With reports of heavy rain heading in later in the day, a simpler lower elevation route was the criteria, and having had my eye on this route for many years, I figured it was about time to take a look; and I wasn't disappointed.
The route starts in the UAE and ends up in Mussandam, Oman. This brings up some key questions, so I'll start from the bottom up on this, and thrash out how it works, for those who are not aware. It's not simple, as is often the way in these parts. To skip this, jump to ">>>SECTION 2<<<"
Mussandam is the exclave of Oman situated on the northern tip of the Peninsula with the same name. There are three road entry locations into Mussandam. The west cost (al-jeer), the central track (wadi bih) and the east coast (Dibba). Dibba itself has 2 crossing points a short distance apart.
In terms of accessibility, the west coast requires paying [for most] for a visa. The central wadi bih track is for GCC nationals only, and is just a miltiary check point. On the dibba side, the coastal road has a check point for all, and then an additional check point just for locals is situated around a km inland. These two do not require a visa, however in recent years they do require a hotel/tour booking to be made to allow access. When going through at dibba, you do not formally exit the UAE as such, therefore if you have a tourist visa it would not be cancelled here, and likewise there are no leaving/entry road charges.
The reason that the three entry locations can operate with different requirements is because it is not possible to get between them in Mussandam, as there is a 3-way Omani military post in the mussandam central meeting point, stopping vehicles/people passing. Only GCC nationals can pass this in all directions. Omani residential visa holders can pass this in 2-directions between dibba and the west-coast routes.
A key point is that Dibba is a city which spreads across 2 emirates (Sharjah [Dibba Al-Hisn] and Fuhairah [Dibba Al-Fujairah) and 2 countries (UAE and Oman [Dibba Al-baya]). So when people say they have been to Dibba, and give advice, consider that they may not be referring to Dibba, Mussandam (al-baya), but any one of it's 3 parts.
Another key point is that many people incorrecly locate wadi Bih. Wadi bih is not the wadi heading north from dibba. This is Wadi Khabb al Shamsi. This mistake is made for 2 reasons. 1 - The wadi Khabb al Shamsi road/track is also know as the road to wadi bih (as it ultimately gets there at the Omani security post. 2. The wadi Bih race has been held there, due to not being able to operate at it's original location, at the aforementioned actual wadi bih, from which it gets the name.
When you book a tour/hotel in Dibba, the company that you book with will sort out the required paper work, and meet you at the border to get you access in. This usually takes them a day or so to prepare. When returning back through they may ask you for these documents, however in the event of them getting lost, damaged, or being with someone else, they have little choice but to let you return back in.
So, with the exception of these 3 check point locations, anywhere else along the border is open, other than being blocked by the inaccessible mountainous terrain of course. This route finds one of those exceptions where a route is possible however.
So, for the route itself:
As the photos make clear, this route had a lot of greenery with, at the higher points, meadows carpeting the valley floors. The route had a variety of wadi's, impressive cliff faces, meadows, farms, villages and views of the near by peaks, sitting between Mebrah (Yibir) and Qihwi forming a formidable wall which engulfs Dibba.
The time taken for this trek should be considered a moderate to quick time. We moved relatively quickly, but took the time to detour off to the farms at waypoint 15. This can be skipped (waypoints 11-19) if you wanted to do a quicker version of the route. Generally the route is very easy technically, with only the section between waypoints 20 and 22, making it a 'Moderate' rating, as the path disappears here, and you have to trek down/up steeper slopes.
The route breaks up into 5 sections:
1 - The walk to the village - 5km / 3 miles - 1 hour 20 mins
2 - Up the valley - 6km / 3.8 miles - 2 hours 15 mins
3 - The Green valley descent - 1.4km / 0.9 miles - 25 mins
4 - The messy middle - 1.4km / 0.9 miles - 35 mins
5 - The valley walk out - 3.2km / 2 miles - 1 hour
Total Route 17 km / 10.6 miles - 5 hours 35 mins + 25 mins break
1 - The walk to the village
With a 4x4 it is possible to park another km or so up the track at the last farm, however the track significantly degrades at the securtiy tower, and with the potential for rain also this was a good start point with some elevation from the wadi floor.
The first hour is simple and flat, with an easy path way also. The wadi walls are not overly steep so there is little danger of being trapped in there. Follow it to way point 2 and take the split right and head around the corner to way point 3. There are a few options here, which I have tried on other routes. Either take a left at way point 3, the left after waypoint 4, or as in this case I experimented by heading up to southern end of the village. Personally I think taking a left at way point 4 left is the easiest.
The path falls apart at the village, as you can more or less wonder anyway. Simply head to the highest houses at waypoint 6, and then follow through 7 and 8 and the path will re-emerge as all the routes combine togheter.
2 - Up the valley
After this point the route winds along the eastern side of the valley. In hotter weather look out for some key windy spots along here to rest. I have marked this on other routes, but generally you know them when you hit them.
You will get to a false saddle at waypoint 9, as you shift between the watershed of this side wadi and wadi tawains main route. From this point on the greenery starts. Head down following a pretty clear pathway, until you arrive at the bottom of the wadi, where a handful of trees provide shade on the large wadi bend.
Either follow the wadi upstream, or cut over the corner as I did, until you reach the next bend at way point 11. At this point you can decide if you wan't to venture to the farms, or cut some time off and head straight for the pass. The farms were worth it, I would say, as they were super green, and had interesting buildings, farms and water channels. To get to these leave the main wadi and stick to the right hand wadi through the junction. To skip this, take the right, but then almost immeadiatly take the small side wadi left and follow the hill side around, not loosing elavation.
