July 2009

updated October 2009


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One of the 'hairiest' graded roads in the Oman Mountains.

From wadi Sahtan up in the shadow of Jabal Shams to the gardens of Yasib.

Google Earth shows a clear track sideways up from wadi Sahtan, climbing up to wadi Sa'ab on the northern flank of Jabal Shams. The Jabal Shams area is rather low resolution on the Google satellite maps so it was not very clear whether that track up could connect with other tracks above. Having seen a side-road after the old military checkpoint near Jabal Shams the idea was that there could possibly be a link? That needed to be checked.

This turned out to be one of the steepest graded roads in Oman, bulldozed up in a series of steep hairpin bends and along a narrow ledge with almost vertical drops. You definitely need a reliable 4WD and low gear, both up and down. Don't try this if you have a fear for heights as the views are everywhere vertical down and up. The locals use the strong Toyota Pick-up trucks and these have milled the dust at some steep places. One notable hairpin is open and vertical down at two sides, which gives a bit of a hairy feeling on the way down. Take your time. Breathtaking views, but not many places to safely stop for pictures. Yet you will find halfway along the ledge a small hut that once must have been one of the loneliest places in Oman, but is now next to the 'main' road. Why living up there? The answer is as always because that's where the springs are. More about that later. Winding back to how we got there......

Google Earth Image looking to the southwest with Jabal Shams (Gamhat Shameyli, 3009m). The track up starts near the village of Fasah in wadi Sahtan, to the southwest of Rustaq. Note the tracks on the southwest flank of the Jabal Shams coming up from the other side, from Al Hamra and Ghul.
How to get there: Please note: all coordinates and tracks are with reference to WGS84, UTM zone 40.
We took the scenic route, following the Motorway from Muscat to Sohar and turning to the south towards Halban, following the road parallel to the foothills of the mountain to Nakhl and Awabi and from there into wadi Bani Awf (2320'29.0090" N - 5729'25.7501"E). Continue all the way into the Gubrah bowl until a T-junction (2315'27.8107"N - 5726'16.0455"E) with many signs, one of them pointing to the right, towards wadi Sahtan. A scenic route will take you through the core of the mountains, to the village of Fashah where the track up to Yasib starts (2318'11.4191"N - 5719'13.4894"E). This track will lead you up, crossing a pass with great views, to the gardens of Yasib (1318'10.6882"N - 5713'48.9517E). The Google earth kmz track file is linked here as a zip file. (if you have Google Earth on your computer this will automatically start and show the track). Of course the faster route is the coastal motorway until the junction to Rustaq, taking the road to Ibri and turning-off into wadi Sahtan at 2324'38.8131"N - 5720'53.0569"E. Less fun.... 
The route through wadi Bani Awf takes you through the massive carbonate rocks that form the outer shell of the Oman Mountains. Near the village of Fara the steep rock faces step back, opening-up the inner core of the mountains. You may not know, but you just crossed a couple of hundred million years of rocks, which is rather impressive on the relative short distance. Even more impressive for a geologist is that you pass the Cambrian to Pre-Cambrian boundary (+/- 540 Million years) near Fara, represented by the brownish ridge left and right of the village. Just beyond the narrow gorge after Fara (cutting through what is known as the Kharus Formation = Buah Formation) you will notice that the rocks totally change. From massive carbonates to the shales, phyllites to be more correct. The rocks split easily in various directions and not surprising that leads to elongated rock slabs. These are the silts and claystones of the Muyaidin Formation (=Shuram). The thicker slabs are ideal for building walls. If you have the time just have a look in some of the side-roads where you will find small clusters of houses neatly build from these rocks and roofed with branches. You will always find some people under a tree, most likely inviting you for coffee and dates. Back to the track, turning right at the T junction to wadi Sahtan the road will take you through a narrow fold of these old rocks, again through a gorge of massive carbonates, this time of the Hajir Formation (=Khufai). Not far from here is the famous snake gorge, also cut through the very same massive carbonates. Beyond the Hajir gorge the rocks become platy and grey-dull again and you have gone even deeper down in time in rocks older than 600 Million years. A closer look may reveal boulders in these rocks, often of granitic material. In the hot desert climate of today it is difficult to imagine that these rocks were deposited by ice, during a period that is known as ice-ball Earth. There are indications that our Earth may have been largely frozen for long periods, hence the "ice-ball". The track takes you up to the watershed between wadi Bani Awf and wadi Sahtan and you will soon see the summit 'Al Qannah' of Jabal Shams right in front. The narrow track winding its way up is to the saddle just to the north (right) of Jabal Shams is the way up to Yasib.

