This route is a good 1 day trek length taking around 10 hours, and is split into 4 distinctly different parts. The hike to the villages, the scramble to the ridge, the plateau, and the gulley down. It has some stunning views going up and coming down, and continually changes, with the exception of the descent. There are loads of interesting things along the path also. The speed of this route is moderate to quick with the exception of a lengthy pause at the village on the ledges. The exploration on the decent can be shaved off, meaning that making this a 9 hour route (with 1 hour taken off the descent time) is very reasonable.
This route was, at it's crux, challenging, however the Sha'ams side of the trek was moderately easy up to the village on the ledges. After this point the path is hard/impossible to find and there is a definite change of tone. Once on the plateau there are a handful of spaced out inhabited farms. I have explored a number of routes between these farms and Ghalilah, but am yet to be convinced it's the route the locals have used. This route is the easier of the routes I have done.
The Grading for this route is based on the whole route and it has been graded as a T:VD. Up to the village is a T:E (Easy). From village to Ridge is a T:M (Moderate), and the Route down to Ghalilah is a T:VD (Very Difficult). Check the bottom of this description for more information on route grading.
From way-point 2 to way-point 3, this is not the best path. We started here as way-point 2 has car access. Way-point 1 at times may required 4x4 access. The path however starts at way-point 1. Therefore we started with an easy traverse, but this did add around 10-15 minutes extra to the total time.
I have broken down the route into 7 sections, as there are noticeably difference between them and they make for good marker points on the route.
1. WP 02 - 06 - Wadi Sha'ams - 90 minutes – 2.25 km (1.4 Miles)
2. WP 06 - 10 - The Staircases - 1 Hour - 1.25 km (0.8 Miles)
3. WP 10 - 14 - The Ledges - 30 minutes - 1.5 km (0.9 Miles)
4. WP 14 - 18 - Village on the Ledge - 1 Hour 15 minutes - 2 km (1.3 Miles)
5. WP 18 - 20 - Cliffs of Sha'ams - 1 Hour 15 minutes - 1.25 km (0.8 Miles)
6. WP 20 - 23 - The Plateau - 1 Hour - 1.6 km (1 Mile)
7. WP 23 - 25 - Gulley Descent - 2 Hours 30 minutes - 5.5 km (3.4 Miles)
1. Wadi Sha'ams
We started at way point 2. due to easy parking, however you can drive up the wadi to way point 1 for the actual start of the path. The route starts off at a shallow gradient and through out each of the first 2 seconds gets continually steeper. From either start point, head more or less in a straight line into the side wadi at way point 3 between 800m to 1km later (depending on start point) and takes 20-30 minutes. The path is clear at times, but not always. It also (at way point 3) does some sharp switch backs, so keep an eye out so as not to loose the path.
The path then starts to zigzag between way points 3 and way points 4 for about 30 minutes, making up the middle 1/3rd of this section. It is noticeably steeper than the previous section. The cliffs close in on the left hand side. The path goes up to meet this before following it around the bend through way points 5 and 6. Look out for shiny rocks, as the steeper it gets the trickier it is to see. Going through way points 5 and reaching the end of this section at the bottom of scree will take around another 30 minutes.
This entire section I would grade as easy 'T-E'
2. The Staircases
This section starts off with a steep scree section with a subtle path zig-zagging it's way up. It will take around 20 mins for around a 400m section. Keep your eye out above you for the staircase. It can be tricky to see from below. The first site of it is with it traversing left and out of the gulley.
Once you are on the stairway however, the path is very clear and you definitely know you are on it. The stairways traverses around to the left only for a short distance. After about 10 minutes, the stairway leads to a good break spot, and viewing rock that sticks out. It's a good pause and the next section is one of the steeper section and is around a 30 minute slog.
At way point 9 the path gradually tops out and the ridge roles over onto more of a hilltop. The path then finally levels off at way point 10. The farm can't be seen without leaving the path, but sits just above you to the right hand side. Potentially good camp sire.
This section I would grade as moderate 'T-M'
3. The Ledges
This third section is rapid, with a decent path and very little up or down. Just follow the ledge around closely; sometimes very closely with a good bit of exposure. Head into one valley, back out again going around a ridge point. At this point look some way ahead and you can make out the village ahead, which is the target point. Continue on the ledge into the next valley and you will end up at a Ledge, with 3 vertical sides. It sticks out abruptly with amazing views of wadi Sha'ams, while still being surrounded by the towering peaks above.
This section I would grade as easy 'T-E'
4. Village on the Ledge
From the viewing spot (way point 15), scramble upwards and slightly to the left (west) for 5 or so minutes to arrive at the village. Here there is shade, potentially water, as well as many bits of pottery placed throughout.
