Ian Gough organized a trip to Oman in January 2009, after learning about its limestone peaks from Paul Knott, another local of Christchurch, New Zealand. During 2004 Ian and I climbed together in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Five years later he produced an ultimatum: either buy and ship gear to him from the U.S., or join him on a Middle Eastern adventure. After some exploratory cragging on Wadi an Nakhur’s 1,000m canyon walls and an attempt on Jabal Misht, we discovered two major desert limestone new-route possibilities by accident, while touring the Western Hajar. A rental sport-utility vehicle and the guidebook Oman Off-Road, proved invaluable in getting around the country.
On January 8, driving to the start of the hike up the Chains in Wadi ad Dil, we were greeted at the entrance to this narrow slot canyon by a virgin face. After a short hike up the can-yon, we returned for a closer look, spotting a direct crack system up the steepest part of the face and the general location of a possible descent. After lunch at the car, we racked up and made our way to the base. Three pitches of corner, off-width, and roof climbing led to easier ground, which we simul-climbed to the top. Unfortunately, the desert limestone was a sharp contrast to the polished sea walls of Thailand, where I’d spent the week before; our ascent left deeper gashes in our skin and a gnarled rope from rockfall. We reached the summit at dark and descended in moonlight, downclimbing and rappelling an unclimbed buttress to the north.
Ian’s parents had joined us for half the trip. (Peter Gough was well known in the 1970s for establishing groundbreaking routes in the New Zealand Alps.) Unbeknown to us, Ian’s father had been calling off local villagers’ rescue efforts, climbers being an uncommon sight in this part of Oman. Next morning a local herder informed us that the peak was called Jabal Nakhus, and we named our route F-Sharp (III 5.10, 500m).
On the road to Yasab we caught an intriguing view of Jabal Dhawi and drove across the As Sahtan bowl on the 12th to reach a mountain pass only a few hundred meters below the peak’s summit. We traversed down and west across the lower slopes to reach the toe of its west ridge, which gains ca 350m of elevation. We roped up for a long pitch that led to an upper plateau and then, to keep it interesting, followed the crest of the ridge to the summit. This gave a rewarding 1,000m of fun 4th-to mid-5th-class climbing. We continued down the east ridge, before reaching a notch, from which we stretched the rope on a 35m rappel.
We met no other climbers during the trip and went weeks without seeing another tourist. Everywhere we traveled, Omanis extended their generosity and friendliness. They also showed us how to celebrate the first-ever Omani football victory in the Gulf Cup of Nations.
Joe Sambataro, AAC