Traditional style village in wadi Bani Awf, well maintained, giving a glimpse of mountain life in the not too distant past. Friendly people everywhere, as long as you take your time for them as well.

Coming from wadi Bani Awf you will see the summit of Jabal Shams right in front. The highest point at 3009m features a radar station that can be easily recognised, even from far away. The track up to Yasib is just visible winding its way up at the northern side to the saddle in the southwestern flank of Jabal Shams. You are now looking to the other side of the Mountain range. In wadi Bani Awf, where you entered the mountains, you may have noticed the layers of the rocks were dipping to the seaside, to the northeast. having driven through the core of the mountains you may see that layers at the other side dipping away oppositely. Just image that this defines one gigantic fold of rocks and that's what the Oman Mountains are.
Yisab on the way up The road keeps going-up. If you accidently take the road to Al Mazrah there is no return before that village as it steep up all the way surfaced with concrete to avoid slipping.

The road, bulldozed just below the vertical cliff on top of the contact with the very old shaly rocks below (far view picture above left and close view picture above right)
Spring on the uncoformty The road follow the contact between the old and younger rocks. The contact is also a spring level and that's why somebody has built a little hut right on it. A slow seepage of water fills a small basin. Enough for simple everyday use
You may notice that even from far away the gigantic rock wall in front has a rather steep upper side. About halfway-up this steep wall of rock rests on a more gentle scree of older rocks. The trained eye may even see that the layers of rocks above (in the steep upper side) are lying flattish, whereas underneath they have a steeper angle. Just picture a lot of time to turn-up a whole pile of rocks and subsequently erode these down before a new pile of rocks is put on top. That's what that change implies: several hundred million years between the upper and the lower package. The carbonates above are quite porous, but the shaly rocks below are not. That's why there are springs right at that level and that's why there are little villages with terraced gardens at the very same level. Not because people like to live high-up, but because that's where the water is. Ingenious channels feed the water from the springs to the terraced gardens below. The track to Yasib leads up to that same level. Again geology decides where the track should go as it would be difficult to bulldozer a road through the vertical cliffs above. The road has opened-up some interesting views of these very old rocks, but you may be more busy keeping the car going.

3D view along the Axis of the Oman Mountains (Google Earth) with in yellow the described route. The image to the right (above) shows a simplified reconstruction of the large fold of rocks of this part of the mountains. Most of this is now deeply eroded, deep into the core of the Mountains, creating a big bowl, flanked by the steep sides of what is left of the big fold.
The steep carbonates above the road show all signs of leaking water, with thick crusts of calcite and at one place next to the road a small water basin. That's why the little house is there.....

Enjoy the views from the pass. It goes down again at the other side, into wadi Sa'ab, again rather steep and dusty. At the end of the road are the gardens of Yasib. A great place to just sit in the shade of the palm trees and see the massive fronds with dates. Plenty of lemons, and lots of grapes. The end of the road.

Yasib must have homed more people in the past. A large part of the fields are currently unused and there is a large graveyard above the gardens. Possibly even here the water supply has gradually decreased. Before the road was built (seems to have been in 2004 according to some graffiti in the rocks) this must have been a rather remote place between heaven and earth.

The date grooves of Yasib with in the background the northern flank of Jabal Shams, even steeper up.

View over wadi Sahtan and the northeastern flank of the Oman Mountains with wadi Bani Awf in the distand haze.
You would want a clear day to better enjoy the views, but even on  hazy day it is quite impressive.

A trip that can be done in one day, but with an extra day you can explore the beauty of this hidden valley.

That's exactly what we did a few months later.

We camped again in Yasib in October 09. The wadi has few good camping spots, but we found one just before the village and with a great view.
Of course we had to ensure that the road would not continue and drove first to its very end. From the excited bunch of children we indeed concluded that this was indeed the end of the road .
View up from our campsite. One big advantage: the burning sun disappears early and even better, it did not get to our tents before 9:00 hrs the next day. A place literally in the shade of the mountains
Visiting a cave opposite our campsite gives a bit of a view of Yasib. On foot there is enough space. We concluded that there is also an old foot path up to Jabal Shams. By car it is difficult to find a suitable campsite because there is hardly a place without rocks along the single road. Camping in the wadi is tempting but not safe because of the danger of sudden floods. The spot we found was flat enough for a few tents and the surrounding big boulders provided even a secluded bathroom. What else do you want.

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@ J. Schreurs July & October 2009