Friday, March 3: Today I hike with my friend Moo along the spectacular Balcony Walk, probably the most famous hike in all of Oman. The hike begins near the summit of Jebel Shams, at 3005 meters the highest mountain in the country.
It’s quite a long drive from Nizwa and up the mountain to the start of the hike, climbing steep winding roads, sometimes paved and sometimes not. It takes a good hour or more just to get there. The main road up the mountain finishes at the Jebel Shams Resort where the road turns to dirt and gravel. This road finishes at the small village of Khateem, which is just a handful of tiny houses perched on the edge of the canyon. Local women and children have tables set up and they try to sell us traditional black-&-red rugs, along with colorful key chains, bracelets and other trinkets made of wool from the long-haired goats that putter around the mountains.
Khateem is the starting point for the Balcony Walk, which winds along the edge of kilometer-high cliffs up the rim of Wadi Nakhr to the abandoned village of As Sab. It is supposed to be a three-hour round trip hike to As Sab, but I don’t know this at the time and Moo estimates a much longer time. We pass other groups along the way who warn, “Turn around! It’s just more of the same and very hard!” Because of Moo’s estimate and these naysayers, we end up turning around one hour into the hike.
When we return to Khateem after our hike, I run into my friend Maurio, who is just beginning the hike. He later tells me that it if I had continued one-half hour more, I would have made it to the village. When I hear this, I regret not going all the way. I guess I will have to go back and attempt the entire hike!
Despite the fact we don’t make it to the village, the hike in itself is astounding enough. The path goes along the cliffs, overlooking a precipitous canyon. Most of the time the path has a sloping drop-off on one side; below this steep slope, the cliff drops off dramatically into a deep & perpendicular chasm.
As we walk around a bend we can see the path along the cliff on the other side. It looks from that angle like it is terrifyingly steep and I’m a little nervous about walking on it as I have a fear of heights. However, it’s deceiving because as you actually walk on the path, there is that seemingly protective slope leading to the cliff edge, where it drops off to a perpendicular wall. The slope is steep, so I guess it is possible you could tumble down the slope and then over the cliff, but the slope makes me feel a little safer.
Anyway, the pictures tell it all, as we just hike silently and enjoy the scenery. It really is amazing, this landscape in Oman, a lesson in distortion, in prehistoric upheaval. Oman is a geologist’s heaven, with its gargantuan sedimentary limestone formations, the color palette ranging from sandstone oranges and reds to chalky grays and greens.