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Thursday, March 7: It’s starting to get hot already in Oman, with an expected high today of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).  Because of this, Mario and I decide to get an early start to hike from Wadi Ghul to the rim of An Nakhur Gorge on Jebel Shams.  He meets me at my flat at 7:30 and we’re on our way to tackle a section of Oman’s highest mountain.

old Ghul village clings to an orange hillside

old Ghul village clings to an orange hillside

We stop first for pictures at old Ghul village, a cluster of ruined mudbrick homes clinging to a rocky hill on the far side of the wadi, with a pretty patchwork of farm fields and date plantations in the foreground. The mudbrick homes blend in with, and even disintegrate into, the orange rocks of the hillside.  Along the far left of the village, a huge stone wall meanders all the way to the top of the first ridge.

terraces of date palms inside Wadi An Nakhur

terraces of date palms inside Wadi An Nakhur

The name ghul, means literally, “ghoul,” — a devilish kind of jinn.  It’s unclear why the village is thus named, although it may have something to do with the supernatural behavior of the nearby jinns of Bahla (Rough Guide to Oman).

the precipitous walls of An Nakhur Gorge

the precipitous walls of An Nakhur Gorge

We drive into An Nakhur Gorge where we see a brown rectangular sign mentioning Parking and the W6a trekking trail.  We follow that sign, looking for another sign and anything that looks like a parking lot.  We don’t see anything, and as we drive further and further into An Nakhur Gorge, with its steep cliffs looming on either side of us, we realize there is no way the top of the gorge is accessible from here.  The road, which is just a dirt track, is very bumpy and rough and we must take it slow and easy to avoid damaging my trusty GMC Terrain.

Looking up toward the ridge of An Nakhur Gorge

Looking up toward the ridge of An Nakhur Gorge

About 3 km into the gorge, we see a strange-looking black thing sitting atop a boulder.  It looks surreal.  Mario says, “Is that a head?  It looks like the head of an animal, maybe a goat.”  We both look closely as we drive by and certainly, it is very bizarre, but we can’t make out quite what it is.  We can see eyes, and some facial features, but it almost looks as if someone skinned an animal head and put the skin over a rock.  After passing this disturbing head that looks to me like a warning sign (Keep out!), we see a large splotch of blood in the wadi and a blood-drenched hide stretched out in the sun to dry.  I have to say I’m quite disturbed by this sight, even though I know Omanis butcher goats and cows all the time, as a matter of course, especially during the Eid holidays.  Uneasy, I say to Mario, “Should we continue?”  He says yes, and reminds me that Omanis regularly butcher animals for food. Still.  I find it very unsettling.

golden grasses and terraces of date palms

golden grasses and terraces of date palms

We drive through a little village, where four dirt-covered children jump out from nowhere and start knocking on our windows.  They keep saying what I think is “Eid Mubarak!” but it’s not Eid now and Mario says they want money. I make the mistake of giving them one rial, and when I do all the others start crying. “Me! Me! Me!!”  I dig out a couple of baisas, but still there is not enough for the 4th child and a crying fit ensues.  Annoyed by now at all this drama, we roll up our windows and continue driving down the gorge.

dripping rock with a tiny oasis of green

dripping rock with a tiny oasis of green

We drive on to the end of the gorge for 7 km until we come to a dead-end blocked by huge boulders.  Near the end we come across a large platform hung with rugs woven by the locals.  A young man approaches us and asks if we’d like to drink some tea and look at their rugs.  We’re anxious to begin our hike as it’s getting hotter by the minute, and besides, neither of us is in the market to buy anything now.

golden grasses and date palms

golden grasses and date palms

As we backtrack out of the gorge, we pass a number of date plantations built atop rock-walled terraces.  We see some glowing grasses in front of the date palms, quite a picturesque spot, so we stop for photos.

Wadi An Nakhur

Wadi An Nakhur

Wadi An Nakhur

Wadi An Nakhur

Further on, we pass a beautiful mango tree in full bloom and we make another stop for photos.

blooming mango tree

blooming mango tree

the mango tree

the mango tree

textures in Oman's wadis

textures in Oman’s wadis

Finally, we make it back to old Ghul village, and looking carefully along the wadi, we see a large peeling sign hidden behind some trees.  Aha!  We get out to inspect, and find it is the sign for the W6a trek.  Nearby, we see the red, yellow and white flag sign painted on a rock, the mark for the trail.  We park the car alongside the wadi and begin our trek at 10:40, later than we hoped to start.

