Halhal walk

January 2010

 

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This walk climbs  up along the southern flank of wadi Hijir (Hajir) from Taqub to Halhal. Old villages, terraced gardens and great views.

 


The main goal of our visit were the terraced gardens of the village of Halhal just below the steep vertical cliffs of the Hajar Range, towering high above. In the old days people built terraced gardens at these now remote places because of the springs at this level. Water is all important in desert Oman. The steady and reliable supply from a number of springs attracted people to build their homes and gardens even this high in the mountains. The valuable water is led from the springs via long falaj systems to the terraces below. Most of the gardens and villages are now abandoned, but some are still well maintained by people from the villages below in wadi Hijir. The old paths to these villages are preserved over large parts, but were probably much better maintained in the past. Parts of these tracks consist of laboriously built steps and in some places leading along very narrow ledges where you have to wonder how they kept the stones in place to support the path, virtually clinging to the rocks. One certainly also has to hope they cling a bit longer when you walk on top. We met three boys from the village below, who told us that in the weekend they sleep overnight in one of the houses and drain a number of the reservoirs built below the springs into the channels leading to the gardens and palm trees. The reservoirs take a few days to fill.

There seems be some confusion on the actual names of these villages. I have taken the names as they appear on maps. The boys called their place up on the mountains bustan Al Duqm, but it is labeled on maps as Halhal, which is the name they referred for the village below. Presumably the original inhabitants of this place moved down and took the name down as well.  Yet that place is on the map as Taqub and that is the name I will use as well.

This walk starts at the end of Wadi Hajir at the village of Taqub. All of the rocks that you will see below your feet belong to the same unit, the Mistal Formation, geologically famous for what is known as "snowball earth", some 600-700 million years old. These are overlain by an about 100m thick and massive limestone package (the Hajir Formation, equivalent to the Khufai Formation), which form the deep gorge that you pass through between the villages of Hijir and Taqub.

Snowball Earth

The latest Precambrian or Neoproterozoic seems to have been a period in the history of the earth with widespread glaciations, even found at low latitudes and therefore possibly global. The origin of such widespread glaciations has been widely debated and gave rise to the ‘snowball earth’ hypothesis with synchronous, long-lasting (>10 million years), global glaciations, followed by a rapid warming (hothouse) and widespread carbonate deposition. The glaciations observed in the rocks exposed in the core of the Oman Mountains suggest repeated glacial cycles and the verdict is still out whether these corroborate the long lasting global glaciations of the Snowball Earth theory. Polar reconstructions for Oman indicate that the Fiq glaciation in Oman occurred at a low latitude low-latitude (13° calculated for a location at Muscat, Oman) and supports extensive late Neoproterozoic cooling. Deposition of both the glacials and the overlying Hadash cap carbonate took place at the same latitude in the tropics. Other evidence suggests that these tropical latitudes were not continuously covered by ice during the Marinoan snowball episode, indicating less extreme climate models.

Snowball Earth and the early evolution of life.
The Neoproterozoic world, snowball or not, witnessed extraordinary changes from widespread glaciations reaching as far as the tropics followed by rapid warming as recorded by the paradoxical cap carbonates. Earth may have changed from icehouse to hothouse a number of times, stressing the development of early life and possibly jump-starting the evolution of life, ultimately leading to what we know as the Cambrian explosion of life on earth.

To read more about snowball earth and the rocks in the Oman Mountains check-out the references below. Wadi Hajir features very good outcrops of the snowball earth rocks.


Google Earth map from Awabi fort to the start of the Halhal walk in wadi Hijir. Note map perspective view towards the north


Google Earth Map of the Halhal walk
How to get there: Follow road from Nakhl to Rustaq until the village of Awabi ( 23°19'2.64"N,  57°32'22.98"E), some 31km from Nakhl. Follow road signposted to Awabi Fort ( 23°17'58.43"N,  57°31'50.13"E), which is situated at a dominant position at the mouth of wadi Bani Kharus. Turn right into wadi Hajir, signposted some 8km from the fort (23°14'55.66"N, 57°31'35.37"E). Approximately 4.5 km from turn-off, turn right at junction (@ 23°12'19.79"N,  57°30'29.40"E) (you will see a large Omani Kanjar ahead on the flank of the mountain behind the village), drive through the village. A new road is being built at the back of the village to continue into the wadi behind, but the old road continues through the wadi through a steep gorge (Khufai limestone) to the village of Taqub where the road ends. Park the car in the shade under one of the big trees tree and continue walking through the wadi southwards to the start of the path on left side of the wadi (@ 23°10'46.96"N  57°29'18.10"E)

This walk is reasonably strenuous and includes some precarious passages. Not suitable if you fear heights. You will need to take sufficient drinks. An overview of many walks and detailed descriptions are given by Dale and Hadwin (2001), sections 12, 13, map J.

Google Earth kmz file for the walk to HalHal

The road left at Hijir will take you to yet another impressive walk described under wadi Hijir walk.

All coordinates and tracks are with reference to WGS84, UTM zone 40.
 
 

At the start of the walk at the village in wadi Hijir beyond the village of Taqub. Picture taken to the north.

