A review of hiking Snake Canyon

Snake Canyon: one of the most beautiful wadis in Oman

Hiking Snake Canyon was not always something I wanted to do. I heard it involved jumping off of things, abseiling, and other crazy stuff. But then, I basically was like, “f*** it” and decided I shouldn’t let my fear of heights stop me from doing once-in-a-lifetime things. Plus, I was terrified of scuba diving and now it’s one of my favorite things to do. I decided I was going to hike Snake Canyon, goddamnit! That said, thinking about this hike literally kept me awake at night and gave me cold sweats.

The road to the wadi is easy to find

You have to use a guide for Snake Canyon, also called Wadi Bani Awf. Unless you are experienced at abseiling and have all the required equipment, this hike is dangerous and nearly impossible. We decided to go with twenty3extreme, the same company Nate used for the 7th Hole adventure. I highly recommend them; they were fantastic. We met our three guides at 7:30 am at the exit point for the hike, and the first thing they did was kit us up with harnesses, life jackets and helmets. Then we drove to the hike starting point, by the Bilad Sayt Audi football field.

View down the wadi towards the beginning of the hike

After hiking for about 15 minutes we reached the first abseil point, which was a six meter drop. This was a good chance to learn how abseiling works, and it was easier than I expected it to be. We slid and climbed down a number of other drops that would have normally scared the shit out of me and were far scarier than the abseils. With the abseils, I was strapped in and there was a safety mechanism to keep me from free falling. With some of those drops, I had to trust that there would be a rock someplace to cling to or step on that I just couldn’t see yet. And that’s scary.

We abseiled down the crevice in the upper left quadrant, and then down off the cliff in the middle of the photo, followed by quick fun slide down the wet rocks on our bums!

We eventually reached the second drop, an abseil of about 30 meters. That was followed immediately by another drop of eight meters, for the majority of which you have to just dangle and slowly lower yourself. After that it was more hiking, climbing, jumping, and swimming.

I used to be wary of jumping off cliffs into water, but this hike cured me of that. Just plug your nose, bend your legs if you don’t know how deep it is, and go for distance! The guides did an awesome job of showing us how to use our arms and our backs to lower ourselves when we were between two boulders and there was no place for your feet to touch. Also, the harnesses had canvas butt covers, so no one was at risk of splitting their pants. It sounds silly, but with the amount of sliding that we did, all of us would have emerged with torn pants had this not been the case

Taken just before sliding off a cliff into that crevice

There was one point where we swam through a cave. Cool, right? Then I saw what looked like a floating natural raft of trash to my left. Turned out it was actually garbage, and the opening to the cave that we exited from was literally full of trash. Apparently when it rains all the water comes through this point, so all the garbage collects there. It had rained the weekend before.

Eventually we stopped for a quick snack break and heard thunder in the distance. Warning bells went off and we hiked out as fast as we could. We got back to the car, took off our kits, and the drivers piled into one car and immediately set off to pick up the other vehicles. The rest of us stayed behind in an area with higher ground. Snake Canyon is prone to flash-flooding and we did not want to be there when that happened.

Had we not been rushing to leave the canyon, I would have spent a lot of time photographing that amazing curved rock

Storm clouds rolling in at the exit of Snake Canyon

After we had waited about 30 minutes for the cars to come back it started pouring rain. We found a goat herder’s “shelter” of palm fronds tied together that blocked the rain a little bit, but as soon as we saw the cars coming back down the mountain, we ran to them and piled in as quickly as we could. The sooner we got out of there the better. The ground here is so dry, it doesn’t absorb rain. Water just runs off of it like you’d expect with pavement. So the dirt road didn’t become muddy at that point, it was just full of huge puddles. Luckily we were all in 4WD vehicles so we didn’t have any problems. But we definitely drove out of there as fast as we safely could.

Storm clouds over Wadi Bani Awf

Rain is such a novelty, people stop to watch the flooding

I’m really glad I had the chance to hike Snake Canyon, and we’re lucky we actually got to go on the trek. We’d planned to go back in March, but it got cancelled due to a lack of water in the canyon, and they replaced it with a Tiwi trek. That got cancelled due to impending rain. Luckily for us the weather was perfect during the hike, and the prior weekend’s rain meant that all the pools were full, clear, and beautiful. This hike will definitely go down as one of my Oman favorites. It was incredible.

