27 March 2010
Despite our best efforts at denial, we had to accept that the aircon season had finally arrived in Abu Dhabi.

But that just meant it was the right time to head to the mountains, so a group that eventually numbered 17 people headed to Oman for a canyoning and via ferrata weekend.
We’d seen Snake Gorge back in January, when we did a via ferrata — or “iron way”, from the use of cables when the WWI frontier was in the Dolomites on the Italian-Austrian border — 100m above the bottom of the gorge.

The via ferrata was strenuous but awesome. And the whole way, the view of the stunning canyon below made us vow to come back.

So last weekend, we did.

Shabroon Shabroon
The gorge was fantastic, beginning with some slightly tricky descents when the water was not deep enough to jump into, but it didn’t take too long to get to the point where the pools were safely jumpable.

Often there was no other choice.

The gorge didn’t get much sun and temperatures were just on the chilly side of comfortable, so the sun worshippers used sun-warmed rocks whenever they could.

Shabroon Shabroon
The canyon became narrower and the jumps became bigger.

And Wendy decided to add a bouldering element.

Shabroon Shabroon
Sometimes we jumped but other times we found natural slides, which were even more fun.

Shabroon Shabroon
Then the gorge closed in once more, for what seemed to be an extended time.

This proved to be the highlight of the gorge, because we paddled through a constriction and then found…

…the unexpected vista that the walls of the canyon joined in an enormous limestone flow, creating a cave.

It even had stalagtites hanging from the roof.


Then we could see light at the end of the tunnel and swam out the far end.
But the gorge wasn’t quite done with us yet, and we faced a few more swimming sections.

Then we came upon a slightly awkward section down to a pool of indeterminate depth, which in a piece of unorthodox canyoning technique, we used a rope to keep each person in balance until they could reach a Thank God hold on the far side.

Shabroon Shabroon

This became known as Arse Rope Technique, about which we’ve submitted a paper to the International Canyoning Federation so that it will be included in all future training courses.

Or, as Rachel put it: “I am clearly a genius. Girl logic: use the arse!”

And it actually worked.

After this the gorge began to ease off in difficulty, and finally we changed from swimming and jumping to walking out to the village directly below, where we’d left our cars.


A picnic was deemed the perfect way to end the trip, done in a very UAE style involving barbecued kebabs and then a sisha session.

Late in the afternoon, we drove up towards the top of Wadi Bani Auf, briefly visited a village accessed via a slot canyon, then over the range towards Jebel Shams, Oman’s highest peak.

As in Yemen, the highest peak was off limits because it was the site of a military communications installation. So we had to make do with camping on a ridge maybe 200m lower but still at a perfect temperature for camping.

The locals don’t seem to harbour any particularly romantic notions about their high peaks, preferring the pragmatic approach of the unrestricted scanning available on the summit.

The following morning, we did a car shuffle with overfilled cars and started hiking what was known as the balcony route just below the crest of the largest canyon in the Middle East.


Back in the lawless tribal days when the ability to secure your village against enemies was the primary consideration for its location, there was a village located on the shelf just above the big alcove in the middle of the pic above.

We were told there were once 15 families there, who relocated to the plateau above once the tribalism was subverted by central government rule.

(The district governors representing the government are called, and I’m not making this up, wallies.)

The villages used to have an express route to get to the plateau and avoiding the walk we’d just done.

This involved scaling the cliffline just above and to the right to the village.

Shabroon Shabroon

The pic above left shows their old start to the route, using the small insecure holds to the left of the log.

There was now a via ferrata on the route, which starts just to the right because the rock was sounder there.

Once the two routes joined and we did the climb which the Omani used to do without ropes, it was clear this was an entire different league to what we’d seen on Stairway to Heaven.

It was called the Sticks Route, because they’d jam sticks into the cracks to give a little more access on what to anyone else would be a very very serious rock climb.

With the via ferrata, and particularly the iron spikes used to create footholds, it was just on the tricky side of easy. The cable meant it was completely safe.

Without the via ferrata, a free ascent of this is just completely freaking insane.

If you fall here, as we used to say in the black humour of the hills, you’re relying solely on air friction.

After maybe 60m, we pulled over a small lip to a terrace with a path on it.

But we weren’t done yet.

After wandering along a ledge system, there was one final cliff of polished rock to reach safe ground.

Then it was time for a masala dosa at Rachel’s favourite cafe in Bahla before heading back to the Dhabs, sore, sunburned but brimming from a really fun weekend.


< Stairways to Heaven Roundtrip    6000m above Dead Sea level >

2 Responses to “Snake Canyon and Jebel Shams, Oman”

  1. Raj said

    A very interesting read !
    Could you give me the directions to the snake gorge ?

    • adalpine said

      You can get there either on the mountain road starting close to Hoota Showcaves in the South or from Al Awabi in the North driving up Wadi Bani Awf. Coordinates of the starting point (just copy/paste in google maps): 23.211389, 57.384444
      Routes are well described in the Oman Offroad Explorer book (Route 13)

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