The night is dark and full of terrors.” It’s not something one would immediately associate with a happy-happy weekend with some of your best friends, but the road to Jabal Shams does require adequate preparation and care.
My bestie (here after referred to as bestie) had come home to Oman for a short visit, and so a group of us decided to travel to and camp out in Jabal Shams for the weekend. While the climb to Jabal Shams may not require you to climb to an altitude as high as Jabal Akhdar, Oman’s highest point, it is, in some ways, even more dangerous.
Jabal Akhdar is policed by a Royal Oman Police checkpoint, manned 24x7 by cops whose duty it is to be on the lookout for cars that do not have four-wheel drive capabilities. Four-wheel drive vehicles are allowed to make the dangerous ascent, but the others are asked to turn back, and this seems like a good point to highlight the first measure you need to take.
Make sure you travel in a four-wheel drive
There are no cop stations to keep an eye on you when you’re travelling up the road to Jabal Shams, neither are there any 4WD rental shops nearby, that allow you the luxury to borrow a Fortuner or a Jeep for a few hours. We did meet a few cars that bravely forded the sloping road, but they did so at a snail’s pace, and were unable to continue after a while. Some of the turns are just too steep or too sharp to make in a regular car, and there could be unnecessary accidents along the way.
Memorise your route
If you’re travelling from Muscat, the route to Jabal Shams will take you through Samail, Fanja, Nizwa, Bahla, and an assortment of villages along the way, and is a good 250 kilometres from the capital. We set out at 10pm (though I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to do the same), and despite help from Mr Google, we did get lost once or twice. The first was on the main road, once we’d crossed Bahla and overshot our route, and that was pretty easy to navigate, because there were signs to follow, but the second was on our way to the top of Jabal Shams. We’d gotten lost, and with spotty network coverage, couldn’t rely on Google to get us out of our situation. We inadvertently crossed a Ministry of Defence checkpoint, and actually stopped just yards away from the Jabal Shams Ministry of Defence base. I’m glad we didn’t decide to break down their front gate. That was bestie’s suggestion, not mine.
Travel with an experienced driver
Oman is known for an excellent road network, but you can’t count on the same once you reach Jabal Shams. The road to the mountain itself is quite desolate, with sporadic street lighting, and once you begin your climb, the tarmac gives way to dusty, unpaved road that requires a pair of skilled hands to navigate. What’s worse is that there is no guard rail on the side, which means even a small oversight could see you and your passengers hurtle to the bottom of the canyon, with little or no means to call for aid to speak of.
A second driver is recommended
Four of us made the trip to Jabal Shams, and we were glad to have two experienced drivers. Driving for such long time, on straight roads can get a bit monotonous, and it is easy for drivers to lose focus, especially at night. It was a round trip of more than 500 kilometres, and that can take its toll on even a very experienced driver. Fortunately, though, both of my friends had about 10 years of experience apiece, and are at home behind the wheel, so we were more than confident in their ability to get us to and from Jabal Shams in one piece.
It takes only a few unfocused moments for a driver to lose concentration on the road, and driving when you’re fatigued will only ramp that up further. Although my friends were adamant that they were okay to drive, and they were, it was because one of them was used to driving about 500km a day, and the other would take over when he needed a break from driving. On the way back, though, we had to leave relatively early in the morning, and this is where my friend’s mental and physical fortitude was put to the test, and although he did make it look like a breeze, he did go home and sleep the sleep of the dead. Until about 7 o’clock that evening. While he may have made it look easy, I can assure you that this is not the case, and irrespective of whether you are camping or staying in a resort in Jabal Shams, make sure you’re well rested both ways.
Make sure your ride is properly serviced
The long drive, bumpy ride and extended time on the road can affect your vehicle quite negatively. It is therefore vital that you do a thorough service of your vehicle. Of particular importance here is your suspension, which could take a knackering on the rough roads. Your tyres come in next, because they too could take a beating after constant use. Make sure all of your fuel tanks are full – all the better if you have reserve tanks to rely on – and also ensure your oil level and pressure is fine. The constant climb meant our suspension temp was overheating, and the manual’s ‘consult your nearest dealer’ option wasn’t really something we could do in Jabal Shams, so we had to let the engine rest for a while.