Into Oman's Hajar mountains: meet the climber Hamid Alshabnooti

Climbing and canyoning instructor Hamid finds happiness in the mountains, where russet red peaks rise skywards, and views stretch out across vast oceans of sand.Saturday, 2 November 2019

By Oman Ministry of Tourism
The peaks of the Hajar Mountains’ western range stretch off into a sand-coloured sky.
The peaks of the Hajar Mountains’ western range stretch off into a sand-coloured sky.
photo by Getty
Climbing makes Hamid Alshabnooti feel free.
Climbing makes Hamid Alshabnooti feel free.
photo by Nemorin

The wiry young adventurer rises from the rock and stretches gratefully. Behind him, the grey-brown peaks of the Hajar Mountains’ western range stretch off into a sand-coloured sky; these are the summits and canyons where Hamid grew up — and to which he’s now returned as a climber and expedition leader.

His journey to this lofty perch took a circuitous route, working first as a beekeeper for his family, and then as a computer scientist. “I really thought technology was my thing,” Hamid recollects. “It took me four years of studying to realise I was completely wrong.”

“It turns out I feel stressed when I’m inside a room doing nothing, so I became an adventure instructor, starting with hiking, and then moving onto climbing and canyoning.”

Oman was made for adventuring. Its spectacular landscape, full of fjords and canyons, rugged peaks and complex underground cave systems, are a playground for thrill-seekers. Rock climbing in the Hajar Mountains is particularly special; the wind and rain have worn many a challenging route into the limestone.

“It’s unique,” Hamid says. “Here, you don’t have to dive to see the bottom of the ocean — it’s in the mountains. There are fossils and beautiful rock formations everywhere, and all around10,000ft above sea level.”
 

Jebel Shams has several via ferrata routes snaking up the mountains.
Jebel Shams has several via ferrata routes snaking up the mountains.
photo by Getty

Hamid’s favourite climbs are on the northeast side of the Hajar Mountains, though he also loves Jebel Shams’ Via Ferrata, a vertical iron cord that rock climbers use to scale peaks. “When you’re climbing, particularly if you’re doing a new climb, you’re looking for adrenalin; that feeling you get when you’ve done something new, bigger than you’ve ever done before. Every step feels like an achievement.” “Once you clip in and climb,” he continues, “you have a beautiful view the whole way up — it’s the Grand Canyon of Arabia.”

Days as an adventure instructor can be tough, and Hamid feels the pressure to keep clients safe and happy. Nevertheless, he says: “I get inspired by looking at the sunrise every day, and watching things moving: creatures, humans, cars, even a bird on the window sill. Everything that moves makes me want to move, too. The nature in Oman inspires me. It’s so beautiful, with so many different landscapes; mountains, deserts, beaches — we have it all.”

It’s this contrasting landscape, Hamid says, that brings travellers to Oman. That, and the people themselves: “Omanis are used to living in a tough landscape without much water, yet still they grow their own food, keep animals. We’re some of the toughest people in the world, but we’re so nice — we welcome anyone here,” he says, beaming.

The rocky outcrop where Hamid stands would have been all but inaccessible a few years ago, but while much of Oman can still be tricky to navigate, a network of roads means cars can now pass through more remote areas. Hamid finds this inexorable march towards modernisation a mixed blessing, but loves that it means he can now access even more of the mountains.

“For me, being outside doing this job connects me with nature. When I’m climbing, I feel free,” Hamid says. “I look down on the things below me, and see how far away they are, and it gives me an idea of how small I am. Being outside by yourself, especially when the sun comes up after you’ve been camping, or when the sun sets, or when you’re sleeping under the stars — it’s beautiful. Sometimes you just sit and watch it, enjoying the different colours and the angles of the light. It’s then you really forget about time.”

Essentials

Hamid Alshabnooti leads hiking and climbing expeditions out into the Hajar Mountains.

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