July 2009

“This is better than the air conditioning in my office,” Jenny said, as we were halfway through the second canyon.

Outside it was the all-too-familiar baking heat of an Arabian summer but here in the depths of the canyon which never saw the sun, the temperature remained at a level that was not just comfortable but even a little cool.

This had seemed to be an impossible prospect even as we pulled up at Hatta Pools, just over the Oman border from Hatta township, and looked out on a dry wadi bed shimmering in the relentless Gulf sun.

I suspect many of the seven of us had decided to come on this excursion as a break from the seemingly inescapable aircon of this time of year rather than because of my assertion that this was the one activity in the outdoors it was still feasible to do in summer.

But as the dry wadi bed approached a bluff, a trickle of water could be seen emerging from the gravel and despite an attempt to hijack it for a falaj irrigation channel, the stream continued to flow. As it approached a band of bedrock across the floor of the wadi, the stream channeled into a groove and we followed suit.

At first the canyon was a cruisy metre or two wide and with knee-deep water of perfect tepid temperature. And after about 70m, it broadened out again, prompting a half-joking: “Is that it?”

Shabroon Shabroon
But faith was repaid when the channel narrowed again to something not much more than shoulder width and we had to start helping each other through some of the slipperier drop-offs while the walls began soaring above us and preventing an easy escape.

Shabroon Shabroon
I had little information about the route other than the upper gorge is easy and that we were likely to be wet. Then after rounding a corner, we were confronted with a deep pool of green-tinged water which headed off between the vertical canyon walls further than we could see.

Shabroon Shabroon
With a shrug of the shoulders, we turned from walking to swimming. Georg declared the water was “like nothing” because it was so close to being like a tepid bath.

Shabroon Shabroon
For the first time, there was a bit of rubbish floating in the water but nothing like as bad as it could be, with some previous aquanauts encountering disposable nappies. We set off with our mouths firmly closed and despite paddling off without knowing how far we were going to paddle for, it turned out fine.

I’m not sure who was more surprised to see the other — us emerging from the canyon or the troupe of Omani boys taking turns to dive bomb into the water using methods that ranged from merely daring to attempts to snare a Darwin Award.

A minute or so later, we’d emerged back onto dry land on the wide wadi floor. Just beyond an upturned date palm trunk marked the start of the second half of the canyon, which we’ll get to after a break in the shade of a rock overhang. The Omani boys proved to be very friendly, although Andrew’s ability to bluff in what he called “the international language of football” proved to be a better lingua franca than my own efforts at Arabi Khaleeji.

Shabroon Shabroon
Most of the information I’d been given about the gorge had been about this far lesser-used second part, which I’d been told was cleaner and nicer, but with a slightly technical part at the very beginning.

The slightly more technical bit came right away but I’d brought a 30m handline, which we secured via a skanky thread just back from where the creek disappeared into a 6m-deep canyon.

Shabroon Shabroon
As I’d been told, the handline wasn’t really needed but proved helpful as we made the jump from the lowest section of the cacade and into the pool below. It was a little committing because we didn’t know what happened next with the gorge, even though I’d been told the rest was easy.

Shabroon Shabroon
So we left the rope in place, even though it was clear that reversing the move might have been a little tricky. Still, it gave Georg the chance to enjoy a warm shower.

Shabroon Shabroon
The pool directly below the jump was about belly deep but soon the canyon narrowed and the depth increased to about 2m through an easy constriction. Then it became progressively shallower and finally dry as the water began flowing underground.

Shabroon Shabroon
Once in the dry section, the rock walls began towering over us until they completed an arch, creating a high-roofed cave through which we walked. This was where Jenny discovered that the natural aircon of the canyon was better than at her office. (To be at Abu Dhabi Media Company temperatures, we’d have seen icicles forming, so I was happy to go by Jenny’s company’s standard)

An ancient landslide provided some scrambling and then we emerged through a narrow inverted-V section of cave to a final pool.

This provided the final chance for a swim but this time there was no rubbish and we could see the end before we began.

The canyon effectively ended there, in terms of interest, because there was effectively no challenges ahead.

Except of course, the midday temperatures, to which we were now exposed. It was baking hot, in a way that we’d been insulated from for the last two and a half hours or so but now felt all the hotter as we walked back to the cars, about 1.5km back up the wadi.

By the time we arrived, my shirt and shorts were dry. And in case there was any corroboration required, when we fired up the car and looked at the thermometer, it was reading 50degC, or 122degF.

It was time for a lunch and a cleansing ale in the aircon of the Hatta Fort Hotel…


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