The low moan of the wind disrupted my pre-dawn slumber. We were meant to go for a drive to Wadi Ghalilah, but as I looked out the window I saw white caps on the creek, and instantly knew that an excursion to a place that would act as a funnel for the wind, would be unsavoury and best avoided. I slumped back into bed, quietly resigning myself to the power the weather has on my decisions.
An hour later the wind suddenly died down, and we hastily got dressed and ready to resume our original plans. As we drove towards Wadi Ghalilah just north of Ras-al-Khaimah, I marveled at the magical powers of the wind. It cleared the dust that blanketed the sky for almost two days, and the clear blue looked like a fresh layer of paint on an empty canvas. Slowly the picture was taking form: crude brush strokes hinted at clouds and earthy browns gave shape to the Hajar mountains on the horizon.
As we passed the scarred landscape surrounding the cement factory we gradually melted into my imagined canvas of unblemished splendour. Leaving the dust-layered landscape of economic activity behind, the valley opened up before disappearing again around the occasional bend in the road. Winding through and dead-ending in clusters of habitation, the road morphed into different personalities. The smooth tarred road gave way to gravel as it spilled over a dam wall built to stop the anger of sporadic flash floods.
Looking up towards the towering mountains I was awe-struck by their stark beauty. It is from this wadi that the famed “Stairway to Heaven” hike starts. This old shepherds’ route links the Ras-al-Khaimah coast to a Omani village huddling high above and out of sight of this valley. The name originates from the many stairs that have been hewn out of precipitous rock faces that leave hikers vulnerable and exposed. It is a hike for the fit and the brave. As I tried to gather my thoughts whilst scrutinizing the mountains and subsequent courage it would take to attempt this 9 – 12 hour scramble up and down, Michael’s words shocked me back to the present: “I’ll go with you if you want to do this.” Before I could even start to appreciate the generosity of the offer, I heard my own words echoing in the distance: “Are you stark-raving mad? I won’t do this! It’s pure insanity!” The reality is that people do die in these unforgiving mountains, and although I love walking and mountains, there are limits to what I claim as my sense of adventure.
I am content at ambling along stony paths in the shadows of these giants. I know my own limitations and as I joyfully accept them, I honour the fact that I have nothing to prove. I am content with who I am and where I am right now. There are plenty of walking adventures suitable to my temperament and physical ability that will be my own unique stairway to heaven.
** GPS co-ordinates for the dam wall: N 25° 58′ 51.6″ E 56° 08′ 43.5″
*** If you are interested in marveling at photographs of the “Stairway to Heaven” hike, read about the Abu Dhabi Alpine Club’s excursion by clicking here.