The rocks of the Mistal Formation consist largely of glacial sediments: diamictites, with a fine-grained, muddy matrix in which "float" larger blocks, sometimes rounded, sometimes angular, of different rock types, including granites and other igneous rocks. Many of these have typical bullet shapes, caused by abrasion in ice. The blocks were carried over large distances by ice, and finally "rained" out of the ice when this smelted.
 

On the way up, small pools of water in the wadi below, with lots of green and palm trees.

Abandoned village with terraced gardens on the way up. Another track climbs-up to the edge of the Saiq plateau following what is known as the "sticks" or the SAS walk (Dale  & Hadwin, 2001).
Walking along narrow ledges. Holes in the path have been neatly filled blocks
Sometimes the ledges get very narrow and the path has been widened with wedges of blocks and wooden beams holding these together. The blocks have been neatly piled on lower rock ledges, somehow clinging on. 

It needs a leap of good faith in the skills of the old path-builders.

Reaching the level of the terraced gardens around Halhal. The springs are slightly higher at the top of the glacial rocks of the Mistal Formation
The village of Halhal is built on a flat spur of the mountains, with terraced gardens at either side. Most of the houses have been abandoned, but a number of them still appear to be in use. The water of a number of springs is collected in small basins that are connected to narrow channels that lead to the gardens. We met three boys, Khamis, Badr, and Zaid Al Ghalabi , who invited us for traditional Omani coffee and dates into their little house at Balad al Duqm. With a bit of Arabic from our side and a bit of English from their side we had enough to communicate and it is nice to note that Omani hospitality is also engrained in the young generation in the Mountains.

From above one hardly notices the deep gorge cutting its way down

Left: View of Halhal village with two falaj channels running along the scarp just below. Built on a spur, the boys we met called it appropriately Al Duqm, the snout. 
 
Right: we were invited for coffee and dates by three boys, Khamis, Badr, and Zaid Al Ghalabi  personifying  the well known Omani hospitality. The called their place Al Duqm, which means "the snout", which probably refers to the terraced gardens and date groove built on this spur along the steep inner rim of the mountains.  
Trying to find another track down from Halhal we circled around its terraced gardens, concluding that the only way down was the way we had come up. This was confirmed by the boys, who guided us along one of the falaj channels back to the path. A shortcut, but again a bit of a religious feeling when balancing along a very narrow channel, with a steep drop at one side and a vertical rock face at the other side.    
Halhal terraced gardens with palm grooves above. The terraces are built from dry stone walls. Water channels allow water to be routed to any part of the gardens.
 Another view of the path along one of the narrow ledges to Halhal with steep cliffs above and below. The next picture show a bit more detail, with Alasdair confidently posing as scale.  
More detailed view of the ledge path. Note the pillars of stones that have been wedged into lower crevices, holding the path in place. How they managed to get these stones in place is impressive.
Miles, climbing up in 1876, was equally impressed by the quality of the ancient paths in the mountains

"The path would be here quite impassible for beasts of burden had it not been artificially improved by the construction of successive series of rough steps formed of huge slabs of stones, and by the curbing and revetting up of the road in parts where it overhangs a precipe. The stupendous nature and difficulty of the work and the skill and enormous labour bestowed on it claimed my wonder and admiration, but it was in vain that I endeavoured to gather any local tradition respecting its origin. The absence of tradition and the character of the work led me to regard it as of Persian conception and execution. A scatter Arab tribe like the bani Riyam, always at war with its neighbours, could not have done it...."

Another path starting in Wadi Hijir is known as the SAS track. It was used by the SAS in 1959 to reach the impregnable mountain fortress in what is known as the green rebellion against the rule of the Sultan.

With special thanks to Alasdair MacKenzie, for introducing me to this lovely corner of the Oman Mountains and leading me safely up and down.

References (Visitor)

  • Dale, A. and J. Hadwin, 2001. Adventure trekking in Oman. Fakcon House. Aberdeen.
    ISBN 0 9537854 0 8
  • Grist, M.,  2006. Oman Offroad  Explorer. www.Explorer-Publishing.com  
  • Hatim Al Taie, John Pickersgill & Nasser Al Taie, 1999 ‘A Comprehensive Guide to the Sultanate of Oman
  • Miles, S.B., 1876. Across the green mountains of Oman. The Geographical Journal.

References (Geology)

  • Hoffman, Paul.F. and Daniel P. Schrag, 2002, The snowball Earth hypothesis: testing the limits of global change. Terra Nova, 14, 129-155.
  • Knoll, Andrew H, 2003, Life on a Young Planet, the first three billion years of evolution on earth. Princeton University Press. ISBN  0-691-00978-3
  • Walker, Gabrielle, 2003, Snowball Earth, the story of the Great Global Catastrope that spawned life as we know it. Crown Publishers New York. ISBN 0-609-60973-4
  • Leather, Jonathan, J, 2001, Sedimentology, chemostratigraphy and geochronology of the Lower Huqf Supergroup, Oman. PhD Thesis, University of Dublin.
  • Le Guerroué E., P. Allen and A. Cozzi, 2005, Two distinct glacial successions in the Neoproterozoic of Oman, GeoArabia, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2005.
  • Leather, J., Phillip A. Allen, Martin D. Brasier and Andrea Cozzi, 2002. Neoproterozoic snowball Earth under scrutiny: Evidence from the Fiq glaciation of Oman. Geology, v 30; no. 10; p. 891-894.

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@ J. Schreurs January 2010