Oh, one more thing: I met the guy who writes the blog Beyond the Route. He was tagging along with our trekking guides, helping them with our group. He is a super cool dude and if you haven’t looked at his blog, you should. He provides some of the clearest, most accurate background info on Oman and the culture that you’ll find written by a non-Omani on the internet.

Advertisements

Cramming it all in

I already miss my morning runs along the beach.

In my last post I mentioned making a list of all our remaining weekends so we can make sure we cross everything off our bucket list. At this point that strategy has been paying off and we’ve been able to visit several old favorites and also cross some new destinations off the list! I’m not letting myself go down the “this is the last time I’ll ever see x, y, or z” path because that would just be too depressing. Instead I’m enjoying every minute and soaking in as much as I can.

One of my favorite views in Oman: The Al Ain beehive tombs and Jebel Misht

A few weeks ago we went back to Wadi Damm and I was reminded of why it’s easily one of my favorite wadi hikes. It’s not too challenging (in fact, every time we figure out how to make the hike even easier) and the payoff with the beautiful pools at the end is top-notch. This last time we went a week after some big rain storms and I’ve never seen that much water in the wadi before. It was incredible. What’s usually a dry drive was full of splashing through puddles and streams. On the hike out of the wadi we got to talking with some young Omani men and they invited us to share lunch with them. Two hours later, we left the wadi stuffed with watermelon, rice, and chicken. We topped if off by stopping to explore some new ruins that, somehow, we’d never noticed before. The road that leads to Wadi Damm is quickly becoming one of my favorite roads in Oman, there’s so much neat stuff to do off of it. Plus, there’s a really nice clean public toilet that even has toilet paper!

Wadi Damm

How had we never noticed this huge ruined village right beside the road?!

Date palm plantations and a small stream behind the ruins

We were planning to go to Thailand over Eid, but instead we’re going to stick around and squeeze everything we can out of our remaining time in Oman. We’ve done a lot of exploring, but it’s shocking how many new places there are to see! Last weekend we went to Ain Sahban, which deserves its own blog post. That place was incredible. We have plans to finally go camping at Jebel Shams and Jebel Akhdar, and to stay at one of the fancy mountain resorts. There are dive sites I haven’t been to yet that I want to try, ruins to wander through, and a few forts that look interesting.

Sunset by the Mutrah souk

The most scenic chunk of sidewalk in Muscat

I finally printed some of my favorite photos from our time in Oman, and I have plans to go to a framing shop. We’re so used to electronic copies of photos, sometimes it’s hard to remember to actually print them. I also finally took the gemstones I bought in Sri Lanka to a jeweler in the souk to get set and made into jewelry. I don’t know why I decided to save all these things to the last minute, but better late than never, I guess.

Taking care of business at the jeweler

We’re lucky we have an amazing onward assignment to look forward to. If we were going someplace crappy I don’t know I’d manage leaving here. I’d be an emotional basket case.

It can be hard to be present in the Foreign Service, and that’s something I’m really mindful of.  It’s easy to get caught up in the future and what’s coming, sometimes even if it’s a long ways away. But we haven’t left Oman yet: we are still here. I shouldn’t be sad about leaving when we still have 10 more weeks to make the most of and enjoy with our friends.

We are trying to eat as many masala dosas as we can before we leave

Departing means cleaning out the pork drawer in the freezer! Carnitas tacos, yummmmm.

Tips and Tricks for Wadi Shab

View along the Wadi Shab hiking path

Wadi Shab is, by far, the most popular wadi for tourists to hike when they come to Oman. It’s less than 2 hours from Muscat, there’s a well-marked path, and the first third is basically flat. All of the basic wadi-hike guidelines apply to Wadi Shab: bring water, sunscreen, snacks, and a lifejacket if you plan on getting in the water but can’t swim.

