Get out of the car a moment and let it all go…

I’m sitting in the shade, looking at the mountains around me, the ocean below. Next I see some goats, birds, and near my feet a small beetle resting. It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful, it’s what I came here for. The fear goes away, I’m calm again, I can now think properly. First thing is assessing the situation. What is in front of me ? How much worst is it going to be ? Is it manageable or not ? If it is, is it worth the trouble ? If not how do I get out ? I went so far up, I must find a way to go back down.

I grab a bottle of water and start climbing on foot. The first positive, and positives is what you look for in such moments, the trail doesn’t stop. Yes it is in an awful shape, but at least it’s there. So often when not regularly used, nature reclaims it’s due and the trail slowly fades to a point where it disappears for good. Not this one, at least not yet ! After a while it reaches a drop where it gets a little bit larger, which would allow me for a u-turn. That alone is enough to save my day. I now know that I can turn around and return to safety. So what to do? Stop here or keep on climbing ? Again I’m alone and no signal. I have other options available to reach the top. Play it save or dare it to the top ?

It takes me half an hour more to reach the flat bed by car. By then I’m so tired, I don’t even have to think it through. I’m turning around !! Going down is easier. Only because I have done the climb and I am more familiar with the challenge now, but what a relief once I pass in front of that woman’s house again. I wonder what she is thinking as she sees me drive by ? Is she doubting her assumption regarding the trail, or is she thinking that I’m not much of a driver ? Further along, a pick-up comes my way. It’s the local version of a school bus, with kids crammed in the back. At the wheel an old man. He stops to let me pass. I stop by the side of his truck, roll down my window, and ask if by any chance he speaks english. He does.

– How is the trail going up the cliff ? Is it any good ? Does it go all the way up ?

He first smiles at me, then laughs.

– very bad, very bad !

Why didn’t I meet you first !! In fine, he didn’t say not to take it, but that it was just very bad. From my short experience on it, I look at it as a challenge worth taking, but under different circumstances. I regret having turned around, and would like to try again. But not alone like today, or at least not before having climbed it all up on foot to judge it properly. Time now to find another way.