A while ago completed an amazing adventure in Salma Plateau where we abseiled down 120m into 7th Hole Cave and explored it before climbing back up. We really enjoyed the adventure despite the initial fear and hesitation in doing something totally new and outside your comfort zone. The following is a story of our adventure.
I don’t know where the idea came from, and why on earth we got this urge, but a year or so ago my friend Ali Z and myself thought that we must explore Majlis Al Jinn Cave (كهف مجلس الجن) in Salma Plateau. For me personally, I wanted to challenge myself and attempt something totally outside my comfort zone. In addition, I knew that exploring this underground wonder in Oman will will be a remarkable experience. Majlis Al Jinn Cave was once considered the second largest cave chamber in the world, many other larger ones were discovered later apparently, and it is a shame that I live so close to this underground wonder yet I am unable to explore it. Just have a look at this amazing video of these two mountain climbers in Majlis Al Jinn Cave. And I thought, hey maybe I will also get a chance to get one of those awesome light-shinning-through-the-cave photos as well!
At this point, I have to emphasize that both Ali Z and myself had no idea what descending down a >150m hole in the ground entails but we were both very excited and determined.
Majlis Al Jinn Cave entrance
Around the same time, both of us also attended a lecture organized by the Environmental Society of Oman (ESO) where Khaled Abdul-Malak, a full-time dentist who also happens to explore the mountains and caves in Oman in his free time, gave a fascinating talk about the many places he explored in Oman, including caves!
After a bit of research we found out that the cave has been off-limits since 2008 by the Ministry of Tourism and you need a permit to get in. This decision may have been taken to protect the cave and surrounding areas from degradation by unauthorized visitors; nevertheless, we were disappointed as we knew it wouldn’t be a straightforward matter to get permits especially for two amateurs like us.
Enter 7th Hole Cave
7th Hole Cave entrance
Concurrently we were also looking for tour companies that arrange for training and operate tours to Majlis Al Jinn Cave. We found out about Muscat Diving & Adventure Center which offers a trip to another cave, 7th Hole Cave (كهف الهوة السابعة), including training sessions, equipment and instructors. Without hesitation we agreed and signed-up immediately.
We thought that exploring any cave is exciting, and at the very least we will learn the skills required to descend down a cave, and perhaps we will be able to explore Majlis Al Jinn Cave in the future. Our instructors later told us that 7th Hole Cave is actually a more exciting cave to explore, since it is one of many holes int a large network, with one of the exits coming through a wadi. This makes it a more exciting adventure since you abseil from on place and climb back from a different one, along with exploring part of the network. On the other hand, Majlis Al Jinn Cave is one single chamber, albeit a huge one, which you just abseil down and climb back up the same way.
After several months of not being able to set a suitable time for the trip due to schedule clashes, we finally arranged for January 2014 as the date of the adventure!
Three 2.5 hour training sessions were required for this adventure. These were conducted in Muscat in the week leading up to the trip with the last one being on the morning when we leave to Salma Plateau and the cave!
During these sessions, we learnt everything we needed need to know about the equipment , the techniques needed to climb-up or abseil down and, most importantly, how to stay as safe as possible the whole time! The training can be overwhelming at time (especially, for example, if you are stuck half-way up the ropes and unable to unlock your descender :D) but sooner or later you will know the difference between a Jumar and a crawler, and by the end of the training you will be confident enough to descend down 7th Hole Cave!
After finishing the training, we headed to Salama Plateau and 7th Hole Cave. The drive to the cave is an adventure in itself since it is a very rough up-hill road from Fins in Sharqiyah to Salma Plateau. Due to the soft nature of the rocks at this part of the Hajir Mountains, which incidentally contributes to the formation of the many caves in the area, the graded road leading to 7th Hole Cave, Majlis Al Jinn Cave and nearby villages gets badly damaged whenever there is a rain making it almost inaccessible.
There is another way which is slightly better, except for the part it passes through Wadi Qaroon which is full of large wadi stones that can also be very difficult to navigate through.
Driving through Wadi Qaroon (some call it Wadi Stupid because it is stupidly difficult to pass through).
The google map below shows locations of both 7th Hole Cave and Majlis Al Jinn Cave.
View Caving Trip at Salma Plateau – OmanTripper in a larger map
After suffering a torn tire, we made to 7th Hole Cave where we camped camp overnight. Our instructors, Joe and Justin, were busy setting up the ropes and equipment necessary for descending the cave the next morning.
Joe & Justin setting up the ropes for next morning’s descent
We spent the evening enjoying the beautiful star-filled sky at the warmth of the camp fire.
(Well that is true for our second trip in March 2014, because in our first trip in January 2014 it rained heavily and hail started thundering down as soon as J&J went to set-up the equipment in the cave. Our brave instructors had wait several hours for the flash flood inside the cave to recede before it was safe to climb back up! Forces of nature are unpredictable!)
Descending 7th Hole Cave
Sunrise at our Camp by 7th Hole Cave entrance
We woke up the next morning and started preparing to abseil down 7th Hole Cave. There was 7 of us in total and we each took turns to get down the cave.
Abseiling down 7th Hole Cave (Thanks to Mohammed R for the picture)
I was the first one to go down, as I wanted to spend as much time as possible underground taking photos. It is difficult to explain what you feel the moment you are down there and start completely free-hanging, but it was definitely a combination of extreme excitement and a bit of fear! For me it felt a bit like the first time I went Bungy jumping, except that with abseiling it is you who is making a decision going down instead of relying on gravity alone to pull you down! And of course, it takes 15 minutes not less than 10 seconds.
For the first few minutes, I tried to avoid looking down until I composed myself and got comfortable with my surroundings. These 15 minutes or so were definitely the most exhilarating part of the trip. You start getting a sense of how big the cave really is, and you the details at the bottom of the cave become more clear, instead of just staring into a black abyss. You will also get to see the amazing formations that have been carved up inside the cave, some vegetation and the paths where water flows when it rains. After 120 meters you finally touch down, and start realizing the vastness of what is underground.
The cave is HUGE and there are many tunnels and dark passages that lead further down to other chambers, were were told one would take you a further 100m below! You may also notice the odd bat. I took a few minutes to adjust to the surroundings before exploring the area.
Notice the person abseiling down
Scrambling through dark tunnels inside 7th Hole Cave
Preparing for our second abseil down, approximately 25m
It was another hour until all of us were down and ready to continue our path underground. We did lots of scrambling, abseiling and then finally climbing up a total of ~70m until we reached the exit of the chamber, right into a beautiful wadi with lots of vegetation and trees! From there it was a short walk to our camp and cars, and a conclusion of our adventure!
Climbing up the last stretch, approximately 30m
Wadi exist at end of climb out out of 7th Hole Cave
In the end, we were extremely happy and felt a true sense of accomplishment for finally being able to experience this adventure. I am still hoping that sometime in the future I will get to explore Majlis Al Jinn Cave, especially now that I have the confidence in my ability.If you have ever thought of pushing your limits and trying a fun and challenging adventure, I highly recommend you try caving in Oman. Just make sure you’re comfortable with heights before signing up 🙂