One of the pools you have to swim through to get to the cave

Wadi Shab isn’t complicated, and we’ve hiked it  numerous times, sometimes with M, sometimes without. Some of the trips there have been more successful and/or enjoyable than others, and here are some tips and tricks that will help you make the most out of your Wadi Shab trip excursion!

  • Go to Bimmah Sinkhole first. It’s so close-by you might as well visit, and I always enjoy it, plus it’s free. Some people think it’s a let-down but I think they’re just no fun. If you save it for afterwards you might be too tired or in too much of a hurry to get back to Muscat and you  might not stop.
  • Do not go on a weekend or an Omani holiday. It will be packed.
  • Don’t go right after a lot of rain. The wadi will contain more water than normal and you won’t be able to easily (or safely) get into the cave at the end. Also the water won’t be as clear and blue because of all the extra sediment.

    We hiked Wadi Shab in October 2018 and this area, which is generally mostly dry, was completely flooded.

    Do you see the white bird?

  • Wear shoes that you can wear in the water and on land. I always wear Chacos, but Tevas, Keens, etc all work well too. You do not want to make the trip to the cave in the back barefoot.
  • When the hike turns to the left and you see a long pool full of people relaxing and picnicking, stop hiking. This is basically where the hike ends, and from here you swim and scramble over rocks to get to the cave.
  • Slide over the rocks on your butt when they get slippery. I have seen numerous people fall on the slippery rocks between the pools by the cave. It might look silly, but if you’re already on your butt and you hit a slippery spot, you don’t have too far to go. This is especially  helpful when coming out of the cave and heading back to the main pool.

    The cave with the waterfall at the end of Wadi Shab

    Squeezing out of the tiny narrow opening from the cave

  • Bring at least one large waterproof bag. When you reach the part where you have to start swimming, transfer all valuables and anything else you can’t stand to lose into the waterproof bag and then just stash your backpacks and camel backs.
  • Bring a carrier for children three years old and under. This hike is definitely possible with little kids, and I’ve seen a strong two-year old complete 90% of it on her own. When we take M we always carry him in a pack, and if he wants to hike it, fine, but it’s always good to have the option to easily carry him. If your kids are experienced careful hikers, they’ll have no problems with Wadi Shab.
  • If you’re not a relatively strong swimmer don’t go to the cave without a life jacket. There’s nowhere to rest and you have to tread water the entire time.

Even though I’ve been a number of times, I enjoy Wadi Shab and each time I notice something new. The beauty of Oman never ceases to amaze me!

Time to swim!

More beautiful views along the trail

Snapshots: Muqil Pools at Wadi Bani Khalid

The first large pool at Muqil Pools

First, a housekeeping note. I’m introducing a new series of posts on the blog called “snapshots” (super inventive, I know). There are lots of neat things do to in Oman that don’t require a lot of explanation, or, even though I enjoy them, I simply don’t have much to say. But what I do have is lots of neat photos! First up is the Muqil Pools at the northern end of Wadi Bani Khalid.

Swimming in the crystal blue pools further up the wadi

The best way to finish off a desert glamping trip is with a stop at the Muqil Pools. It’s about an hour away from the major desert camps in the Wahiba Sands, and you can enjoy the beauty of a wadi without any of the work. You can find it easily in Waze, and then it’s just a quick walk. There’s a restaurant where you can get lunch and there are also a number of nice picnic spots.  Keep walking up the wadi to find some nice swimming spots. If you want to do a real wadi hike, Wadi Bani Khalid goes in the other direction too and is called Wadi Hayer or Hawer. OmanTripper has a good post about that. We haven’t checked it out yet, but we hope to before July!

The view of the pools, looking in the direction of the parking lot

Looking towards the parking area, from even further back in the wadi

The wadi gets a lot prettier the further in you go. There are also a lot less people.

The big pay-off: swimming in the beautiful pools all by yourself!

Wadi Tiwi

One of several pay-off spots on the hike

Happy New Year to all my awesome readers! 2018 was pretty great and I’m excited to see what 2019 has in store. Let’s get the awesomeness started! 🙂

We are finally in prime wadi hike season. Some people are able to do wadi hikes all year long, but I am not one of them. I don’t handle physical activity in the heat very well and I don’t particularly like being really hot; my face turns bright red, my body overheats, and it isn’t pretty. But now that the soaring temperatures of the summer have passed, it’s time for some hiking!