Definitely a good spot for a break as after this point there is little shade, it is steep and prolonged. Potentially if you wanted to avoid the harder parts of this trek, this is a good turn around spot also.
We headed further around the ledge in the same direction we approached the village. However in the past I have turned back on myself here. It is important to note that from this point until way point 20, there are many routes. The true path is all but gone with only a few dry stone stairways giving hints of where it went. However we continued onwards, and just around the corner from the last house, scrambled up 'one ledge' to arrive at another farm areas.
We worked our way up the ridge line for around 45 minutes, going past fields, and then moving onto some steeper scramble sections. Easier routes are possible going directly from way point 16 to way point 19.
5. Cliffs of Sha'ams
Between way point 18 and 20, it is steep, and appears to go on for a long time, taking about an hour to make most of the height, before spending another 15 mins traversing around before finally topping on out the ridge. For this section, just focus on not loosing any height. Try to link up the easiest routes up each step in the landscape. At times this section has been very green, with a lot of vegetation particularly between way points 19 and 20.
You should be aiming to reach the Ridge in around 6 hours, with a 4 hour decent on the other side.
This section on this specific route is a difficult trek (T-D) however there are easier routes through I have done which I would say are a moderate trek (T-M).
6. The Plateau
This section is wide open Plateau, and you can see the spread of farms from the moment you come over the ridge. There are grave stones and monuments spread across this area in general. Aim to the right slightly taking a direct line to the Farm at way point 21, just heading off slightly to the right to avoid loosing any height. It will take around 30 minutes to reach the farm. People do stay here. There are also a lot of very good camp-sites in this section. There may also be water in barrels at times.
Once at the farm we turned right and followed the ridge around, with a couple of ups' and downs. There are sharp cliffs to the left, so so long as your not heading down them, your on the right track taking a straight line to waypoint 22 after about 20 minutes.
I have in the past taken other routes in a South East direction from the farm, but there is difficult scrambling, so be aware of this is you choose to venture that way.
At way point 22, The ledge becomes tight and turns to the right. Follow it around and it's not as exposed as it initially appears. It will take you into a sharp and forming wadi, and from this point onwards it's one long slog down.
This section is a moderate trek 'T-M'.
7. Gulley Descent
The Gulley Decent is more or less a straight line, before continuing in a straight line through he village all the way to the end point. It does go on for quite a long time, and will be heavy on the feet.
The wadi is moderately steep at first, particularly for the first hour. At around 45 minutes into the descent the wadi briefly opens up to the right with trees and what looked like a path. We had a quick explore however it turns out the easiest way down is just sticking in the wadi itself. There are some tricky steps at around this hour mark (about 1km in to the descent), and this is probably the crux of the route, which I will grade as very difficult (T-VD).
Once through this though, it then gets slowly easier and easier, as your feet get more and more bashed up. After about another hour descending, and around 1.5km further down, we finally hit the top of the village. However the village is spread out and there is still some distance to cover. However it is a track mostly, and although this point only marks around the half way mark in terms of distance for descent, time wise
The last half of the descent distance only takes about 30 minutes, walking down through the village, with the track getting slowly slightly shallower in gradient, and a little more solid to walk on. If you are able to park further up in the village without blocking anyone's access, then this would be a good idea. The finish point on this route was ultimately dictated by not having 4x4 access at this time.
Finally, here is my interpretation of Wikilocs Technical grading system and how I use the categories to grade routes. This is a grading purely on technical difficulty, and does not include length of route, height gains/losses or environment. These should be factored in separately.
(Trek = Hiking, Mtn = Mountaineering)
T-E: “Trek – Easy”: Tracks, paths etc.
T:M: “Trek – Moderate”: Rocky terrain, hopping over rocks etc, with lack of obvious path
T:D: “Trek – Difficult”: Easy Scramble Sections, steep sections, with no path
T:VD: “Trek - Very Difficult”: Scrambling - Use of hands
T:X or M:E: “Trek - Experts Only” or “Mtn – Easy”: Scrambling - Hard with exposure
M:M: “Mtn – Moderate”: Climbing - Use of ropes for moving together or descending
M:D: “Mtn – Difficult”: Climbing - Use of ropes, with Belay or abseils which which are a must at 1 or more sections
M:VD: "Mtn - Very Difficult": Lead Climbing - Requires lead climbs on vertical sections
M:X: "Mtn - Experts Only": Lead Climbing - The scary stuff.
03 - Path Connection
11 - Exposed Bend
15 - Village Ledge
18 - Traverse Ledge
21 - Farm Wadi Crossing
22 - Exposed Bend
23 - Top of Shoot
24 - Top of the Village