‘Trails are never to be underrated or underestimated. They always pose new surprises.’ Viju Kothanath narrates his arduous take on a trek from Wadi Bani Khalid to Wadi Tiwi during the long weekend
A few days ago, one of my friends called me and asked me, “Will you be joining for a hike from Wadi Bani Khalid to Wadi Tiwi on Thursday (March 11) as it was a holiday.” Without batting an eyelid, I confirmed my participation – ‘Count me in’.
After the confirmation, it dawned on me that what I had agreed to do was a 42km trek and that the weather wouldn’t be all that conducive as summer has already set in. Anyway, with my prior experiences of doing UTMB trails in Oman at Jebel Akhdar, I was confident that I would be able to finish the same.
Preparations were done quickly. We documented the mandatory gear required for the trail run and the safety measures to be ensured. Our race director was to check and ensure we have all those mandatory gears before we embark on the journey. It is good to have such checks as these would ensure the safety of all participants. We have a good group of people who take lot of interest in training us on trails. One of these was Subash Anchalose.
Subash along with Chris Smith, another key member, charted the plans for our trip. We were seven runners and the plan was to three (Chris, Ricardo, Butch ) hiking from Wadi Tiwi to Wadi Bani Khalid and the other four (Subash, Vijay, Machu and myself – Viju) to hike from Wadi Bani Khalid to Wadi Tiwi.
Qurm Park parking lot was our meeting point. The plan was to leave by 4am. We all arrived at 3.45am and set out sharp at 4am. Subash and Vijay drove the car in turns to Wadi Bani Khalid. I enjoyed a quick nap, meanwhile. We were dependent on Google maps to reach the starting point of our hike.
After driving for two and a half hours, Google showed us a time frame of 6 hrs and 656km to reach our destination. However, we soon discovered that ‘Aunt Google’ was playing truant. We pulled up at the next petrol station and, on inquiring from locals, found out that we had crossed the exit to Wadi Bani Khalid by almost 50km. (You guessed right) We took a U turn from the next roundabout and returned to Wadi Bani Khalid. This time, we relied on road signs for the exit.
At this point, we parked our car and geared up with our backpacks to start the hike. A vegetable sandwich and boiled eggs were a welcome energy booster before starting out at 8.10 am. However, Vijay was worried about the late start as he learnt that the other team had started at 6am and had already completed a two-hour hike.
Patiently, we started our hike with an uphill trek on a mountain. Each one had to carry an additional 2ltr water to be dropped at the 10km point for the group which would start from the other end. As we started climbing up, the mountain was muddy and dusty, and it seemed like a never-ending steep climb.
Soon, we could see a village with people around, and also their farms. It reminded me of walking through villages in India. The smell of cow dung, etc seemed to bring in some nostalgia. Few children in the village greeted us with ‘Salam alaikkum’ and waived at us. The Sun was now up it began to show on our brows.
I just took a cursory glance around and saw how tall and distant the mountains near us appeared. Vijay and Subash pointed towards our trek path and I was shocked to discover that we had a long climb ahead.
So far, we have been following marked treks. Thanks to the authorities concerned in Oman, trek paths are well marked out for trekkers. The climb soon seemed never-ending as we moved from one mountain to another without any break.
I, in particular, kept glancing at my watch to figure the distance covered, only to be disappointed each time. Soon, I felt very tired and wanted to give up. But, I realised, that I would have to go back downhill (if I give up) and stand through the day in the hot sun until the other team comes by in the car. Mustering all my stamina, I completed 5km when we took a break to grab a bite. It was boiled eggs again – each packed in aluminum foil – which came in handy for some energy.
Since we were rather slow, I thought, we might complete the 42km by dusk and have to spend the night in the dark mountain. Such creepy thoughts tool a toll on my enthusiasm even while the Sun continued to be a spoilsport.
Somehow, we managed to complete 10km when Subash decided on a ‘bio break’. We were supposed to drop water bottles for our three-member team over there. We took a photo of the spot and sent it to them while Vijay announced that we had completed a 1580m elevation of the targeted 1900m.
We left the 10km mark after more vegetable sandwiches and snacks. The Sun was almost overhead now and even the shortest climb seemed Herculean. Step by step, we moved on, myself behind the rest. At around 14km, I started to get cramps and continuing the trek seemed impossible. When it got beyond my control, I shouted out for help and Subash attended on me with a leg massage.
It took 10 minutes for me to get back to normal. Everyone slowed down to stay in step with me. I then saw a wadi ahead which we had to cross. Crossing a low-lying, barren terrain again seemed a daunting task as there was no shade in sight, in case we needed a break.
While climbing the next mountain, after the wadi, we found a spot in between that provided shade for rest for a few minutes. Subash was focused on achieving the trail on time.
At around 16km, we met our three runners who were hiking from the other end. We shared experiences and Ricardo told us, “You will have a good downhill climb of Wadi Tiwi.” That sounded fishy.
They told us that Avanish, a teammate, was waiting for us with Subway sandwiches and aerated drinks near the tower. The tower was soon visible and my mind started to party. The pace of the hike increased, I forgot all my cramps. The target was to hit the tower as fast as possible.
At 17km, we saw the Black Mitsubishi Pajero parked in style. Avanish was sleeping, and we woke him up to serve us Subway sandwiches and cool drinks. We rested for a good 45 minutes and started again. From there on, it was a flat off-road trail, with short uphill and downhill stretches. This trail went up to 28km and we were given to understand that the trek would only be for 38km, that is 4km less than presumed.
Equipped with head lamps, a change of caps and sun protective clothes, we then moved on around 5 pm. It began getting dark and my concerns resurfaced. Besides, the marking of the trek, a tri-coloured strip, is not done with any reflective paint.
When we reached 35 km, we could see the water kept for us by our teammates. We filled our water bags and started to go for the final finish line. The downhill of Wadi Tiwi started, and in the twilight, we could see the seascape and the road very far off.
When we crossed 38km and the end was not yet in sight, I felt like giving up again. However, there had been no option other than climbing down the hill to reach the car park. It was about hopping down from one mountain to another and the darkness hit badly, now that the stones and boulders were only visible in the rays of light from our headlamps.
Subash led the way, and with aching limbs, every step was painful. We could see some light ahead in a village, but we were not yet there. Around 2 hours later, we reached the village and could freshen up in a free flowing falaj.
The car had been parked yet another 1.5km away, and when we reached, the villagers waved out to us again. It took 13 and a half hours to complete the entire hike and I admonished myself for signing up for the same. However, after successfully completing it, I am already thinking about redoing it in a shorter timeframe. It was a rewarding experience for me. Indeed!