stairway to heaven




after a few trips into the desert in the uae, an austrian friend suggested we climb the “stairway to heaven”. little did i know then that this famed destination is one of the most difficult mountain climbs in the uae. to be sure, it is not high, only 1,250 meters (4,100 ft). for the most part it is a path of loose rocks which requires one to be on all four for a good part of the path. the climb gets interesting when one reaches the wall – a route straight up about 500 meters. NEVER NEVER attempt this climb without someone who had done it before a few times, and is very knowledgeable of the area – it is easy to get lost. typically the climb and back is all done in daylight in one day, but only the wise recognize when they haven taken too long on the way up to turn back even if they did not reach the top. in fact, the climb is so dangerous, that many climbers have gotten lost and had to call the local authorities for emergency help. it was reported that the authorities plan to close the path to prevent further climbs. the path is unmarked until one gets to the wall, where the stairway begins. it is said that the stairway is a former path set up by mountain smugglers to get over the top of the mountain and into oman. the path is made of rocks loosely arranged into steps in several stages. but this is not a stairway for those with any fear of heights. the climb up is manageable though – just don’t look down. the view straight down can be, well,… distracting, and with no ropes or harnesses, one needs to maintain good focus on the immediate task at hand: the next ledge to place your foot, and rock to grasp. two hours later up the wall you reach the top, which on googleearth shows it to be in oman. only a few steps away, i noticed a communication station built on top. when i asked how the material was transported up this treacherous path, my friend pointed to the road that came up on the other side of the hill. that took away from the sense of conquest of the mountain. as we sat to rest and contemplate the way up and the surrounding awe inspiring rock formations, i was distracted by the thought of having to climb down the shear wall. the experience down the wall was just as distracting at the thought of it.

my personal story here is though having gone up and down, it was not so easy. i was not fit when we went. i did not carry enough water, or food. late may can be hot in the uae, and needless to say i dehydrated. so what we intended to be a return in dubai by about 6pm ended up being around midnight. from personal experience, i do confirm the oft unheeded warning to climb with someone who has done the “stairway” before. had it not been for my austrian friend, i would have probably had to spend the night on the mountain until my body cooled off and i could climb down in the morning before the sun beat down on the route back.

going there:

best time to go is in late march through early may when the daylight is relatively long and the weather is not too hot

drive on the coast after ras al khaimah, pass the cement factory and make a right in the direction of  wadi ghalilah. drive past the dam and follow the dirt road until a 4wd can’t go any further. start walking.

google earth coordinates
25° 59′ 11″ N, 56° 11′ 12″ E



stairthe wall



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