17 and 18 October, 2011

Jebel Hatta

Cooler temperatures had finally tipped the balance so that hiking had gone from being foolish to feasible.

That’s not to say the midday temperatures in the high-30s were actually favourable, just that you could hike without expiring. That was good enough for Graeme, whose alpine club excursions in the last few months had been restricted to night hikes to beat the heat, to announce an intended daylight ascent of Jebel Hatta.

This was a 1300m peak sited on the UAE-Oman border and towering over its namesake oasis town inland from Dubai.

And as for the midday temperatures, Graeme had a cunning plan: leave Abu Dhabi in the morning and have an extended lunch at the Hatta Fort Hotel, only leaving for the final wadi approach at 3pm and once the worst of the heat had passed. We’d finish the ascent via torchlight, camp on the top and return at first light.

It’s fair to say this was an idea which received universal approval. Especially the extended lunch bit.

With a designated meet-up time of 9.30am, we finally managed to break free of the faff factor and leave the Dhabs at 11am or so. There were seven of us in two 4x4s: Graeme, Roger, Steve, Anna, Charlie, Liv and me.

At Hatta, we met up with Doug, who’d done a tri at Ghantoot that morning and then driven straight up, and began an extended lunch at the hotel restaurant while a strong breeze wafted warm air across us.

This part of the plan worked flawlessly. But it’s fair to say that our lives in the sandpit had pretty much been preparing us for this moment.

Jebel Hatta
We were a little late leaving and then we discovered that in the years since the UAE off road guidebook had been published, the UAE had built a substantial security fence along the border with Oman that seemed to block access to our wadi.

We turned around and headed back to the Dubai highway, crossed into Oman and then headed up the wadi that way. We then discovered the road we’d been on before turning around actually continued into Oman via a border crossing, although we suspected it might have been only for GCC citizens.

Jebel Hatta
There was a maze of roads in the wadi and after a few wrong turns, including one which led us into an unsuspecting Omani farmer’s courtyard, we believed we were on the right track. According to the guidebook, our 4x4s would be able to traverse the wadi for another 1.5km before we had to start to hike.

That’s when our three 4x4s became two. This mystery was only solved when Doug drove back and found Steve and Anna’s Isuzu had had a puncture. Not a little one either: this tyre was toast.

Jebel Hatta
The delay was because their jack didn’t work. And they didn’t have the correct wrench to take off the wheel nuts. And just in case that wasn’t enough, some dodgy DIY work by the previous owner meant they couldn’t get the spare tyre off the carrier on the back of their 4×4. And just for good measure, Isuzus have six-bolt wheels so we couldn’t even use the five-bolt spares from the two Jeeps.

With a combination of skill and (mostly) brute force, we sorted all this out but it took time and the sun was reacquainting itself with the horizon by the time the Isuzu was mobile once more.
Jebel Hatta, we concluded, would have to wait for another day.

Jebel Hatta
“I know another mountain we could climb,” Graeme announced. Jebel Rawdah was relatively close, he knew the way and there was room for everyone to camp on top.

Given the exception faff-factor at play so far, I decided to rename our intended peak Jebel Fafataq, because the whole day had turned into one extended faff attack.

Jebel Hatta
We reached the end of the road, parked the 4x4s and set off at exactly 5.59pm, which almost perfectly coincided with sunset.

Jebel Hatta
The route was simple: about 500m of ascent via a small wadi leading straight up the mountain. We managed to do about half an hour of climbing in the dusk before having to resort to our torches.

Jebel Hatta
In the end, the route was easy, we had a strong breeze at our backs and we scaled out of the wadi to a ridgeline. The far side of the ridgeline featured a sheer cliff but we were able to climb easily along the ridge for another five minutes before arriving at the summit cairn.

Jebel Hatta
Better still, there were a series of flat expanses of rock which would make adequate camping places.

We settled in, discovering that the combination of the altitude (a modest 692m), the strong breeze and sweaty clothing meant we felt something we hadn’t experienced in the outdoors since April: we felt cold.

Jebel Hatta
Liv’s birthday was a couple of days away and Rachel, unable to make this trip because of a work engagement, had secretly baked a cake, which Graham had sneaked into his pack. Roger had a snuck in a bottle of Stellenbosch wine.

Jebel Hatta
“Hey everyone, you should see this book in the summit cairn,” Graeme said. We all ambled over to have a look, with Liv to arrive and be presented with a cake complete with Happy Birthday enscribed on the top.

Jebel Hatta
Attempts to light a candle were thwarted by the breeze but it’s fair to say she was chuffed.

Jebel Hatta Jebel Hatta
Empty water bottles were quickly cut up to serve as impromptu toasting glasses and we all hailed Liv’s impending birthday as if we’d been supping from the finest crystal. Well, sort of.

The breeze continued unabated. Others had clearly camped on the summit before and built a sheltering rock wall around a flat area the size of a double bed, a feature that was instantly dubbed the Honeymoon Suite and allocated to Charlie and Liv.

By 9pm, we were all in bed, partly to warm up. The breeze ripped Graeme’s Thermarest from his grip and took it over the cliff. A cursory search failed to provide any hope but Doug handed Graeme one of his two closed-cell mattresses and we all bedded down, newly aware how precarious our belongings were in the wind.

Jebel Hatta
The breeze eased off a little during the night, during which I woke up sporadically to turn over, admiring the clear starry night above and the orange glow of the Dubai-Hatta motorway below.

Jebel Hatta
With a long night’s sleep, we all woke early and were treated to the golden hues of a sandstorm sunrise.

Jebel Hatta
Then we retraced our steps back down the wadi and took to the cars.

Jebel Hatta
Anna and Steve limped off back to the Dhabs while the two Jeeps did a detour via Fossil Rock, a popular 4×4 site inland of Dubai.

Jebel Hatta
Then it was back to the Dhabi ourselves.

This was a weekend that ticked the Fs. Feasible, fafftastic and fun.


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