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Swim-trekking the highland canyons of Oman.

Whatever rings your backpacking bell, we have it --
Full-tilt gorge stomping or mellow wadi oasis.

By John Hessburg, General Mgr
U.S. Dive Travel Network

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

Desert trekking & guided canyoning tours in Oman.
From a cliffside 130 meters above the wild Wadi Bani Khalid,
the author points upriver toward a canyon-bashing adventure.

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel.

They joke (dryly) in the highland deserts of Oman that more people die each year from drowning than from thirst.

That's because the locus of most life in the Omani desert is along the "wadis," ancient rocky riverbeds that roll down from the mountains, with flaring deltas where their rivers spill into the Arabian Sea. But many wadis have steep-walled canyons high up their mountain flanks, which can flash-flood with overwhelming force just minutes after a heavy rainfall, sweeping away anything that moves.

So how's that for ham-fisted marketing, all you funseekers? Ready to sign up right this second for some hairball canyoning in Oman? All kidding aside, I am trying to set a proper boundary here, right from the get-go. Seven out of ten clients who come to us, seeking an Oman adventure vacation, will be steered away from the higher-risk swekking of these mountain gorges, & towards the easier lowland wadi hikes, where flooding is seldom serious. After all, this is the Arabian Desert -- where it sometimes goes a couple years without appreciable rainfall.

During our first canyoning treks in Oman back in 2000, I stood at a cliffside just before plunging into a wadi pool, wild-hair firmly up the old nose, & I christened this manic sport "SWEKKING" TM   -- for swim-trekking the steep canyons & for back-packing at a full-tilt boogie pace. That's the kind of wadi bashing that my esteemed business partner Rob Gardner & I happen to relish. Call it a midlife crisis but it's desert life in overdrive & it feels great. However, this does involve an unacceptable level of risk for many of the more sedentary clients. Therefore I don't want to even suggest that the cardio-intensive swekking experience down these high desert canyons is anything you should do -- unless you have ample experience with rock climbing, river running or canyoning in the North American or European mountains. Now for the good news, if you're hungry to trek down an oasis in the Hajar Mountains.....

Desert camping & canyon trekking tours in Oman.
Wadi Mistal near Muscat offers easygoing oasis hikes.
© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

U.S. Dive Travel offers desert trekking in Oman.
For some cardio-joy, try Wadi
Shab's wild high-walled canyons.

© Copyright Werner Thiele.

For our good ol' weekend warriors, who still crave a back-country hiking experience in Oman, we have many gorgeous wadi hikes to show you, most within 2-3 hours driving from Muscat, where you can explore some of the most serene oases on the Arabian Peninsula at moderate prices, with virtually zero risk when there's been no heavy rains. The main rule of thumb is always this -- if you see even hints of rainclouds gathering over the Hajar Mountain summits, stay away from the higher canyons -- especially the steep-walled river gorges where water levels might surge 10-15 meters in a few minutes after a good downpour. If there's no rainfall in sight, which means 95% of all days in Oman, then go for the gusto in some tranquil wadi, & your photo album will bless you for decades.

Here's one friendly caveat. Please be sure never to take any Omani's photo, especially the shrouded Muslim women, without first asking politely. This is a vitally important rule of travel etiquette in any Arab country, but especially here in conservative Oman. In most cases, the women will refuse to be photographed right off the bat, while the men are usually willing. After you strike up a conversation & hang out with a family for half an hour, the women might relent & let you snap a picture or two. But be quick & sensitive, so we do not tarnish the childlike innocence still very much alive in these Omani villages. The thought of Roatan-izing this wonderful culture with droves of shutter-happy tourists, talking loud & walking proud, is enough to make me wince. So let's all walk softly & carry a small stick -- hiking stick that is.

Here are some truly beautiful wadis, with gentle 4WD approaches, & some stunning oasis scenery, plus the chance to meet some hospitable villagers of rural Oman. These are all pretty laid-back treks except the last one.

Guided canyoning adventures in Oman.
Another mellow hiking section of Wadi Mistal,
a verdant oasis that's fun for the whole family.

© Copyright John Hessburg, USDT.

U.S. Dive Travel offers high desert trekking in Oman.
Great ledge plunging &
swekking, Wadi Shab.

© Copyright Werner Thiele.

Since Rob turned 40 years old in 2000, at 48 I was the oldest of the gang, so I had my cardiovascular test cut out for me from the first 100 meters. These guys set a 20-something pace, but the whole day was just one spectacular scenic rush after another as we pounded merrily down Wadi Bani Khalid.

We kick-started our swekking foray by parking Rob's 4WD truck just uphill of the river in the tiny village called Sayq -- about 250 driving km or 155 miles southeast of Muscat. Right when we arrived in mid-morning we found a hapless villager who had mired the town taxi in a riverbed; & he was spinning his wheels furiously. Rob hitched the rear chassis of the taxi to his rig & yanked it out of the river in a few minutes. The villagers were impressed with our altruistic vibe, & they gave us a happy waving farewell. So we felt assured Rob's rig would be well-guarded for the whole day while we were swekking down that wild wadi.