The view down the wadi during the drive in

Wadi Tiwi is the perfect wadi if you’re looking for a good balance of swimming, scrambling over rocks, and hiking. It’s only two and a half hours from Muscat, and you can easily do the whole hike and return before sundown. The hike takes about three to four hours round-trip, although it can be longer if you stop for lunch, swimming, jumping off rocks, etc.  It is physically challenging, but it won’t leave you feeling wrecked. I’d say it’s harder than Wadi Shab and Wadi Damm, but easier than Wadi Al Arbaeen.

The view down the wadi as you hike in

OmanTripper, one of my favorite resources for adventures in Oman, has an awesome post about Wadi Tiwi with lots of helpful info. The drive into the wadi takes about 30 minutes, and parts of it are really steep and narrow. At one point there was another vehicle coming the other way and we had to back up down the mountain to find a section of road wide enough for them to pass. If you do park someplace, make sure other vehicles can still get around you! The last section of the drive down to the trailhead (GPS: 22.7764288, 59.2247468) is definitely the steepest part of the drive and you need 4WD.  From the trailhead, there’s a staircase to the left of the parking lot that you can follow down. From the bottom of the stairs, turn right and just follow the wadi!

Lovely Wadi Tiwi

There is an easy gravel path to follow for a short distance, and once you start to hit some big boulders you’ll go up to the right, past a thorny tree, then back down to the wadi bed. Side note: there are lots of thorny trees and bushes on this hike, so watch out.

Eventually you’ll cross the creek and start hiking along the other side. There’s a section where it looks like there’s no easy way to go, but if you look to the right along the wall of the wadi, there are 3 cement stairs. There’s another part where there’s a cairn marking an opening through some huge boulders that you can squeeze through.

Other than that, there’s not a whole lot I can say about how to make your way through the wadi. Everyone’s strategy is different; mine is to try to use the water as much as possible and swim when I can rather than climb. But the fun part of any wadi is finding the best path!

The shallow stream eventually gives way to large pools and boulders. Now the real fun begins!

Swimming the pools and thick slimy algae. The water really is that color!

You either swim through the water or figure out how the climb the rocks. I usually choose to swim.

There are lots of neat rock formations and boulders along the way

About 90 minutes in you’ll reach a beautiful spot at a large pool with jumping-off rocks and a nice flat area for a picnic. From here you can climb up the waterfall on the right and go further back into the wadi. Eventually you’ll reach a large-ish waterfall at which point you can’t really go any further unless you use the rope over on the left to climb up the rocks. If you’re a braver person that I am, you can climb up here, go through some date palm fields, and follow the road back to the car. I, however, with visions of compound fractures and bashed-in skulls, opted out of this route and chose to hike back the way we came to return to the parking lot. The folks that climbed up and followed the road got back to the car about 5 minutes before we did, so you don’t save much time by taking that route.

All things considered, we really enjoyed Wadi Tiwi. Just make sure that you bring plenty of sunscreen, water, snacks, and, of course, a camera!

The best spot to stop for lunch and a leisurely swim. Plus jumping-off-rocks!

Wadi Dhum

Wadi Dhum

While we were visiting the Bat and Al Ayn tombs, we also checked out Wadi Dhum. It was totally worth the long drive out. The water is beautiful with lots of spots to jump in, the canyon itself is lovely and the rocks are surprisingly very interesting.

One of the best things about the hike to the end of the wadi is that it’s actually a pretty quick hike. I’d say 45 minutes maximum, and that included jumping into some pools along the way. It’s also more of a true wadi hike because you do have to scramble over some rocks and look for a relatively-unobstructed path. The only downfall is that it’s a 3 hour drive from Muscat.

On this wadi hike, make sure you bring a dry bag you can stash all your stuff into and shoes that you can wear both in and out of water. Also, as usual, bring plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen!

