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near Ruḩaybah, Musandam (Sultanate of Oman)
However: If you, or someone you are with, knows the route or you've really done your research, you have some experience in the UAE's mountains and climate, and know the right time to turn back then I would say defiantly do it! It's a 'moderate' route, with nothing more than grade 1 scrambling and some exciting exposure. It is around 17km/10.5 miles around, with around 5,000ft/1500m of ascent/descent for the whole loop as you pass over Jabal as Sayḩ (a sister peak of Jabal Jais).
Note: If you do not do the loop, and return down the Stairway to Heaven the Ascent/Descent is about 3,300ft/1000m. Going down is considerably harder than going up.
In the last 3/4 years, probably due to accidents, there has been a great effort to improve the route, and now the entire 'Woh Village Hike' ([Sections 1/7 and 6] used for the descent route) has steps, levelling, stone marked edges and even benches to sit on. The route section with the stairways specifically on it is now well marked with cairns, themselves painted white. Sections of the route between the villages (Waypoints 13 and 23) however are not marked at all, although tracks run along some sections.
The time to complete this is very varied, however the average time it has taken me to do this loop with friends (of varied levels of fitness and experience) has been 10 hours. The Range is usually from 8 to 12 hours. It has taken up to 18 hours however...So it's varied. For the following description I will put the time estimations based on the average group, rather than referring to this gps track specifically.
I will break down the route description into 7 sections: (Refer to 'Map 1' in the attached photos)
1) The Walk up Wadi Litibah (1 hour) - (10% complete)
2) The Scree (1 hour 30 mins) - (25% complete)
3) The Stairway to Heaven (1 hour) - (35% complete)
4) The 'Peak of false Horizons' (1 hour 45 mins) - (53% complete)
5) The Traverse (2 hours 30 mins) - (78% complete)
6) The Woh Village Hike Descent (90 mins) - (93% complete)
7) The Walk down Wadi Litibah (45 mins) - (100% complete)
Section 1 - The Walk up Wadi Litibah
The parking place I have used can be reached by a regular car (usually although be prepared for the track to have degraded), and does not require a 4x4 usually. There is a reasonable area by the last few farms in the wadi to leave the car or more than one. Section 1 sets off up the wadi following the river basin. Keep an eye out on your right as the path heads up out of the wadi soon. Steep winding steps take you up a short warm up section to a flatter section (Waypoint 2) Head along to the first set of stairs which curve around the rock to a veiwing point over the wadi. (Waypoint 3). Continue along the right hand edge of the wadi, until eventually stepping back down into the wadi (Waypoint 4) and continue along. The wadi abruptly stops and the well laid path you are following will head off up out of the wadi to your right at waypoint 5 - 'The split'. Leave the main path here, cross over the dry river, jumping over some bigger boulders, to the bottom of the scree slope. It is not obvious.
Section 2: The Scree (Refer to 'Map 2' in the attached photos for this section)
Head to the left to get up the initially worn away wadi side onto the scree-slope. Within 10-15 mins you should arrive at some huge boulders. One distinctly square block has a large clean break/crack down the middle with the two halves slightly fallen apart. This is a very good reference point to return to and can be seen from almost all points along the route. Head on up from here, staying on the more solid ground, looking down on the tributary wadi on your right between you and the vast cliff faces. Keep heading up here until you meet the cliffs at the top, and follow them around the right, heading up a final pencil point at the top of the scree slopes, where you can rest under the overhanging cliffs at the very top. This is the start of the famous stairway section of the route. (Waypoint 6)
Section 3: The Stairway to Heaven
From the top of the scree follow the ledge around to the left. After a short traverse the first stairway section turns you back on yourself. (Waypoint 7) An up-left-up section (zig-zag) with 2 drystone step sections leaves you again heading in the same direction as before for a loose rocky traverse, but still gaining a little height. A closing gully leads you up to a thin ledge turning back on yourself for around 10m. Scramble up a short section and continue again in the same general direction to waypoint 8. If in doubt stick to the rock wall on your right, with scree ledges to your left. This is now the real stairway section, with section after section of dry stone work. You traverse around a large prominent rock (Waypoint 9) before turning back on yourself. The route now continues in this direction to the top, with 4 or 5 sets of steps. Waypoint 10 marks the largest staircase, the usual photo of the stairway to heaven is here. This is exposed but easy with plenty to hold onto and step on. The section after this however is the hardest and most risky with a thin traverse, high exposure and less to hold. This finishes off with a small tree sitting confidently ahead of you. When you reach this, turn back left and scramble up for a minute or two up onto the plateau where small farms are scattered in the valley. Good rest point with absolutely stunning views, going as far as Iran on a clear day after the rains.