We hiked downriver only, to let gravity assist in this strenuous 6 km (3.7 mile) swim-trek, all the way to a beautiful hamlet called Biddah. Fully one third of this adventure was swimming hundreds of meters through deep cool pools with our backpacks on, then lurching to a pebbly shoreline to bend at the waist & dump a gushing volume of water over your head before you could continue. Every desert rainfall brings a different river flow, so these figures only hold for the day we hit the canyon, just a couple days after the heaviest rains Oman had enjoyed in 3 years. Our swekking day was probably a wettest-case scenario, & many subsequent sweks down Wadi Bani Khalid might be a lot easier than ours was.

There were no fewer than 4 good swims of 200+ meters, then one winding swim through boulder fields & rushes for 300 meters, plus about 5 swims in the 50-60 meter ballpark. The water was always about 83 F or 28 C, just ideal for cooling off without taking a chill. Our cotton & nylon clothes dried off reasonably well after half an hour of hiking & rock scrambling in the sun. But our sneakers squished weirdly the entire day. There were several tight riverbends, where the canyon walls would close in upon you, sometimes only 15-20 meters apart, their mammoth walls jutting skyward from 300 to 400 feet (91-122 meters). Those were the moments when we looked back over our shoulder, up to the summit clouds; & the pace would quicken.

This desert adventure started in the first 15 minutes with a 25-foot waterfall that Rob, of course, leapt over like a happy high-schooler, while the rest of us downclimbed moderate class 4 rock to the bottom. We three took a 10-foot plunge just for kicks, after checking out the underwater terrain to make sure no spine-snapping rocks were lurking in the greenish water. We had mellow rapids in several spots, which we shot on our backs, feet first, keeping our backpacks below for flotation & backbone protection. After an hour of this litany -- hike gravel for a few hundred meters, climb car-sized boulders to a cliffside, sidestep cautiously down to a ledge then launch into space to hit the river again, then swim a couple hundred meters more, puffing happily -- we were cutting loose with rebel yells in adrenaline-stoked approval of this swekking route.

The day flowed past with good clean exercise & moderately clean jokes, plus lots of ribbing & a fraternal energy I have only shared with a few new friends in my life. Until the last hour, when we were all bone tired, scraped & wonderfully muddy from shoulders to toes, we were howling halleluias to the high heavens above this colorful canyon. At the end, however, when the exercise took its toll, we were all pretty subdued & half-spent. After this I am sure that all Oman dive vacations need to be spiced up by some back-country desert hiking. It's way too much fun to be missed!

Refreshing swims in Wadi Shab.
© Copyright Werner Thiele.

Fisheye view of Wadi Shab.
© Copyright Werner Thiele.

On a scale of one to ten, if ten means the cardio-fitness level needed to summit on a 5,500-meter (18,040 feet) peak in the Alps or the Andes, then Rob & I figure you need to be at least a level seven to tackle Wadi Bani Khalid at high water time. And you will need to go in groups of no less than 3 or 4 solid swekkers for maximum safety. The team leader & one other person should be carrying high-energy radios, with one chap toting some signal flares shrink-wrapped to waterproof them -- just in case there was an injury in a steep canyon & urgent need for an evacuation.

Each team member should carry a light pile jacket, & a light rain slicker, just in case you are forced to overnight to watch an injured buddy. You also should lug an ultra-light space blanket, flashlights & extra batteries, lighters, a 150-foot 9 mm climbing rope, a few pitons of various girths & a small rock rack plus sit harnesses for all. Remember food & water enough for a lean & mean overnight if need be. Desert camping is easy, but you need to be minimally prepared.

I recommend for maximum safety that each person also carry a mid-sized rugged Cordura nylon backpack, with waterproof kayaking bag inside, plus a waterproof camera bag. Also you might want to wear a 2 mm lycra body skin under your nylon hiking shorts, in seasons where the water might be chilly. Long-sleeved cotton shirts or nylon shirts are a must, as is a big floppy safari hat or pirate head-bandanna plus sun goggles with side shields.

Our reward after this long day of swekking awaited us down in Sayq village, where a group of locals gathered around our truck & greeted us enthusiastically. One little 3-year-old scampered out to meet us & I pretended to be a wide-armed Frankenstein, half-chasing him with a big grin. This charmed the Omani moms completely. Within 15 minutes a small crowd had gathered & before you know it, several Muslim ladies had linked arms & were doing a tight-stepping little dance while we all clapped & I sang the melody to some Broadway show tune. A couple of us danced in clumsy earnest with the villagers while I sang that refrain, over & over like some exhausted organ-grinder. Yes, we had ourselves one hoot of a little party as the sun went down over the Hajar Mountains.

