Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rub Al Khali and the Liwa Crescent

The Sands at Morweeb

Having an explore but dont get lost !! 
While lying sick in hospital in Kenya with tick bite fever friends came with food and to wish me well making those few days give me a sense of home which I shall return to soon, but one friend Nick brought me a copy of Wilfred Thesigers ‘My Kenya’. Thesieger had lived in his later years a few hours North of Nanyuki in Maralal. I had heard of him but never read his books, the early day travel books and exploration accounts facinate me and between bouts of fever I read the book cover to cover in a week. His most famed travels where in the Rub Al Kalil otherwise known as the Empty Quarter. The largest sand desert on earth bordering Oman, The UAE and Saudi Arabia where it takes up more than half the country. With an oppertune break in the calendar a rough plan was hatched to head to the Liwa Oasis and the Morweeb dunes, some gear was thrown in the car and away we went. 
We left Kalba in the morning taking the road across to Dubai and from there to the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi. The reason for this oppertune moment had been due to a weather cancelation. Not a common reason in this area of the world. The skies where black between Kalba and Dubai with spots of rain but as we headed towards Abu Dhabi day turned to night and the skies opened with the most torrential rain, Sheet and forked lighting punctuated the dark skies above. Many where bailing off the road, a five laned motorway cutting through the desert, some however maintained normal speed apparently unaware that with a foot of vision and standing water it might affect the ability to react or brake. I pushed on slowly with the hazards on and nose squashed against the windscreen. Stuart who slept through the most of it in the back occasionally stirring to eat with Toby in the front with me where we had a catch up about Kenya as he was the first intern who came to work at RVA in Kenya. We last crossed paths in Mombassa but he had recently finished a contract in Australia and almost overnight had agreed to come to the UAE and fill a gap for the rest of the season en route home. The last time we had sped off to see what lay further beyond was to check out Olokwe in Northern Kenya so it was good to be back in a Landcrusier heading off to have a ‘look around the corner’. As we hit Abu Dhabi just after lunch we picked up supplies and found the rain had eased but had left a scene of destruction trees all over the road and deep standing water everywhere. Cars had been abandoned in car parks and lay bys, but the local workforce was out pumping the water and the Police where on all the roundabouts directing and keeping everything moving. We left the city heading for Tariff in the general direction of Quatar. Once you leave Abu Dhabi on this road the city literally just stops and its nothing but flat sand as far as the eye can see in all directions. @@@@. This must be the main desert and the reason why people refer to the Rhub Al Khali as ‘the desert within a desert’ as its within the Arabian desert. Once at Tariff we turned left heading for the Liwa crescent. This is a crescent shaped Oasis on the edge of the Rub Al Kahli. Its also the home area of the President of the UAE, the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is also the defacto President of the UAE. By the time we hit Liwa the sun was out and things where drying up but also the dunes where now appearing. As we collected some firewood in Liwa we headed onwards towards Morweeb. Now a strip of tarmac surrounded by huge dunes up to three hundred metres in height. This famed part of the desert was starting to open up and show its vastness. As it was getting on a bit we decided to get our camping spot sorted and set up before the darkness set in. We pulled off the tarmac heading down a gravel track and selected a dune to camp behind out of sight. I span the vehicle in tighter in under the dune I got it immediately stuck in the sand. It only took a short time of deflating tyres and digging to free it but certainly highlighted how you could get in a mess far from help without much effort easily. Any grand sand driving ambitions where shelved for this trip. You need a minimum of two vehicles to head into the dunes anyway more if possible. Its very easy to get stuck in the sand, although I would poo poo and certainly Thesieger would poo poo the idea of dune bashing the little what I have done is pretty fun it has to be said. But in the empty quarter its more about skill and experience and the fact that if you blow it no one is coming to help you. 

Tyre deflating 

More dunes !! 

We where up early the next morning and took the road to the end at Morweeb. From there we trekked around the dunes to get the best views and it was those views that made me see the extent of this desert. Its a truly empty place and I would think compared to Thesiegers days even emptier. The Arabs are no longer there anymore, he was the last to see the desert people as now they are in the cities and no longer nomads but oil rich and changed. When the oil came it changed the face of Arabia and the nomadic tribes. It would certainly be an impressive crossing though even today with modern kit and technology. We left there heading back to Liwa to have a look at an old Fort in the town and then headed around the crescent a bit to see what lay in the Oasis which was mainly date plantations and some odly fish farms. From there we took the long drive back to Kalba. Well worth an outing and certainly if I get some time then I would be keen to return and perhaps try and get a little deeper in. 
Evening creeping in as we arrived 

The open road !! 

note: the last post I made I suggested the next post would be on a new blog but its taking a bit longer to get ready so another one for here, perhaps the next one…..