The view out of the wadi towards the carpark shortly after starting the hike

Oman Off Road has good advice for how to reach the end of the wadi, but I’ll go through what we did and what we’d do differently next time. First, if you have a high-clearance vehicle, you basically drive down the wadi bed until you can’t go any further. Park to the left under the rock ledge by the falaj if you want your car to stay shaded. If you’re driving a sedan, you might want to pull off the road where you can and park there because the closer you get to the parking lot, the more big rocks there are jutting out that could scrape the bottom of your car.

After you’ve parked, head up the wadi towards the dam. It’s maybe a 5 minute walk, and you could walk along the falaj or on the wadi bed. Cross the dam on the right side, and stay on that side for an easy walk to the a small waterfall with a massive boulder on the left side. Or, after crossing the dam go over to the left and jump into the first crystal blue inviting pool that you see to cool off. Then scramble over some slippery rocks to get to the right side with the trail to get to the waterfall. To the left of the enormous boulder by the waterfall you’ll notice a rope going up a rock into a cave-like rock formation. To proceed, either climb up the rocks by the waterfall (which I think would be possible if the rocks aren’t too slippery) or use the rope and climb up. If you take the waterfall route, bring a drybag for your stuff because you’ll have to swim to the rocks.

The rope is to the left of the large boulder, where the guys are standing.

The view along the hike through Wadi Dhum

From here we kept to the ledge on the right side of the wadi, which eventually spat us out a good bit above the final pool. The wadi eventually makes a 90 degree angle to the left and ends with a cave full of bats. Right before the wadi turns left you’ll find the last few pools. Getting down to the pools involved leaping over a big gap between two rocks and then clambering down while being careful to not touch the black rocks, which by 2 pm were burning hot. Then you go down through an opening in the rocks to climb down into the pools.

In the beautiful final wadi pool

Next time we’d stay on the right side of the wadi, but stay closer to the water rather than going up. Leaving the wadi, we climbed and swam through the water until there were easy ledges on either side. This route is definitely easier than the one we took coming in. You’re on the same side of the wadi as before, but there’s less climbing, scrambling and leaping over rock gaps.

We reached the point where you’d have to use the rope to go back down the slippery rocks and we figured out how to avoid that entirely. Keep to the left side of the wadi, and you’ll notice a path that goes up past the waterfall on the left side. You’ll have to scramble up a dicey area full of loose rocks and thorny shrubs, but if you just keep looking where you’re going, you’ll be fine. Note that this particular stretch of the hike is why I would not recommend taking this route entering the wadi. If you slip and fall going down, there is nothing stopping you from basically falling down a steep incline and off the side of a cliff. But going up it isn’t bad. After the dicey part you come to a nice wide path along a ledge in the wadi and you just follow that until you’re near the car park. It’s easy enough to walk down the hill and climb over a few rocks from there back to the car.

View out of the wadi towards the carpark as you leave. Keep to the left on the rock ledge, and then scramble up when the ledge stops. I promise there’s a trail up there.

Alright, so I reread my directions and they’re a bit confusing. If you plan on going and have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me personally!

I’m not complaining about the weather!

The Omani flag flying high at Jabrin Castle

Things here have been busy. We had our first visitors over Thanksgiving, took our first local vacation, got scuba certified, and I’m training for my first real race since 2014. We’re also putting up Christmas decorations, going to parties, and I’m baking a lot of cookies. There is so much to blog about and just not enough time.

First things first, the weather here is currently perfect. Around mid-November it was like a switch flipped and the weather got awesome. It’s in the 60s in the morning, and by mid day it’s actually comfortable to be outside in the sun. We drive to work with the windows rolled down and I leave the kitchen door open when I’m cooking. During my morning runs, even the ones that last for over an hour, I don’t get hot. It’s a fricking miracle. When we first got here everyone told us that the weather in the winter would make the terrible heat worth it, and they were totally 100% right. This is currently my climate paradise and it’s amazing.

