Wadi Tiwi, Oman’s most challenging canyon
Muscat - Oman, at the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula, is renowned for numerous canyons providing excellent sites for adventure tourists and nature lovers.
Crossing the picturesque canyons, or “wadis”, has been a main attraction for residents and visitors but one canyon has proved to be the biggest challenge for even the most ambitious and experienced hikers.
With its string of emerald pools, thick plantations, sheer drops and caves, crossing Wadi Tiwi requires several skills as well as physical endurance. It involves hiking, swimming, abseiling and climbing for almost 14 hours to cover the distance of approximately 7km.
The journey was among challenges included in the Raid Gauloises, a French extreme sports adventure competition in Oman in the 1980s.
It was a glorious day in April with a fantastic blue sky when we set out on the memorable two-day adventure to cross Wadi Tiwi, south-east of Muscat. Our 12-member party, including men, women and teenagers from eight different countries, was about to have one of the most exciting adventures one can experience in Oman.
Crossing the wadi is done downstream, starting from the abandoned village of Umq Bir, which is only reachable on foot after a 5-hour hike following an ancient donkey trail. The small settlement at the foot of the cliff rises about 600 metres from the wadi bed, forming a gigantic natural amphitheatre. Villagers maintain fruit gardens on terraces on both sides of the wadi.
For Mohamad and Hakim al-Abri, two Omani brothers in their 20s, it was their first adventure trip but not for their 53-year-old father, Ahmad, an enthusiast of hiking and wadi bashing. The young men were determined to take the challenge. If the “old man” could do it, why shouldn’t they?
After camping at the entrance of the canyon, the party left shortly after dawn, hoping to reach the village of Mibam on the other side of the wadi before nightfall. Equipped with wetsuits, climbing gear, waterproof bags containing food, water and cameras, we jumped into the first pool.
The wadi snakes through jagged mountains, the flowing water collecting in several crystal-clear pools along the way. Herons standing majestically on their long legs greeted us as we moved deeper and abundant palm trees added colour to the sandy surroundings.
The temperature in Muscat was close to 40 degrees Celsius but all were happy to have their wetsuits on when they entered the cold water.
Abseiling down a 15-metre-high waterfall and plunging into another pool was an adrenaline boost.
“It is awesome!” shouted Mohamed as he slid down the rope on his first abseiling experience. “I can’t believe that my country has such magnificent places.”
The canyon becomes very narrow, locked between vertical walls several hundred metres tall. The peak of the journey was around midway in the canyon at “The Cave”. Here the canyon is obstructed by a massive tufa rock formation that formed over thousands of years on both walls of the wadi, leaving a tunnel where water flows.
“Wow! This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life,” yelled Kevin, the youngest adventurer of the group. “The place is just magnificent!”
We went through this natural tunnel and reached a second waterfall inside the cave. We had to abseil to reach a 50-metre-long covered pool and then swim for another 40 metres in a turquoise water to get out of the cave.
A lunch break was more than deserved at this point.
The rest of the journey was a sequence of pools, some of them more than a few hundred metres long. When we reached the end of the narrow part of the canyon, it was already dark and we progressed slowly on the trail on the left bank of the wadi by the light of our headlamps. It was completely dark when we reached Mibam, exhausted but with big smiles.
“I will never forget this journey in my life,” said Mohamed. “I am ready to join more similar excursions in the future.” “Me, too,” retorted Kevin. “It was so cool!”
“It was extraordinary but I don’t think I will do it again anytime soon,” noted Hakim. “I will wait at least until all the bruises I got heal,” he added laughing.
Wadi bashing has become popular in Oman but it is one that should be carefully prepared for, including climbing gear, food, headlamps, first aid kits, satellite phone and global positioning system (GPS) device.
The main danger in canyoning remains flash flooding. Checking the weather before embarking on the journey is a must as, in most wadis, it is rare to find an escape from the wadi bed in case of heavy rain, which could occur unexpectedly.