Follow the wadi all the way up with no real naviagation required until you get to the village at the top of the wadi. Once here we followed the old water channels around the hill side into the dibba waterbasin. A historic little shelter/stone building sits in the valley below you. Curve around the valley, as it's quicker than loosing height and having to regain it, until you reach the high point.
From here take a direct line to the windy gap at waypoint 19, again don't loose any height and it should be a flat traverse directly to the Gap. Here was the greenest spot of the route, with tall blades of grass blowing around on the saddle as the wind channelled through.
3 - The Green valley descent
Although intially slightly steeper, the descent quickly sorts itself out and makes for an interesting part of the route, hugging the hillside and looking down on some still used houses just below. Follow this around to waypoint 20.
4 - The messy middle
At this point the path vanished. I am certain there is an easier route going more directly between waypoints 20 and 22, however on this day I couldn't spot it.
Therefore we headed down a moderatly steep wadi to the bottom, and then traversed the other side to waypoint 22, where the path came together once more. Subtle at first, but then more obvious as all the possible routes people had wondered came together.
5 - The valley walk out
At this point the clouds started to rapidly develop in size, and darkened heavily. However it was an easy route down to way point 23. The agreesive cliffs to the left with sharp wadi escape points looked even more impressive with the approaching storm clouds shaddows caste across them. At this point, just a few minutes before the track the rain hit us, and it hit us hard. From waypoint 23 to 25 is a track, and waypoint 25 simply marks the tarmack road. Where this route finishes, much like the start, depends on transport arrangements.
03 - Wadi Split
04 - Wadi Split
05 - Wadi Crossing
07 - Wadi Crossing
10 - Join/Leave the Wadi
11 - Village-Direct Split
11 - Village-Direct Split
12 - Path Split
13 - Grassy Farm
14 - Farm End - Path
21 - Wadi Crossing
23 - Top of Track
24 - Junction
kennethjennifer 2020. jan. 28.
This route is beautiful! 😍 Do you usually trek alone or with a groip?
Ben Robbins 2020. jan. 29.
Almost always with other people
MitchGM 2020. febr. 16.
Hi Ben - we are thinking of doing this hike this weekend. Does it go into Oman as it looks like on the map? Have you had any issues if so? Ay other tips of advice?
We thought we might camp overnight and return the next day.
Thanks for your help + all your hike ideas and routes.
Ben Robbins 2020. febr. 16.
It does go into Oman yep. As long as this is done properly (legally speaking) there shouldn't be any issues.
MitchGM 2020. febr. 17.
Hi Ben - appreciate you taking the time to answer.
Where does the route actually cross the border? If we follow this trail, is there an official border crossing? Does it cross through in a remote location? Or should we get visa before hand? We are Australian and British. How did you approach the legal side of things when you did this hike?
Thanks a lot
Ben Robbins 2020. febr. 20.
Hi MitchGM. I emailed you further details.
Ausra Osi 2020. febr. 28.
Hi Ben, would you mind emailing me more information regarding crossing oman border situation. When doing Stairway to heaven hike, omani visa is not required as long as you stay on the hiking trail. I would like to know how is it with this hike? My email is email@example.com thank you so much
Ben Robbins 2020. febr. 28.
For a general understanding of how the area works I'll put it here. Mussadam has four road entry points. The west coast, the Wadi bih entry and the Dibba entry (2 points - both link by road either side). The west coast requires a visa. The wadi bih route is for GCC nationals only. The east coast has one crossing for locals and one which doesn't require a visa and is useable by all. However in more recent years, to use this crossing it does require a hotel booking, or booking with a tour provider on the Mussandam side.
These different set ups work as the three entry points all connect in the central area of Mussadam at an omani military base in wadi Bih. Only GCC nationals or Omani residential visa holders can cross this, therefore you are always forced (by car) to go back to the border location you came in on. Except of course if your on foot. However, if you return to the wrong one it will be an issue.
When crossing on the east coast side (dibba) the hotel/tour provider will have sorted out the paper work to cross, and meet you at the border, as part of the pre booking arrangements.
Therefore, if you stay at a hotel the night before and do the route backwards, or arrange a hotel at the end, there should be no issue because, in short, the dibba area of mussadam is visa free.
Hope that makes the set up of this route a little clearer.
Muhammad Azeem 2020. okt. 21.
Hi ben, is the trail defined with markers?
Ben Robbins 2020. okt. 21.
Hi Muhammad; it's not. It's most just a path resulting from common access to the villages. The central section is unclear. The details are in the description.
yousuf 2020. dec. 29.
Thanks for the trail. It looks beautiful!
I’m looking to try this sometime in the next few weeks but just wanted to check with you regarding the border crossing both into Oman and back into the UAE as well as the logistics of getting back into the UAE.
Would we be stopped while hiking into Oman and would any documents need to be presented? Would we be asked while driving back into the UAE how we got into Oman if we aren’t checked while hiking?
It would be great if you could please help me with the above. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Robbins 2020. dec. 29.
I'm not currently sure of the restrictions in place between the UAE and Oman. I have all the information in the description regarding this in normal times, however currently it's not very normal times. You would need to find out what the restrictions are when travelling in out by road, and then presume the same on foot.