The impressive scale of the dunes !! 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Wadis, Beaches, Boats and BBq's !

Sunset in the Gulf of Oman and snoopy island 

Heading into the Hijar mountains near Chees 
First post of the year and a late start as its already the end of February. Its been a busy few weeks in Oman with groups coming through and looking for new trips and venues and also having an explore of Oman and the Emirates. I had a friend Anna over to visit for a week which gave for a good chance to unwind and have a look around the area a bit more. We had a few days in both the Emirates and Omans Musandam. On the Emirates side we had a look at the snorkelling around Snoopy island and the reef around it. A huge amount of tropical fish are here including sharks. Its a protected reserve and seems to thrive as a result although all along this coastline it well known for its marine life and diving. We also took a trip down to the Shis pools which sit in the UAE but in order to reach them you drive through Madha a small town surrounded by the UAE but is actually Oman. Its whats known as a counter enclave. This means a small stretch of land which is entirely surrounded by another nation of which in turn that nation is largely surrounded by the host nation. Driving through you notice the signs, flags and images of the Sultan Qoboos start appearing but then as soon as you leave they quickly revert back to the UAE’s. 
We also called in at the Al Bidya mosque. The oldest mosque in the UAE which has been restored and is open to the public to have a look around. Its completely different to any mosque I have seen before and resembles clay domes, very small with two lookout towers situated on a ridge line up above. We had a good look around at the perfect hour for some photos as the sun was dipping.
We also had a great Dhow trip along the Musandam coast. A very unique and special piece of coastline. Omanis whizzing about in power boats along rugged and very rocky cliffs and mountains that make up the coastline. The peninsula runs along to Khasab and situated a mile off shore is Telegraph island which played a significant role in the British Empire but also where the phrase ‘going round the bend’ comes from. 
Entering the Al Bidya mosque 

Evening light from the view point at the mosque over the date plantations and Hijer mountains
The use for the island was a repeater station, communication cables had been laid to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire but also India in order for messages and communiques to be sent. A good fast messaging service was needed to relay instructions and to be able to respond quickly to issues which arose within the colonies hastened on by the Indian mutiny in 1857 and India’s subsequent segregation. This required two people to be stationed there to man the station known as the Persian Gulf Submarine cable. Due to its remote situation, very desolate environment and intense heat would deteriorate the mental condition of those who where stationed there. All they wanted to do was ‘go round the bend’ back to India. The heat here is now building and I put the aircon on this afternoon for the first time since arriving, I cant imagine how unbearable being there in the summer months with no protection from the heat would be, I guess just to compound things in 1860 once the cables where laid the WiFi would have been dial up so desperately slow. it was quite the operation to raise the money to put in deep sea cables which as far as I can gather was raised through taxation in other areas of the colonies. History says that various grants where raised to make this happen but those who delivered the grants where involved in other areas of the empire some in Africa on tea plantations some in Hong Kong whose profits went back to London and where then resent back in grants to projects like this, the same names crop up Lord this or that would often be the funder. I find it interesting to put the parts together, an empire has to sustain and pay for growth itself otherwise it would fail. By taxing an Indian shopkeeper along the Nairobi to Kampala railway in East Africa you can pay an Omani for permission and build a repeater station on the Arabian peninsula. Perhaps another blog for another time.....

Goat in Wadi Bidi
Anna and I also had an explore in the local Wadi Bidi a very impressive canyon just outside of Dibba and finished of with a beach BBQ before I took the drive back across the desert to drop Anna off at the airport. A great chance to spend some time with someone and have an explore around the UAE and also the Musundam. There are many things to do here which are contary to the belief the area is just a large collection of shopping malls and high risers in a giant dust bowl. Escape the city and there is quite an outdoorsy scene. 

Anna in Wadi Al Bidi 
As the sign says !

On one of the viewpoint turrets above the mosque
Tropical fish off the back of the Dhow cruise 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas to Christmas 12 images 12 adventures.........