Finally, the beginning of the W6a trail

Finally, the beginning of the W6a trail

We walk through the ruined village, which truly is disintegrating into the rocky hillside.  Down below we see the small patchwork farms and the date plantations.  As we head up and up, over rocky and gravelly terrain, we follow the signs up along the rock wall all the way to the ridge.

old Ghul village

old Ghul village

ruins of old Ghul

ruins of old Ghul

view of the plantations through a door in the ruined village

view of the plantations through a door in the ruined village

following the path through old Ghul village

following the path through old Ghul village

ruins

ruins

walls of a deteriorating home

walls of a deteriorating home

Up here, there is little to no vegetation and the sun is beating down on us.  Luckily there is a bit of a breeze.  However, with the loose and jagged rocks underfoot and the steep climb, it is rough going.  We are panting and sweating.  We come to the ridge, which we walk along for a while, until we see the painted signs leading us down into a valley and up another higher ridge.

the view of the patchwork fields from above the old village of Ghul

the view of the patchwork fields from above the old village of Ghul

fields of green

fields of green

view of fields from old Ghul village

view of fields from old Ghul village

Once we start climbing the higher ridge, we find it quite strenuous.  There are some areas of smooth rock, but most of the terrain is made of more loose jagged rock which moves under our feet as we walk.  I am so exhausted I can hardly lift my legs to climb and I am gasping for breath.  Either I’m really out of shape or this is a really arduous hike.  Most likely, it’s both factors combined.

a section of An Nakhur Gorge

a section of An Nakhur Gorge

the view into Wadi Ghul from above old Ghul village

the view into Wadi Ghul from above old Ghul village

I comment to Mario that I have decided I’m not a big fan of Jebel Shams.  I find Jebel Akhdar to be much more user-friendly.  On Jebel Akhdar, there is a lot of green, and beautiful scenic views on relatively short (2-hour long), well-marked, and easy hikes.  Photo opportunities abound on Jebel Akhdar.  Once you’re in the heart of Jebel Shams, it’s just brown & gray and tough, rocky terrain.  The photos are not especially interesting.  For me, as I love photography, I find it’s a lot of work for too little return.

plant life on the W6a trail

plant life on the W6a trail

rough terrain on the trail

rough terrain on the trail

plant life and my beat-up shoes

plant life and my beat-up shoes

a flowering tree in the middle of rocky terrain

a flowering tree in the middle of rocky terrain

Mario and I decide to walk until 12:30, at which time we’ll turn around.  Slowly, slowly, we make it to the ridge of An Nakhur Gorge by about 12:15, but by this time I’m wiped out and I have no idea how I will make it back down over that terrain.

Finally, the ridge of An Nakhur Gorge, Oman's "Grand Canyon"

Finally, the ridge of An Nakhur Gorge, Oman’s “Grand Canyon”

We admire the gorge from the top.  We can see the meandering gray dirt track below, where we drove a couple of hours earlier.  We wonder how much further Al Khitaym, the end of the trail, is, but we don’t really have the energy to find out.  Al Khitaym is also the start of the Balcony Walk, which goes to the abandoned village of As Sab, deeper into An Nakhur Gorge (the balcony walk from al khitaym to the abandoned village of as sab. {jebel shams}).  Maybe Mario has the energy to find out, but I certainly don’t!

the wall above the old village of Ghul

the wall above the old village of Ghul

Finally, we head back down.  I think the way back will be slower because we will have to step gingerly over the loose rock on a downhill slope, but most of the loose rock is lodged among other loose rock, so it doesn’t slide out from under our feet as readily as we think it will.  At one point, I do slip and fall, hurting my right knee, the one with the partial knee replacement.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen on that knee since I had that surgery.  I manage to get up and dust myself off, but I’m not happy about the fall.

coming back down to Ghul: the view

coming back down to Ghul: the view

Finally, we make it down the bottom and back to the car.  By this time it is 1:40, so we’ve been hiking for 3 hours.  It feels like it was a 6 hour hike!  By this time our bottled water is warm and of course the extra water we left in the car is warm as well.  We head to Al Hamra, where we stop at a restaurant for a late lunch.  We pour ourselves some cold water.  In addition, I order a cold orange Fanta and a fresh banana juice.  I am so thirsty and tired I can hardly move.

The heat has begun in Oman and we’re unlikely to have much reprieve from it in my remaining time here.  I don’t think any more long hikes are in store for me in my last 110 days.  Maybe some off-road drives or some short walks, but no more of these long hikes over rough mountainous terrain.

When I return home around 3:00 today, I take a shower, put on my pajamas and lie on the couch, exhausted.  I promptly fall asleep and wake up close to 6:00.   What a day!!

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