In my last blog post I was whining about how our stuff wasn’t here yet. The following week it arrived, and never in my life have I been so excited to see our stuff. I actually clapped when they unpacked my sari stamp block mirror that we had made in Dhaka. I unpacked and put away almost everything within about three weeks, and we got rid of a lot of stuff. There are clothing donation bins all over our neighborhood, and we probably donated a few hundred pounds of clothes and shoes. We don’t have tons of storage space, so I turned off the water to two of our four showers and they are now perfect for storing large plastic boxes. With our books on the shelves, stuff put away, and pictures and art on the walls, and our house finally feels like home.

Sunrise in Muscat

I’m training for a half marathon and so far it’s going well. My weekly milage is building, slowly but surely, and I have stayed injury-free (knock on wood). While waking up at the crack of dawn kind of sucks, I love running here now that the weather is perfect. Running along the ocean, watching the sun rise over the mountains and hearing only the sound of the waves and my own breathing is amazing every time. I will never take this for granted and if I ever do, someone please punch me.

Bimmah sinkhole

Some friends from Dhaka came to visit over Thanksgiving and it was so much fun. They only stayed for three days, but we packed as many Oman highlights as we could into the long weekend and everyone had a great time. We spent most of the first day at our favorite beach and then we went to Thanksgiving dinner. The next day we woke up bright and early and drove to Bimmah Sinkhole, followed by Wadi Shab, and on their last day here we drove to Nizwa and then checked out Jabrin Castle.  Oman is such an incredible and beautiful country (and there’s still so much we haven’t even seen yet!), and showing visitors and friends our favorite parts is so much fun. Seeing the wonder and amazement reflected on someone’s face and knowing that they are just as fascinated as you are is pretty cool.

The sun setting over the Wadi Shab entrance (and freeway)

There’s still so much more to say, but I have to get back to baking Christmas cookies!

VPNs and Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab

Over the past few days we’ve had a five-day weekend for Eid al-Adha. It’s been awesome. Having that long of a weekend just after arriving has been really convenient because it’s given us time to sort out lots of stuff and we’ve been able to start exploring our corner of the country.

First, and maybe most importantly, we finally got our internet installed the day before the Eid holiday began. I spent several hours the next day trying to get our VPN router set up. We purchased a router through StrongVPN so that we can use the VPN connection with our AppleTV. It worked well for us in Dhaka, and, now that it’s finally set up here, I’m happy to report that we were finally able to watch the end of the last season of Game of Thrones.

On a related note, we both fell asleep during the finale. There was so much talking. It was boring. (GoT spoiler alert, although I’m guessing that if this matters to you you’ve probably already watched it) Can someone please tell me why the hell Dany didn’t just blast the Night King with dragon fire in the 6th episode? He was right there. Ugh.

Moving on, a few days ago we went to Wadi Shab, a canyon filled with pools of water and a cave with a waterfall at the end. I was wary going into it because, as you know by now, it’s super fricking hot here and a hike, even just a 45 minute one, sounded like the worst thing ever.  But we took it slow and I survived. I looked like a boiled lobster, but I didn’t pass out or get hurt, so I’ll take it.

Start of the hike into Wadi Shab

The cave at the end was amazing. The passageway in was really narrow, probably 12 inches wide, and to get through you had to tread water and shimmy sideways. Leaving the cave, the sunlight lit up the water and it was practically neon blue. It was incredible. We left our cameras in dry bags once the swimming part started, so I didn’t get any photos of the best parts of the Wadi. Hopefully we’ll go back again soon when it isn’t so damn hot out.

We left M at home with the nanny. We weren’t sure how much of it we could do with him in the hiking backpack and we wanted to be able to explore as fully as possible our first time out. In the future, we’ll bring him with us and once we get to the beach where you have to start swimming we will take turns going to enjoy the cave while he hangs out in the shallow water.

This is the beach at the start of the swimming part of the trek. Usually there are hardly any people here.

One thing to note: we will never go to Wadi Shab over an Omani holiday weekend again. It was PACKED.  Apparently we weren’t the only ones who thought it’d be the perfect chance to explore the wadi. There were at least a thousand people there. Pools that are usually turquoise were brown because of all the people kicking up sediment. Lesson learned!

The parking lot is usually empty!