Section 4: The 'Peak of false Horizons'
This is the point at which it's decision time. Go back down or complete the loop. As stated above, you are about a third of the way round time wise, and only a quarter for distance. With the cliff to your right and village to your left, the peak ahead of you is where you need to go. (Refer to attached photo 'Map 3') It looks like a short distance, but it is very deceiving, and I refer to it as the 'peak of false horizons' The horizon you think is the top is not, and nor is the next. It has about 4 false peaks; it will mentally destroy you. Anyway! From the top of stairway head right along the flat land (use the vehicle tracks). When the track hits the T-junction (waypoint 14) at the end keep walking straight and head straight up the mountain ahead. From here to summit is usually 1-1.5 hours. Usually you arrive at the ridge line north of the submit, (Waypoint 15) so take a right and head to the peak for another good rest spot. (Waypoint 16).
Section 5: The Traverse
A vehicle track border track goes to the summit as you briefly place your feet inside musandam, Oman. After a few zig zags down follow the track along, making quick progress on pretty flat ground. You will arrive what looks like a lay-by on a highway, filled with various equipment/supplies. (Waypoint 17). At this point you have 2 options.
1) There is a footpath heading North West - This meets back up at waypoint 23. It goes through 3 little villages, but also crossing small dry river valleys between them requiring a bit of up and down. Therefore in this GPS file I have used:
2) The traverse. Following the lay of the land, there is no path, but I find it a quicker, easier route.
For route 2: Keep on _exactly_ the same elevation from leaving the lay-by, traversing around the concave hillside, until you reach a dry river. Cross over this and continue traversing. You will see the villages appear down the hill side in front of you, which historically are the homes for the Shihu tribe. Head down here, occasionally having to do some easy scrambling down the steps in the land. Don't try to traverse around the hillside further as the next river bed sits in a gorge, hundreds of feet deep. Once at the village, you meet a worn path taking you to waypoint 20. At this point I drop straight down to the dry river crossing, (waypoint 21) however it is a short steep scramble, and you can follow the path which does a long zig zag to get down there. Head up the other side of the valley and onto the hill side once more, reaching waypoint 22, a farm. At the right time of year this area is bright green with crops growing in the fields. Head directly to waypoint 23, even if it appears to be leading to nowhere. The Descent track is a few tens of meters to the right of the farm at the far tip of the plateau. A good rest spot!
Section 6: The Woh Village Hike
There is a bench/table here to sit at and look out over wadi litibah from the top of the Woh Village Hike and you can see the route almost all the way down, and sometimes the car at the bottom. However, don't be fooled, you still have about a third of the route to complete, and it will take about 2-2.5 hours. However navigation is simple. Head down the path, and follow it. If it's not obvious you’re on it, you’re not on it! Initially it is steep and the stairs twist down it sharply twisting around the rocks, soon this opens and the route zig zags down to waypoint 24. The path is a little more interesting as it moves around the edge of the hill, passing farms, and then dropping into the the wadi. As you descend you will find yourself walking along flat ledges hugging the cliff face. Water can be found here almost all year around. Only 10 minutes or so after these the path starts to steeply descend and you find yourself back at waypoint 5, the split.
Section 7: The walk down Wadi Litibah
This is the reverse of Section 1. It usually takes about 2/3rds the length of time to head down this as it does to head up it. (Refer to section 1 for more information)
That's my guide to the stairway to heaven; any further questions please put below.