Qiyut to Ar Roos Traverse

Western Hajar Mts: Jebel Akhdar, Oman

William Mackesy’s account of this walk

Walkopedia walked from Qiyut to the west, across the heart of the high area to the Ar Roos to the east, over or near summits of up to 2,450m, with exceptional views in many directions. This must be one of the best walks in Oman.

We started early, after a not-great night in a desolate campsite overlooking the joyless modern dwellings of Qiyut at 2,050m-ish. An immediate slog took us to the flat top above us, at something like 2,300m, the highest point of our trek. It felt dreary in the low-energy early morning, but wasn’t really that bad, and was rewarded with gorgeous views of landscape, ridges receding far to the east, lit by the early light, all orange tints, deep shadows and non-committal haze.

A long, steady descent down fine but rough slopes – looking quite grassy from a way off but actually still mainly bare rock – then a short traverse took us to the top of a little valley where we met quite suddenly the edge of the vast chasm of Wadi Bani Awf, which lay spread far below us to the north. Thrilling.

Thence we dropped back down the valley and traversed behind the high ridgetop, round to another low valley head, from which we could see a small, very flat plain poised between the high ridge and the huge hole of Wadi Bani Awf. Another rough descent – careful! – got us to that plain and a water break in the shade of an extravagantly contorted, old-as-time wild olive tree.

A steady climb up the next slope took us past a group of wild donkeys, which looked remarkably sleek and well, considering the sparse conditions, and on to another pass in the rough high ridge, passing haunting evidence of the bitter civil war of the 1950s – fragments of mortar shells, and indeed mortars, rifle cartridges and their boxes, and a rough-walled post at the ridgetop.

Another upper valley opened up – a fine wide bowl surrounded by yet more rough ridges, which fed into a funnel–gorge far below. We traversed round the broken northern-eastern slopes – careful again! – to the next pass, behind a high broken butte.

On the far side is another valley leading down to another big eroded bowl. Sounds repetitive but every corner here produces very different views. Another rough descent – a pattern forming here – got us quite suddenly to the western rim of the remarkable Wadi Tanuf/ Wadi Al Qasha, another huge void but this time running south – we had found our way to the other side of the highlands, now – with the gentler-looking (the reality on the ground was otherwise) slopes of the Sayq Plateau on the far side. As your eyes get used to the enormity of the views, you notice the tiny grey blocks of an old village perched on a ledge deep in the inner canyon.

A very welcome, almost joyous lunch on the flat platform of the Wadi rim, then a shut-eye on the unusually smooth rocks behind.

After lunch we circled round the bottom of the bowl, which debouches into what must be a wondrous waterfall falling into the canyon, and climbed to a low ridge beside the canyon.

Will and I had been talking enthusiastic amateur geology (replete with wild theories) all day – the area is fascinating – but we came across a real wonder: a long, sloping limestone pavement beside the gorge top as stuffed with white, hard fossils as I have ever seen and shot through with veins of quartz.  That ancient seabed must have been sucked so deep into the earth that molten quartz was able to be forced into its crevices and fissures, before being lifted to 2,000m above sea-level. What a journey.

We turned away from the canyon rim across a huge, broiling limestone pavement, to the edge of a final canyon-bowl. We negotiated our way over – you guessed – exceptionally rough broken rock, keeping to high ground to the extent we could (ie not always), then, beyond a final rough hillside, we were at Ar-Roos, which is a peculiar mix of humble vernacular huts, smart public buildings (tiny mosque, bath house, gorge-edge pavilion) and an uneasy-looking estate of dreary modern concrete boxes. We drank dishwater coffee with a sweet old man, then doused our burning, salty faces under the village tap.

What a walk. And a relief to have finished. 

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