Over the past few weeks, several posts have been popping up on my Instagram feed about this vivacious group of Kuwaitis taking the lead on intensely challenging, yet stunning, weekend adventure trips in the nation of Oman. All it took was one of my friends mentioning it and suddenly we found ourselves roaming the aisles of Decathalon going through the “what you need” checklist. We purchased everything from a giant backpack to a tiny headlight, which seems so insignificant but makes all the difference when you’re trying to assemble a sleeping bag in complete darkness.
Supplies in tow, October 16th crept up on us much sooner than expected. Just to clarify one thing, I go to the gym regularly but have never been both as physically and mentally challenged as I was on this two-day hike. What I expected was an extra long stroll through desert terrain at an intermediate level, what I got was the most difficult steep and rocky terrain and the biggest athletic feat to date. This is how it felt to be there.
THURSDAY MORNING: DAY 1
The morning kicked off with a breakfast at the pick-up location hotel, which we checked in to the night before. We were warned that there would be no food until dinner and to make sure we ate enough to last us for the day. After breakfast, many of the soon-to-be hikers began trickling down to the lobby in nervous anticipation of the two days ahead. You could feel who had been there before. They were calm and collected as they observed the rest of us in a “you have no idea what you’re in for” kind of way. Us newcomers were clearly torn between two alternating feelings. One emotion was sheer excitement at the thought of what this hike was going to be like and how we could barely wait to get started. The second reaction was darting our eyes to the door whilst contemplating the last possible chance to make a run for it. Before we could bolt, our guides had arrived in three large cars outside the hotel. We piled our ridiculously large backpacks into the trunk of a pick-up truck and divided ourselves amongst the three cars.
THURSDAY AFTERNOON/NIGHT: DAY 1
There was no turning back now. We were split up and put into a car and were well on our way to the first camping ground for the night. There is no hiking involved on the first day, but you get exposed to the beauty of the outdoors immediately, with gorgeous views driving up the mountain. Upon arriving at the first stop, we were able to appreciate the herds of mountain goats casually walking around, completely unmoved by our human presence. We began setting up camp beds, and soon found ourselves in the dark. This was the first of many truly breathtaking moments of the trip, because when you looked up at the sky you could literally see every single star. It was the kind of sky one could gaze at for hours and get lost in either deep thought or complete clarity. I fell into the latter state of mind.
We got lost in the sky for some time, each taking turns scolding each other to turn off our head lights so as not to hinder the view above. Soon after, dinner was served and we huddled around a campfire for proper introductions. This is when we got to know our stellar guide Lulu a little bit better. We also met Ali, the Kuwaiti adventurer otherwise known as “@Husaak” on Instagram. He told us how this whole thing started with him taking small groups of friends around, showing them his world and showing them what our region had to offer of the great outdoors. This has now grown into expeditions that take place almost every weekend, conquering the most beautiful hidden gems of Oman, his current country of residency.
After the campfire, we each tucked into our sleeping bags and dozed off before our first day of hiking. This was the first time I ever experienced camping in my life, and it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I had imagined it at all. Other than the tent collapsing on us in the middle of the night as a result of the howling Omani winds, it wasn’t all that bad.
FRIDAY MORNING: DAY 2
5:00am. This is when we woke up to roll up our sleeping bags, grab a quick sandwich, then get going to the starting point of our journey, otherwise known as the last time we would see the cars for a day and a half. We were each given four large water bottles and sandwiches to stuff into our bags for the long hike ahead. When I first carried my bag with the water in it, I was mortified at how heavy it felt, then Ali said, “let me see your bag” and picked it up. He proceeded to laugh about how it was “way too light”. This is when I knew I had no idea what we were in for, and reluctantly stuffed some extra soda into my bag.
Now at the starting point, we strapped our bags on and began the first stretch of the Jebel Shams hike. The ground was nothing like what I had imagined it would be. There was rarely a flat surface to walk on and most of the mountain is so incredibly rocky that if you take your eyes off your next step, even for a moment, there is a risk of easily tripping or spraining an ankle.
We started getting tired immediately because we were not used to the weight of the backpacks. Suddenly, the terrain turned from just rocky, to rocky and very, very steep. During the course of this first stretch (about two and a half hours long) we passed through an area Lulu referred to as “the grind”. The grind is essentially the steepest part of the hike and we found ourselves panting for dear life and stopping to sip water and catch our breath just to keep moving along. This was definitely one of the hardest moments in the journey, and I was never happier than the second we reached basecamp B where we would be sleeping for the night. Earning our highly coveted sleep that night, however, did not come easily.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON: DAY 2
We only had an hour to rest before getting a move on to the summit, because you have to make it back before the sun starts to set. We took a two-hour stop at our basecamp, dropped our bags behind a tree and began making our way toward the summit with full determination. This stretch also lasted about two hours, and after a final steep climb we reached the ultimate goal: the top of Jebel Shams. To say the view was spectacular would be the understatement of the century. It literally resembles what you would imagine the Grand Canyon to look like, and if you are afraid of heights, you had better not look down. After taking all the necessary pictures to document our accomplishment, there was no more time to waste of the sunlight’s last few precious hours. If you thought going uphill was hard, you find an entirely different challenge going back down. The downward slopes force you to pick up momentum, but you have to try and slow yourself down enough to avoid slipping on a rock. This task exhausts your knees and feet to a painfully tiring degree. The group had different views on uphill versus downhill, I personally liked the downhill challenge more.
FRIDAY NIGHT: DAY 2
Finally, we made it back to basecamp in disbelief of the day we just had. The challenges, the beautiful moments and the surprises, are things we all shared over our freshly grilled steaks cooked right on the campfire. By this point we had already chosen spots on the cold hard ground to lay our humble sleeping bags for the second night of camping, this time completely out in the open. Thankfully, there was much less wind than the night before and the cold was somehow bearable. I slept like a baby.
SATURDAY MORNING: DAY 3
Last night we had reviewed the trip over the fire, answering questions like ‘what were your best and worst moments.’ The trip, however, was far from over. We still had to hike back the grueling first stretch from the morning before. This hike felt so long because our heels and legs were already sore and throbbing from the previous day. Most of us had blisters, one suffered a fractured toe, and another fell ill and didn’t make it to the summit on Friday. I have to say that if you are planning on joining one of these trips, do not take your physical fitness lightly. Train as you would for a marathon, because it is basically a slower marathon with inclines and extremely rocky paths. About four of us got a bit off-course somewhere between the first and second group for a portion of the return hike, but we learned to follow the trail markings on the rocks that eventually guided us back to our starting point, where one of the guides, Aziz, was waiting with freshly cut watermelon. It was the most delicious watermelon we had ever bitten into.
We clapped for each new person’s arrival to the finish line, and supported each other to the very last moment. This trip taught me above all that the only limits we have are the ones we set for ourselves; you never know what you are capable of until you are in a situation where there is no other option but to power through and finish what you started. There were several times on this hike when I doubted myself, then realized that I didn’t come this far to quit now. That was the most beautiful feeling and I recommend that everyone should, at least once, take on a challenge in life that pushes you to your very limit. You will be surprised what your capabilities are, and it will forever change you for the better.
Images by Sarah Al Fraih.