Wednesday, January 19
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Appetite for adventure

6 Feb 2021 By TRIDWIP K DAS

Safety and authentic Omani hospitality are at the heart of adventure tourism company Twenty3 Extreme

Many people, not the faint of heart, who have seen photographs of abseiling into the Majlis al Jinn instinctively include it in their bucket list. The image of the abseiler halfway down silhouetted against the column of light pouring in from the roof of the cave sticks in the mind. And while it can be an adrenaline junkie’s pipe dream, it’s a tour organiser’s logistical nightmare.

Not so for Twenty3 Extreme, which apparently is ‘the authority on adventure’.

An adventure tourism company, Twenty3 Extreme can make such dreams come true. And even better if you can dare it. It has certified staff to facilitate such activities. Its senior instructor and head of safety has organised an abseil for a couple into Majlis al Jinn dressed in their wedding finery.

Twenty3 Extreme was started by Maha al Lamki in 2017 with the goal of providing quality adventure tourism services of high safety standards. “It’s not uncommon to hear about people getting stuck in caves, or left dangling from ropes. We wanted to offer top-end equipment and exhilarating but safe experiences,” Maha said. “This meant internationally qualified instructors working alongside and training local Omanis.”

The company offers a range of adventure activities, including via ferrata in Jebel Shams, small abseils of 35m to big descents of 150m also in Jebel Shams, canyoning in Wadi Bimmah, swimming in the turquoise pools of Tiwi or under the Al Hayer Falls of Wadi Bani Khalid, and abseiling into the Seventh Hole in the Salmah Plateau’s intricate cave network in the Eastern Hajar Mountains.

The last itinerary, likely the toughest trip Twenty3 Extreme offers, involves nine hours of training in Muscat over two days before heading out to the Salmah Plateau. The adventure includes overnight camping, abseiling off 120m cliffs, exploring the Canyon Room in the cave and climbing out 80m.

For less strenuous adventures there’s ‘Muttrah off the Beaten Track’ involving hiking and trekking for groups of five to 12 people eight years and older. The ‘Wakan Village Tour’ includes trekking and cultural activities while exploring fruit gardens in the picturesque village in Wadi Mistall nestled in Jebel Akhdar. Another single-day trip is the ‘Balcony Walk’ offering breathtaking views en route an ‘easy’ hike and trek from Oman’s own Grand Canyon to the abandoned village of Sap Bani Khamis.

Customised adventures

In efforts to cater to a wider international clientele, Twenty3 Extreme has customised seven-day trips for groups. Highlights of such adventures, for which the company can help organise visas, include experiencing authentic Omani hospitality, snorkelling in the Arabian Sea, kayaking in Bandar al Khairan and exploring Jebel Shams.

To showcase all its activities, Twenty3 Extreme has a detailed website with specifications such as minimum age, group size, duration, fitness level – even adventure level – for all its organised escapades.

The company’s repertoire includes outdoor team-building exercises for corporates, and it is licensed for production facilitation, logistics and film permit fixing. “We can help get access for local permits, rigging gear, technical equipment and set it up,” Maha informed.

Steve Backshall, the BAFTA-winning English naturalist, explorer, writer and BBC presenter, filmed with Twenty3 Extreme in 2018 and 2019. The expertise of its instructors has also been employed by National Geographic, France 5 and a Dutch TV programme. “TV producers come up with the craziest requests. They want something new and special that makes good entertainment,” Maha informed.

“The last crazy request was from a UK TV company that wanted canyoning with a 400m abseil in August. The temperature was harsh and the sun exposure brutal. 

“Bungee jumping off Jebel Shams is something we are looking at currently.”

Open-air classrooms 

Its outdoor education activities – Education through Adventure – are designed for 9-13 and 14-18 age groups spread over five-day and four-day programmes, respectively. Besides being physically challenging, these programmes help build team spirit, leadership qualities, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The programmes have been availed by schools from Abu Dhabi, Bangkok and Doha, in addition to an international school in Muscat.

Twenty3 Extreme is affiliated to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – a non-formal education and learning framework operating in 144 countries through which young people’s achievements outside of academia are recognised and celebrated. The company’s adventure instructor and outdoor education manager Bex Hedderick and senior instructor and head of safety Justin Halls are certified instructors and assessors of the award.

Halls’ list of qualifications include Rope Access certifications, Advanced Rope Rescue Technician, UK-qualified Rock Climbing Instructor, Swift Water Rescue Certification and First Aid Trainer. Since arriving in Oman in 2006, Halls has helped develop canyons, caves and mountains for adventure tourism, while prioritising training of Omanis.

The first Omani lead instructor at Twenty3 Extreme, Abdulhamid al Shabnooti joined the adventure tourism industry in 2015. Asked what it takes to be an adventure instructor, Shabnooti said, “One has to be enthusiastic and passionate about nature and wildlife, with an appreciation for what you see in nature. And you must have the commitment and determination to train and perfect your skills to be both safe and knowledgeable.”

Maha wears many hats running businesses in interior design, furnishing, branding and media solutions, but she grew up exploring and appreciating nature. She has fond memories of climbing the mountain behind the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth in Ruwi and the one behind the Al Jenaibi showroom in Qurm. “We enjoyed outdoors. We didn’t have Netflix then!” she said.


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