Last years Christmas day walk in the Mulanje Massif in Southern Malawi before heading for Christmas dinner in the village below with Pizza and Beer !! December
Mountain biking in Laikipia above the Ngare Ndare forest, Kenya, January 
A walk in the snow in the English Lake District with Dad, UK, February 
Another trip up the mountain with Mr Peck. Descending from Point Lenana on Mount Kenya, Kenya, March
Hunting for boulders in Laikipia with Joe Mills, Kenya, April 
Busy roads on the way back from Dol Dol after mountain biking with Peter Wambugu in Kenya, May 
Rock climbing on Olokwe, Northern, Kenya, June

Starting the decent into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July
Exploring Laikipia for rock climbing sites with Dougie Brunton, August
An old tree in the Loldaiga while on safari with Sonja, Alpana, Sophie and various peoples children around my birthday September
Burton the ultimate hound relaxing, October 
Trekking in the Hajar mountains in the United Arab Emirates, November
Deep water soloing on the Musandam coast, Oman, December 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Jebel Shams and Snake Canyon

Camping spot on Jebel Shams
A busy few days with some time to have a look around and hit the road for some new venues and general fun on the road. The general impression that people have of the middle East isn't the most positive at the moment. The other impression is one of ludicrously big airports in the desert but there is certainly more to it than that. It has a mix of great climbing, coast, deep canyons and plenty of cultural history. The other element is the friendliness of the people you meet along the way. For example walking from the house to the shops which is about ten minutes you will have at least three offers of a lift from the locals. 
We set off from Dibba to the border with the UAE entering only a few minutes from our base it was then a couple of hours which took us to a border back into mainland Oman. Bit of a faff getting exit visas then entry visas, really just a bit of a stamping session. By this time it was midnight so we headed out to the main coastal highway to Muscat and Omans capital. Driving for a while we found a spot on the beech to pull up and get the sleeping bags out and caught some sleep before picking up the trail at dawn the following morning. Heading further down to the town of Nizwar on the edge of the Hijar mountains. There was five of us in our car with the plan to meet an Omani friend of ours and the main man for sorting permits and admin in Dibba. Ali who also came with four of his cousins. We arrived at Nizwar which had won the award for the ‘city of Islamic Culture 2015’. A very smart town with the centre having some sights to see, the Fort and the Grand Mosque being the main ones. 

Nizwar with the Hajar mountains behind 
We had a good look around and a coffee until we met Ali who had driven down that day from Dibba. A quick shop and sort out in Nizwar and we where out on the road heading for a camp on Jebel Shams the highest named peak in the country. We headed off as it turned dark. A good feeling winding up steep switchbacks with only a plume of dust flying up under speeding Land Cruiser wheels. a few wrong turns but at about 8pm long after dark we arrived at camp to a bitter cold night. Fires where started, bbq’s fired up, tents erected and before no long the camp was up and goat kebabs where sizzling away. The camp was at about 2020 metres and felt bittery cold in the wind. 

Looking back to Jebel Shams and the Hajar mountains 
Everyone was up at dawn as the sun rose over the mountain revealing that a few feet behind the car was a huge drop showing the second largest canyon in the world second only to the Grand Canyon. A strange moonscape with little villages and frightening looking roads which we would later be picking our way through. A road which dropped about two thousand metres in the space of about two kilometres. Ali should have some good images of that which I shall get a hold of as I was driving the car behind. 

Peering into the Grand Canyon 

Very deep canyon 
We had a good look around the mountain. The main top area is out of bounds as there is a base there. From there we headed down of the mountain towards the main event of Snake Canyon. This lies in Wadi bin Auf. The road to it was pretty adventurous with steep off road mountain trails. The canyon itself was pretty dry as it was meant to have a few jumps in it which led to a few scramble steps. But none the less its spectacular and very deep inside a Wadi with huge walls towering above and at times swimming through shoulder width passages. Not the place to be if it rains, in fact there was an strangely worded warning sign near the entry by the road which said ‘warning drowning has become a popular activity’ a few people have been caught out and drowned in this canyon, there would be no way out and its about two kilometres long. 

Snake Canyons impressive deep walls 

One of the swims through narrow canyon flaw 

Once out we had a traditional sit down on the mat and share the food round which polished the trip off perfectly. Then just a few hours back to base via borders to get some sleep before work in the morning. That work though was a deep water soloing session along the Musandam coast so not to bad really……. 