Just before we clambered into Rob's truck for the drive back to our camp, near the northern fringes of the Wahiba Sands, a toothless old woman sidled up to me & grabbed my arm tightly, asking me in Omani to dance with her. Rob was astonished, as were his two friends, because in Oman Muslim women virtually never touch any man strange to their family. This was one of the most heart-warming honors of my entire trip & the smile on her sweet leathery face is something I will never forget. You can be sure I danced like there was no tomorrow. What an evening! From waterfalls to magical pools to rivers of the spirit in Sayq, this was the kind of swekking adventure that fills you to the brim. Now I can see why every times it rains, Rob gets this kind of fire in his eyes -- it's the call of the wild. It's all about the Swekking!

( If you want to lace up your boots & trek -- or swek -- down any wadi that matches your fitness level, check some packages on our Oman Prices webpage. Feel free to call us any time for more details. )

Wadi bashing in a 4WD
after heavy highland rains
washed over the roadway.

© Copyright Rob Gardner.

Gleaming whitestone
walls, Snake Canyon.

© Rob Gardner.



Contact -- Susan & John Hessburg, Mgrs
PMB 307 -- Suite # 116
15050 Cedar Ave. S.
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA 55124-7047

Voice Mail: 952-953-4124




First things first for your Oman scuba diving holiday. Please remember that you will need to secure a formal visa from the Omani Consulate closest to your hometown, before you will be allowed entry into Oman. Visas for most U.S., Canadian & European citizens are very easy to secure, & take only a couple weeks. The Oman Embassy staffers in Washington, DC are exceptionally gracious & helpful. They are geared up to encourage eco-responsible tourism; this is quite evident. Visa fees are nominal & paid via cashier's check to the Omani Embassy or Consul General nearest to you. Make sure you prepare well for your Oman scuba diving trip.

OMAN VISA PROCESS -- Passport & visa required for all tourists, & for all Oman vacations. Tourist/business visas for multiple-entry issued for stays up to 6 months & valid for 2 years. Many visitors now can secure their entry visa at the Muscat airport, right when they land. Check with your airline rep & be sure of the rules pertaining to your specific country of origin. Both business or tourist visas require a special official application form & cholera immunization if arriving from infected area & a self-addressed stamped envelope for return of passport by mail. For transit & road travel, please check with the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, 2535 Belmont Rd., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (202/387-1980, -1981 or -1982).

All package prices listed here for Oman diving holidays are subject to possible change in this steadily evolving travel market. Land prices are traditionally stable, while air prices may fluctuate for Oman vacations. Until air tickets are issued, all airlines reserve the right to change airfares without notice -- a longtime industry standard, per FAA rules. We at U.S. Dive Travel will price-protect you to the utmost of our professional ability; & that has been our pledge for one decade now. We normally secure excellent discount air tickets. Remember please, the federal government has deregulated airlines, so only they control their pricing -- not any travel professionals. But our lodging & Oman diving contracts are set for one year at a time, & therefore are rock solid nearly all seasons.

Unless specifically noted, these above packages are prices for only the land-based or vessel-based portion of your Oman scuba diving vacation, in most cases reflecting double-occupancy rooms. At most vacation resorts there will be no triple-occupancy rooms offered. Some exceptions may be noted. International air tickets & commuter "island-hopper" airfares are always extra above these land costs. Nominal service fees are also extra for air tickets & the lodging + diving components of all Oman vacations. The baseline tariffs for all clients start at $35 per person for the land portion + $20 pp for published-fare air tickets. Late-booking clients may receive slightly higher tariffs on the lodging + diving. Solo clients will always pay a single supplement to secure a private room on their Oman diving holidays -- normally 35% to 50% more -- & possibly a doubling of the standard double-occupancy rate at some resorts.

For our U.S. or Canadian clients, the preferred payment mode for all lodging, diving & side tours is by cashier's check or wire transfer in U.S. dollars. All clients living outside the USA or Canada will need to pay only via direct wire transfer in U.S. dollars -- no exceptions please. No personal checks or credit cards will be accepted for the lodging or land-tour portions of any Oman dive vacations, please. Thank you for your gracious understanding. Our service level is the highest & our prices the lowest in this industry, & thus we need to preserve a reasonable margin to keep the Ship of State afloat, thereby ensuring that your Oman diving holidays will be brilliant & affordable.

For published-fare air ticket bookings on your Oman diving holiday, USDT always accepts Visa & Mastercard, even from non-U.S. clients. For discount wholesale air tickets, however, USDT accepts only cashier's checks or wire transfers, please, since we are giving you exceptionally low net rates, below the lowest published discount fares available.

Remember, all clients to all foreign destinations will be asked by local officials overseas, upon departing the airport on your final day, to pay a nominal government departure tax, usually between USD $25 - $45 per client. USDT cannot collect this tax beforehand, so you simply pay it down there, in your host country. Be sure to stash away a little cash for this final moment at the airport, so you'll get your exit visa stamped quickly with no fuss; & away you go. Best of luck with your travel plans. We hope your Oman dive vacation is a safe & satisfying adventure. Blessings & best wishes.

Best fishes too!

>////*> <*\\\\<

John Hessburg, General Manager
Susan Hessburg, Operations Manager
Founding Partners of the U.S. Dive Travel Network.

© Copyright U.S. Dive Travel. All rights reserved.

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