“Don’t worry, it’ll be a walk in the park,” says Ali, the senior climbing instructor at Alila Jabal Akhdar, a luxury hotel in the mountains of Oman.
We’re getting ready to climb the hotel’s via ferrata, the highest protected climbing path in the Middle East.
It begins at the foot of the mountaintop property, situated 2,000 meters above sea level in Oman’s Al Hajar mountain range, before snaking down a cliff through a cave and up a sharp vertical rock face before culminating in a wire bridge suspended twenty meters above the valley.
Despite the reassurances, I’m having second thoughts.
Ali, on the other hand, is in his comfort zone. Like many of the other trek guides working at the hotel, he was born and raised in one of the many farming villages spread across Jabal Akhdar.
The Green Mountain, as it’s known in English, is the highest point in Oman, and despite its mostly rocky desert terrain, the cool weather and a sufficient dose of annual rainfall allow it to support a vibrant agricultural industry.
Terraced farms cascade down the mountainside filled with pomegranate, walnut and juniper trees as the ancient aflaj irrigation system ushers water from one level to the next.
It’s within this setting that you find Alila Jabal Akhdar.
From the local limestone used in its buildings to the fresh ingredients used in its impeccably presented dishes to the warm Omani hospitality of its staff, the hotel is in perfect harmony with its surroundings.
Guests can gaze down on the stunning mountains views while floating in the hotel’s infinity pool or from the comfort of their own private balconies. Looking at the steep climb ahead, both options seem extra appealing.
Clip on, clip off, repeat. That’s the essence of a via ferrata climb.
Latin for “iron way,” they were originally used during World War I to allow Italian troops to carry supplies across the Alps.
Today, they’re a favorite of adventure lovers and thrill seekers around the world. I begin the climb hesitantly, clipping and re-clipping my harness carabiners to the safety rail with extreme focus.
Across the suspended wire bridge
Soon enough I find my groove and start to focus a bit less on the multitude of ways I could hurt myself and more on the amazing views offered up from the unique vantage point.
The rocky landscape dotted with old juniper trees swaying ever so slightly with the winter wind. The mountains standing tall in all their silent glory.
Clip on, clip off, repeat.
Halfway through, we reach a vertical rock face sprinkled with a series of strategically placed metal steps that go all the way up and around a massive protruding boulder before disappearing into the mouth of a cave.
It’s a slow and steady ascent with my grip tightening around the safety line with each step I climb.
I feel progressively more exposed. By the time I am going around the boulder’s bend, I’m practically hugging the mountainside.
Entering the mountain cave at the top, I breathe a sigh of relief and take a couple of minutes to recharge.
Framed by the cave’s mouth, the vast valley below looked picturesque. But this was no time for long meditations on nature’s beauty, the final and most anticipated leg of the journey beckoned: the suspended wire bridge.
Don’t look down
Following Ali’s directions, I clip both my carabiners to the top wire before stepping on the one below while holding the two side ones for balance.
I take my first step and feel the entire bottom wire reverberate underneath my weight.
Three steps in and I’m feeling more confident but still don’t dare to look down or around. It’s a delicate dance for balance. I start to feel more confident, stealing glances of the Al Hajar range.
Halfway in, I even dare to look down. Not a good idea as a pang of vertigo stops me on my tracks. The adrenaline rushing in propels me forward.
When I finally reach solid ground, Ali greets me with a big smile.
“You did it, your first via ferrata. Now you’ll be addicted.” He isn’t wrong. I am pumped up and already looking forward to the next adventure.
The new Via Ferrata Cave Affair Experience starts from US$90 per person for a 2-hour experience. It requires a degree of fitness.
Alila Jabal Akhdar, Al Roose, Jabal Al Akhdar, Al Jabal Al Akhdar 621, Oman; +968 2534 4200