Exiting the canyon 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Kenya, UK, Oman

Dawn in the UAE's Arabian Desert 
A bit of a blank on the blog of late due to a hectic few weeks with a busy surge in Kenya finishing with a stint in hospital, a trip to the UK for some wind and rain before finishing up now sat writing this sat on a rooftop looking over the straits of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf in Oman looking out over a huge electrical storm on the Iranian side. 
Flying over Kenya 

BBQ with Mr Peck in Kenya 
Pie night with Mum and Dad in Langwthby Cumbria 
I had a fairly ferocious bout of Tick Fever while in Kenya which led to a few very unpleasant days in hospital. Although the Dr at the cottage hospital in Nanyuki seemed to know straight away what it was and it was dealt with swiftly. Following that I had a few days rest in Nanyuki to clear it up before flying back to the UK. The weather seemed to be pretty much as I had left it the last time with some heavy rain and winds passing through.  A short trip but nice to catch up with Mum and Dad although the weather didn't permit to much in the way of outdoor things but it was nice to relax a bit. 
First top in the Musamdam mountains Oman 

Zing Bay Omman
From there it was out to Dubai and some work in Oman over the next while just across the border from the UAE. I was picked up at Dubai airport and was immediately struck by the heat which was somewhat hotter than Kenya and certainly Cumbria. We drove down through the UAE. The UAE is made up of seven emirates with its capital being Abu. Once over the border we reached Dibba situated on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula on the straits of Hormuz with Iran opposite. Sat under the impressive backdrop of the Musandam mountains these sharp steep mountains shoot up from the Persian Gulf in the Indian ocean are pretty spectacular but very arid with only a few acacias hanging on in the heat. I settled into the house which sits on the beech and then had a good look around the sites with a view to developing the climbing sites and also the trekking which is offered here and also working with various groups passing through over the winter. The summer here would not make for a pleasant time with the temperatures sometimes tipping the hottest place in the world. I have visited a couple of the tops and also the climbing areas in the nearby Wadi which is has some very impressive ground. There are no rolling hills here all seem to involve a very sharp up with some interesting ridge lines to follow. The coast also offers some great paddling and deep water soloing stretching out along the Omani coastline. There is a huge potential for more here, there is an active climbing scene here with various guides published for both here and mainland Oman. Its not what people think of when they think of Dubai and Abu Dhabi but there is plenty more here than the skyscrapers of the main cities. The trekking is also very impressive with even the most simple of walks offering some pretty unique views and situations. 

Good bouldering in Wadi Hilti, Omman
We also had a corporate event in the desert in the UAE which was good experiencing the desert style of camping. The Sahara desert seemed to be just a lot of dry rocky ground but the desert here on the edge of the Empty Quarter is dune after dune, some reaching big heights. The Arabian Desert being much more of what I thought of a desert, not the place to loose your bearings though. 
The locals seem a very friendly bunch, situated next to the marina we have access and only last night had some fresh of the boat nice Tuna and Barracuda steaks which we very good. They do also come back with sharks which makes me wonder a bit swimming in the sea but hopefully they are further out although I have noticed a the hotel they have a shark net up on their part of the beachfront. I have been in a shark netted bay before on Hong Kong’s Lamma island when someone came over the tannoy in Chinese and people left am not sure why but I chose to take no notice but quickly did when something very large started thrashing at the edge of the net. 

A nice place with plenty on offer and hopefully a good season ahead before returning to Kenya in the spring which is spring in the UK and more heading into winter in Kenya and the summer in Oman, I think. 

Views over the Musandam Mountains 

Heading into the Wadi's 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Olokwe Photo Blog

John at the top, I have been here four or five times now with John on reccies and group trips, an exceptionally nice Samburu Masai who I look forward to heading up there again with him. Its nice that its not a show piece these guys are just as they are and not putting a show on. If you look at the road, where it bends it looks like a river flows to the right Johns home and village is near the edge of the image. 

Can you spot the group all 28 are in this image, big country. 
Under the Acacias at base camp a very hot place but these hardy and very thorny trees seem to survive well in the climate. 
Base camp a proper bush camp with no facilities, make your own loo and forget about the shower till you get home. Burtons first experience of the North. 
And he found it a bit to hot on the first day often sleeping, but spent the whole night sat up peering out the door listening to the heavy barking from the Baboons looking very nervous as to the possibility of there being a giant dog somewhere near by. Baboons sound very big at night when they are shouting. He had to sleep inside due to the leopards which would have got him in the night. 
Myself and John Lesseppe at the top, John is the head guide at the Namunyak conservancy and works with all our groups, he has a wide knowledge of the area and the environment we are operating in. 
Dagama who works with us at RVA carefully prepares the goat for the BBQ all the blood has been drunk and it made for a great meal that night. Its where your food comes from, but with the Masai nothing goes to waste a very humain way of eating. 
The sun sets on another night on the tops 
A great group as usual who enjoyed one of the most unique and special places I have been fortunate enough to work in.