13 April 2012

We might have been forgiven for knowing what to expect from the third installment of the Abu Dhabi Alpine Club’s annual trip to Snake Gorge.

But even though we all know the mountain environment is an ever-changing one, we truly hadn’t expected that the trip would involve an appraisal of my character.

All this had been the result of our staggered arrival at the informal campground at the head of the gorge. As our disjointed convoy of 4x4s arrived from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we’d rocked in at 12.30am, 1.30am and finally 3am.

This was not to the approval of the earlier resident, who’d spotted this campsite sometime before dusk the previous evening and settled in for what he expected to be a night of peace and serenity.

As we readied ourselves for a 9am departure, our unhappy neighbour started up again. I responded that this is an informal campsite with no rules and while we were sorry to wake him the previous night, that’s the nature of a campsite on Thursday night used by people driving from Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

At that, we headed on to Snake Canyon, pleased to get back into the familiar ground where gravity rather than moral certitude and censure ruled our world.

Picking the time for this trip can be difficult. Go too early (such as the March trip in 2010) and the water’s unpleasantly cold. Go too late and the water quality is scuzzy. Friday the 13th (of April) might not be the most auspicious date on the calendar but we hoped it’d be the right mix of temperature and scuzziness.

By the time of the first dropoff, it was clear that floods since my last trip had changed the nature of the gorge. What had been waist deep water in 2010 but was now at least 3m deep and safely jumpable.

After a couple of small jumps, we came to the first big one into a deep (and murky) pool.

This was the first big jump, although there was a woosy lower alternative.

We kicked on through the gorge. It was generally a perfect balance between fun and challenging.

There was more sun this time around but although it was hot outside, inside the gorge it was chilly enough to encourage some to hug the sun-warmed rocks.

Dustin dubbed these “rocks with benefits”.

Thoby and Blair had been going out for about a week at the time of the 2010 Snake Canyon trip and were back on this one.

We tried to find the same sunny nook in which they’d warmed themselves in the sun two years earlier.

The gorge was not restricted to jumps.

There were also slides. I mean, what could go wrong.

Blair’s face kind of hints at what could go wrong…

But it all ended well.

And then we reverted to jumping.

Signs of another “rock with benefits”.

There were yet more slides.

Memo to self: hold on to the waterproof camera case when jumping into a pool.

In places, there was scrambling through dry crevices instead of jumping into pools. There’d been an awesome pool here in 2010.

We ran into a guided group, who were paying for the privilege of wearing harnesses with a particularly fetching yellow vinyl patch for bumsliding.

The canyon constricted some more.

And we swam off into the unknown.

Well, it had been unknown two years ago. Now we knew it headed into a cave.

This was complete with stalagtites.

There was light at the end of the tunnel…

Others followed the way we’d come and emerged onto a shingle beach on the far side.

The pools continued, although there were fewer jumps.

And after the cave, the water temperatures were distinctly chillier but still OK.

We had a final difficult downclimb, for which we fixed a short rope. I’d hoped to get to the sailing shops at Al Mina to buy some real rope but had to make do with a bit of Carrefour’s finest Dh10 ($2.50) rope, which was, er, not quite as trustworthy…

But it did the job.

Then we emerged from the last of the gorge’s constrictions, at which point there was an easy and hot 15-minute walk out to the cars.

Those who’d baked in the sun as they walked up from the exit of the gorge were shocked to see us sitting in the sun and trying to warm up on more rocks with benefits.

Among them were Mr and Mrs Moral Appraisal from that morning. They clearly didn’t recognise who were were and she asked if we had any spare water, they having run out in the 15-minute walk from the car park. Gail, generous soul that she is, offered them a bottle, only to be met with: “You didn’t fill this from the pools, did you?” There’s gratitude!

In retrospect, it seems they were entirely unaware that Snake Gorge even existed as a canyoning route, which would also explain why they weren’t expecting cars to arrive in the middle of the night.

We headed back to camp and set up in the shade of a convenient tree.

We hosted a local visitor.

Then once the sun set, we moved to the fire circle.

We barbecued and stewed enough food to feed at least twice as many people, including a s’mores session with Thoby and Blair.

Especially when Mother’s Milk was added into the equation.

On the plus side, we were all “energized, oxegenated and chelated” by our experience with Mother’s Milk.

Although some looked more traumatised than energised, let alone chelated.

Thoby was not among them.

This may have had something to do with the Burn The Thorns campaign that followed.

We were supposed to do the technical (30m abseil etc) eastern branch of Snake Canyon the next day but the weather looked too threatening to risk going into the gorge.

So instead we went to Balad Seyt, an Omani village reached via a short slot canyon.

One of the locals immediately plied us with dates and kahwa (Arabic coffee), including showing which of the date palms he was standing beside had provided the dates.

We hiked briefly up a path above the village, where some sat in the shade under the tree and others headed up via some stone stairways towards the crest of the range.

Then it was time to head back to the Dhabs.


<Beating the Heat on Jebel Fafataq   Jebel Qihwi Summit to Sea>

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