Lured by Via Ferrata

Jebel Shams is that part of the country where you find good rest and peace when you wanted to get away as far as possible from the complexities and busyness of life. As you make your way up to the Balcony Walk, you feel the strong and fresh wind and experience the enormous power of nature. As Osama Abazeed who works in the oil and gas sector said, “Someone once told me that Oman is the heaven for outdoors activities. This person was certainly right and I feel blessed by God to experience these views.”
Osama was a member of a group of eight people who were heading for one of the most famous and known hiking trails in the country. The Balcony Walk is a level two hiking path which takes you from Al Khitaym village through the rim of Al Nakhur Canyon to the abandoned village Al Saab.
The route is quite easy to venture on. It takes you through several corners that give spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. Here, in this parts, being accompanied by domesticated goats on the trail is a regular occurrence. Seeing the village itself, what remains of the houses, gardens and terraced gardens, gives one an idea of what life was like in this remote place.
Farther down the road past the village is a small hidden lake where you can make the most amazing of photos. Its location is quite hidden, and you have to exert a little bit of effort to pinpoint where it is. As Jebel Shams is located more than 2,500 metre above sea level, it would really make you think that you are a lot closer to heaven.
The temperature on top of Jebel Shams can drop to as low as 14 degrees during this time of the year even on mid-day. The warmth of the mid-day sun creates a balance making these days great for hiking. In addition, the sunlight helps create and emphasise the dimension of the mountains elevating the beauty of the canyon even more. With the enormity of the towering peaks, you find yourself very small as a human being. Realising that it took hundreds of years for the Earth to form this amazing view, you would realise the beauty you are seeing is truly mesmerising and worthy of awe.
The Balcony Walk is a back and forth track but it’s also possible to get out off the canyon through an alternative way.
After the abandoned village, an uphill walk leads to the start of the “via Ferrata”. Via Ferrata is an Italian word which means ‘Iron Way’. For this side of Jebel Shams, the routes are comprised of fixed wire cables, and metal rungs thus the name.
This particular challenge is exactly what brought the team to this part of the mountains. This writer has climbed via Ferrata before and it is from experience that I can say that it is really not advisable to take on this challenge without the guidance of an experienced climber who knows the way.
The lower part of this route is a medium to difficult 90-metre vertical ascent. Following a short walk, the second upper climb leads out of the canyon via a wadi. The climb itself takes around one to two hours depending on how fast and experienced the climbers are.
For this trip, the team was joined by Marian Maravelias and Tim Hustemeier who arrived just the day before from The Netherlands and Germany. Seeing the whole landscape with their own eyes, they were overwhelmed by the beauty of the environment.
“I did not know Oman was this beautiful,” Marian said.
All climbers were equipped with helmets, and were made to wear appropriate shoes, and were also equipped with a climbing harness and a special tether for attaching the climber onto the cable to protect against falling.
For most of the participants, it was a great challenge that made the adrenaline stream through their veins.
Parth Das, who works as an Auditor and DJ, said: “It was a great experience. That very moment that you are put out of your comfort zone, its when you start appreciating your life even more including the people you love. The fear of falling and hitting the rock makes you think a lot. Everything runs through your brain so fast. What am I doing with my life, what do I want to do in my life?”
Climbing the via Ferrata demands a good body condition and flexibility as you have to be able to pull up your own weight and hang on your arms for some time.
For people with fear of heights, it’s absolutely not advisable as one will be climbing more than 80 metres.
At the end of the trek, past the wadi, there is a beautiful view of the whole canyon. Catching this view during sunset makes it even more spectacular.
The group enjoyed the view at the edge of the cliff. Everyone was also satisfied with having able to overcome a difficult challenge. As Akhil, an auditor by profession said: “Doing this via Ferrata really took me out off my comfort zone but I am happy I took on the challenge.”

Peter Varenkamp