The reward of adventure is adventure itself. And the perils that come along…any such thought should be brushed off before undertaking one.
All dangers are best witnessed first-hand rather than in one’s head. That’s the sound word of advice coming from an amateur trekker who decided to brave the perilous trail at Snake Gorge in Wadi Bani Auf. Especially since this person concerned had fiercely considered backing out after a YouTube video flashed people perform heart-pounding stunts at the gorge – climbing craggy boulders, gliding down slides and jumping into mini pools, before swimming into never-ending stretches of mucky water.
Not like the risk factors got any less when encountered, but once overcome, it made the effort of the mind seem more perplexing than that of the body.
The 11 novices, who took on the gorge’s lofty, wet 3km long snaky trail during the Eid holidays, would probably agree.
The quest for adrenaline rush aside, most members of the trekking party were rather wary of what was in store for them.
Slithering snakes being one; and not to forget, the fear of flash floods if a sudden downpour upped the water levels in the gorge.
“But barring all that, it is still the best hiking trail for beginners,” claimed Gabriel Aquino, an avid trekker, who accompanied our group on this trip. “Dry land hiking, canyoning, swimming and abseiling, the trail offers you everything in just one experience.”
The perquisites for the trek aren’t fancy, although a life vest, light clothes and a pair of running shoes with good traction top the list. And maybe a small bottle of water, but otherwise, nothing else, really.
With this simple trekking gear in tow, we headed from Muscat in three separate 4WDs towards Rustaq, along with our guide. An early morning start is what had been advised as light showers in the afternoon are common in the area.
A two-hour drive later, we reached the Al Zammah village in Wadi Bani Auf – the exit point of the trail. Here we left one of our food-laden vehicles and flocked together in the other two 4WDs, which had to manoeuvre through an uphill makeshift dirt track in the Hajar range before reaching the entry point of the gorge. This is where our real adventure began.
To describe the magnificence of the gorge would be challenging it’s imposing stature with feeble words. Said to have been created due to geological shifts within the mountains, the canyon in itself is a spectacle to behold. The wavy, smooth walls of the cliffs, which stand on either side of the gorge are a result of flood waters that have gushed into the narrow opening for over millions of years, tirelessly sculpting, carving and smoothening its surfaces.
We hoped to complete the trek within four hours. Professionals would have covered the same route in half the time, or even less, but as Aquino put it, “we were here to enjoy the place and not test our strength”.
The first five minutes of the trek was fairly smooth with small leaps in and around the rocks through the pathway. Only if the entire trail had promised such comfort, we wouldn’t have our hearts in our mouth for the next few hours. Because the first obstacle unexpectedly came just before we could settle into the luxury of a dry hike – a vertical slide that dropped you into a neck-deep pool of green water.
With some help from our guide, we managed to avoid a steep glide down, because that would have meant calling for injuries. Instead, we found footing in narrow gaps within the slope before jumping into the pool.
Between March and May, accessing the same spot would require diving from a rocky boulder into the water as by then, winter rains would have filled up the gorge. But irrespective of the looming threat of deep water pools being at their all-time low, it took the 11 of us over half an hour to get through the first obstacle.
“We still have nine more,” was the warning, and just around three and a half hours before the grey clouds threatened to appear. If that wasn’t any consolation, we were told that we had just jumped into the “point of no return”. One can’t clamber back to safety once down. From here, the only way out is the exit.
So we traversed ahead, encountering more such natural water slides on our way, each more menacing than the other. Of these, a twirling slide was most bothersome, because it left no room to find out how the other trekkers had been doing after falling below. The best bet here was to do it yourself to find out.
Sliding down, you are bound to hurt your arms. As for the pool, it was filled with many rocks which we had to be most careful about.
From here, the gorge that got narrow in parts – with only one person being able to swim at a time – lead to a cave.
Breathtaking stalactite formations lay exposed from its ceilings. Until six years ago, the cave was submerged in water 100m deep. Today, owing to sand shifts, parts of it are walkable.
Jumps into pools and a small abseiling stunt followed soon after. For the uninitiated, this experience is what they would most remember.
It was, however, the final hour-long rugged trail that involved climbing through slippery boulders. It seemed like the trail would never end. We jumped and scrambled over the rocks, sometimes falling and landing awkwardly on the ground, but fortunately, without major injuries.
Four and a half hours later, we were at the exit point, famished, exhausted and hungry. A day or two later, we would still be reminded of the trek, thanks to our aching muscles, bruised joints and body cramps.
What we really took back though was the sweet victory of conquering a slice of the gargantuan mountains and the company of many new friends – some of whom have already busied themselves finding new trekking trails.
Precautions for the trek
- Trek with a guide who is familiar with the trail.
- Do not attempt the hike while or after rains as the area is flood-prone. Check the weather forecast before starting. Watch for clouds on arrival. As a safety measure, carry a barometer with you to constantly track any change in pressure. If it drops, there is a chance of rain.
- Start the hike early in the morning as it often rains in the afternoon.
- Wearing a life-vest and headgear is advisable. To prevent any injuries while jumping, also wear knee-pads
Note: This story was first published in the Muscat Daily newspaper (http://www.muscatdaily.com/Archive/Features/Adventure-Amid-the-Rocks-3jg7)
Photos courtesy: Gabriel Aquino