Adventures in Oman - cycling the monstrous Jabal al Akhdar


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Middle East » Oman » Nizwa
December 29th 2019
Published: December 29th 2019
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I got off to a slightly slow start today as it took quite a bit of time to hunt round Nizwa for the kind of breakfast that would fuel me up the monstrous Jabal al Akhdar, Green Mountain, especially as my request for “oats“ kept on being interpreted as “dates” - not my breakfast of choice. Today’s climb is one of the most iconic climbs in Oman, with the lower half having been featured in Tour of Oman, won by Chris Froome, admittedly with a pretty lengthy preamble to get to it, and in the fairly new Haute Route Oman, so clearly it had to be conquered. It starts about 30kms from where I was staying in Nizwa, so the first obstacle was navigating to Birkat al Mouz, at the base, along yet more highways.

The section through Nizwa was a comfortably wide two lane highway with a decent hard shoulder, so that bit was no worse than cycling in central London. Then as the road swung round towards Izki the road narrowed to single lane with a hard shoulder varying from about two feet wide to nonexistent, while the traffic maintained a solid speed of about 60-70 miles an hour. Not ideal, but there was no viable alternative. A few kilometres from the town at the bottom of the mountain I heard a car drawing up behind me, beeping a couple of times on the horn. I glanced back to see a police jeep right behind me clearly indicating that I should pull over, which I duly did. Uh oh! Time to find out which particular infringement of the law I am guilty of.

The moustachioed officer wound down the window and having established that I didn’t speak any Arabic, explained that as a solo cyclist it was dangerous to cycle in the road due to the fast traffic. I couldn’t really fault him on that observation. Then he told me that I had to cycle inside the yellow line, i.e. on the hard shoulder. At that point of the road the only thing inside the yellow line was rubble, like tarmac that had been bulldozed. I looked at it somewhat unconvinced but then promised to adhere to his demands where possible. I then waved them off and resumed my position in the road for the rest of the route to the village, keeping an eagle eye out for the police vehicle which would prompt a hasty return to the gutter to maintain some sort of pretence.

From Birkat it was pretty easy to find the mountain. There was an impressive looking fort at the bottom and then a couple of gentle kilometres before the road suddenly ramped up - clearly the start of the 14kms averaging over 10%. For the benefit of any non cyclist readers, 10% is flipping steep! Round the corner the ramp eased off and I saw a police checkpoint. I was just being waved through when I heard a shout from behind and was suddenly told to stop. The officer I had previously acquainted myself with came hot footing it around the corner with his baby faced side kick in tow. I have to admit, having had a very brief taste of what was to come, that I was not to upset at the prospect of being banned from making the ascent, although I couldn’t really see why this would be justifiable given that the speed limit for vehicles was just 35kms per hour. He barked something at the checkpoint officer who then waved me on. Bugger no excuses for not climbing the damn thing now.

Soon after the checkpoint the gradient kicked up and I dropped into my lowest gear (52/32) and settled in to grind it out. The temperature was optimal, around 25 degrees, with a bit of cloud cover. I definitely wouldn’t want it to be much hotter. There was quite a bit of traffic, 4x4s and trucks, but not a single other cyclist. I got a few friendly (for a change) toots and thumbs up from the drivers, which encouraged me on my way. It was pretty unrelenting with the odd section that kicked up to what felt like 18% or so, and very little respite. There was one false summit with a white building button I knew from the elapsed time that it couldn’t be the top. Then I spotted a red and white telegraph mast which looked more likely to be the summit, thankfully, which it duly was, more or less anyway.

At the top was a broad undulating plateau which the road swept up and down across, so it was quite fun nailing it on the descents to see how far up the next incline my momentum would take me. When I got to a point that turned into a longer steeper descent I elected to head for home. The descent down Jebel al Akhdar was a bit hairy. There were about five or six escape lanes for run away vehicles, most of which looked as though they had recently seen some action. By the mid section of the descent I was accompanied by a strong smell of hot rubber, which could have been from a truck ahead of me or from my bike. As a precautionary measure I stopped for a couple of photo opportunities of the view across the southern plain towards Manah.

On reaching the village at the bottom I consulted the map to determine whether there were any decent alternatives to the main road on the way back. There weren’t so I crossed my fingers and hoped that I wouldn’t cross paths with the officer I had become a little too familiar with earlier in the day. Thankfully luck was on my side and I made it back to base without any more inconveniences.

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Tot: 0.831s; Tpl: 0.08s; cc: 8; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0362s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb