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Jebel Shams and Snake Canyon, Oman

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

The spine of Arabia, the Hijar mountains, Oman

The general impression that people have of the middle East isn't the most positive at the moment. The other impression is one of ludicrously big airports and malls in the desert but there is certainly much more to it than that. It has a mix of great climbing, coast, deep canyons, mountains and buckets of cultural history. The other element is the friendliness of the people you meet along the way. For example walking from the house to the shops which is about ten minutes you will have at least three offers of a lift from the local Arabs.

We set off from Dibba to the border with the UAE entering in only a few minutes from our base it was then a couple of hours which took us to a border back from the UAE into mainland Oman. Bit of a faff getting exit visas then entry visas, really just a bit of a stamping session. By this time it was midnight so we headed out to the main coastal highway to Muscat and Omans capital. Driving for a while we found a spot on the beech to pull up and get the sleeping bags out and caught some sleep before picking up the trail at dawn the following morning. Heading further down to the town of Nizwar on the edge of the Hijar mountains. There was five of us in our car with the plan to meet an Omani friend of ours and the main man for sorting permits and admin in Dibba. Ali who also came with four of his cousins arrived a little after the agreed time arriving with traditional Arab flair pulling a huge skid across a small car park. Soon after we arrived at Nizwar which had won the award for the ‘city of Islamic Culture 2015’. A very smart town with the centre having some sights to see, the Fort and the Grand Mosque being the main ones. Contrary to some beliefs in the West mosques are open and friendly

The centre of Nizwa, the Hijar mountains behind

We had a good look around and a coffee until we met Ali who had driven down that day from Dibba. A quick shop and sort out in Nizwar and we where out on the road heading for a camp on Jebel Shams the highest named peak in the country. We headed off as it turned dark. A good feeling winding up steep switchbacks with only a plume of dust flying up under speeding Land Cruiser wheels. a few wrong turns but at about 8pm long after dark we arrived at camp to a bitter cold night. Fires where started, bbq’s fired up, tents erected and before no long the camp was up and goat kebabs where sizzling away. The camp was at about 2020 metres and felt bittery cold in the wind.

Dawn from the top of Jebel Shams, Omans highest mountain

Everyone was up at dawn as the sun rose over the mountain revealing that a few feet behind the car was a huge drop showing the second largest canyon in the world second only to the Grand Canyon. A strange moonscape with little villages and frightening looking roads which we would later be picking our way through. A road which dropped about two thousand metres in the space of about two kilometres.

The huge canyon below Jebel Shams

We had a good look around the mountain. The main top area is out of bounds as there is a base there. From there we headed down of the mountain towards the main event of Snake Canyon. This lies in Wadi bin Auf. The road to it was pretty adventurous with steep off road mountain trails. The canyon itself was pretty dry as it was meant to have a few jumps in it which led to a few scramble steps. But none the less its spectacular and very deep inside a Wadi with huge walls towering above and at times swimming through shoulder width passages. Not the place to be if it rains, in fact there was an strangely worded warning sign near the entry by the road which said ‘warning drowning has become a popular activity’ a few people have been caught out and drowned in this canyon, there would be no way out and its about two kilometres long.

The impressive walls of Snake Canyon

Once out we had a traditional sit down on the mat and share the food round which polished the trip off perfectly. Then just a few hours back to base via borders to get some sleep before work in the morning.

Exiting the dark confines of the canyon

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