An ancient path used by goat keepers has become Oman's most popular hiking location in the Sultanate
25 October 2018| Last updated on 25 October 2018
For hundreds of years, farmers have guided goats between stone villages in Oman’s Al Hajar Mountains.
Scrambling along narrow ledges dropping sharply into deep gorges, many routes would challenge even seasoned hikers.
But now a high-end hotel on Jabal Akhdar (the ‘green mountain’) has transformed one of these traditional trails into a pulse-racing, daredevil tourist attraction.
Copying the via ferrata system first used by Second World War soldiers in the Italian Dolomites, the Alila Jabal Akhdar has launched two nail-biting climbing circuits constructed using a steel cable system bolted to the rocks.
The via ferrata was an entirely new concept for Oman, so the team sought advice and instruction from European climbing schools.
Allowing access to otherwise unreachable parts of the mountain, where ruins of ancient settlements are tucked into crevices, and offering superb views of the area’s famous jaw-dropping canyon, it’s an exciting new way to explore one of Oman’s most scenic areas.
But how hard can it really be?
If Omanis can happily clamber barefoot, surely these trails are a doodle for a tourist with safety clips and hiking boots? Or maybe not, as I discover when I strap up to give the via ferrata a go…
I’ve got a safety harness with two clips, a hard hat and a very confident instructor called Ali. My 4.5km ‘Adventure Trek’ (the level one, easy-peasy via ferrata and valley hike) is going to be a breeze…
By continuously attaching my clips to each section of the steel cable, I safely make a 40-minute descent into the wadi (valley).
Yes, it’s a bit of a scramble – and I know my thighs will be screaming at me tomorrow – but check out the treat waiting at the bottom.
During the 18th century, villagers lived peacefully here until civil war broke out in the 1950s and the military took ownership of the mountain.
In the 1990s, these simple settlements were finally abandoned - Al Khutaymi is one of many forgotten villages hidden within a cave in the wadi.
Although the Jabal Akhdar mountain is more than 2,000m above sea level, these rocks once formed part of the ocean bed – as many millennia-old marine fossils reveal.
So far, so straightforward. Now it’s time to tackle the second via ferrata – the ‘Cave Affair Experience’ – which I’m warned is much tougher.
Lasting two hours in total, the route teeters above a show-stopping canyon, drops down to a cave (with a phenomenal view), and ends with a few surprises!
Panicked goats scarper as we climb down the mountain, churning clouds of dust in their wake, and swallows spiral from the shadows as we enter the cave.
We time our climb for sunset when the weather is cooler (it can get to 35°C in summer) and the mountain is bathed in syrupy honey light.
Now I’m faced with the toughest part of the trek – using several bolted foot holds, I claw my way around a vertical cliff face and have to cross a tightrope bridge to reach the final section.
Trembling, I rip my trousers on the dagger-sharp rocks and the five-metre bridge crossing feels like an eternity.
Conquering my fears turns out to be the biggest high - the fact children as young as eight years old have practically cartwheeled over the bridge does little to dent my pride.
Now I’m ready for the final bicep-busting climb.
It’s been an exhilarating, exhausting and – at times, teary – experience. Like all those shepherds before me, I’m relieved to reach home.
Inspired by the mountain’s deserted villages, the eco-conscious Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel is one sumptuous settlement I’m unlikely to abandon any time soon.