Cave Discoveries In Oman
OutdoorUAE|December 2017

Discovering & Exploring Caves

Simon Cahill

In the last months, enthusiastic cave explorers have investigated and surveyed three caves near the village of Hail Al Hareem, one of which is a significant discovery for Oman. This article documents the preliminary surveying results and history of exploring these caves.

Caves provide important windows to the geological, hydrological, archaeological& climatic history of the earth. They have been for long considered as the archives of the past. The carbonate units of the Al Hajar Mountains and the Dhofar Mountains offer large numbers of caves to explore and study. Many of these have been discovered and surveyed, but many are still to be found. For adventurers, the exploration of caves is a challenge and life-time experience that requires dedication and consuming efforts. Whether you are a professional geologist, a pioneering explorer or a weekend adventurer, Oman offers a world-class set of spectacular caves, many of which are unexplored. Since the 1980’s large caves such as the Majlis al Jinn (Khoshilat Maqandeli), the Selmeh System, Al Hoota Cave (Kahf Al Hoti) and the sinkholes of Dhofar have been discovered and documented. Today we can add another significant cave and two smaller ones to the list of wonders in Oman.

Who should claim to have discovered a cave is an interesting topic. Caves have been around for millions of years, humans have been present for more than 100 000 years, so in the year 2017AD is it right to be the one claiming to have discovered a cave? Pinpointing when a cave was first explored can be a simpler task. if a cave has been entered there are normally signs such as stone steps, wooden pegs, artefacts, remains and in modern times metal climbing aids such as pitons or bolts.

All three caves recently explored, were certainly known to and have been named by local inhabitants. Villagers from Hail Al Hareem say the biggest cave, Al Khishil Cave was visited by Westerners in a helicopter many years ago. This report ties in with the 1980’s explorations by Don Davison & Cheryl Jones in conjunction with the Public Authority for Water Resources. Cheryl has confirmed they would have likely been the Western visitors but they did not enter the cave. In 2011, Tim Harrison, a hiker and photographer took a photograph of the entrance of Al Khishil Cave.

Al Khishil Cave

By chance, Simon Cahill, a British caver, came across a photograph Timhad posted on Panoramio of a different cave. Simon contacted Tim and Tim replied saying the cave was not deep but referring to the photo taken in 2011 of Al Khishil Cave Tim said he had another image that may be more interesting. Tim had not entered the Al Khishil Cave as it required climbing equipment and technical expertise but thought it was deep. Tim sent Simon the location and in December 2015 after caving on the Selmeh Plateau Simon and Blair Hoover a caver from the USA, stopped off to have a look. Simon and Blair rigged ropes from natural anchors and descended to a depth of 40m. The cave obviously went down a long way but without proper bolting equipment Simon and Blair returned to the surface to plan further exploration.

In January 2016 Canadian caver Christopher Pike joined Simon and Blair to explore the cave further. The initial pit with a drop of around 130m was bolted with several rebelays and deviations. Pike, a strong climber and caver took the lead on bolting. The walls of the pit had been polished by water to a fine smooth finish. It became clear nobody had been down there before; it was not possible to descend to the bottom without placing mechanical anchors. Beyond the main pit, the cave plunged again and quickly became varied and technically challenging with difficult climbs, traverses and a maze of tunnels to navigate. The cave opens into a decorated chamber Blair named The Art Gallery. The tunnel leading out from The Art Gallery twists and turns finally arriving at a wide low passage. Next comes a crawl/squeeze through water with an air gap no more than 30cm high. Pike hummed the theme tune to the film Mission Impossible; the crawl section was aptly named “Mission Impossible”. The cave narrows but the roof rises allowing a crawl on your knees rather than the previous squeeze on your stomach. Another tunnel with difficult climbs continues but the team had already explored several hundred meters of cave, with Blair taking survey notes along the way. At 6:35 pm it was time to turn back. The cave was proving to be interesting, challenging and potentially dangerous. The nature of the cave constantly changes from tight low passages to open chambers. Mission Impossible is an early and dangerous sump; just a small amount of flood water can close off the way through or rather the way back! Later explorations have been stopped at this point as the cave has been flooded to the roof.

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