Caves of Oman, Arch cave, 3 Windows & 7th hole
7th hole, Arch cave, 3 Windows cave, Funnel cave and Tahri cave form the largest cave system in Oman. The cave system is located on Slamah Plateau, south of Muscat.
Joanna and I ventured into exploring Arch cave and 3 Windows cave, (For more info about caves and cave exploration, please visit this page) and spent 20 extreme hours with a twist that almost doubled our time in the cave.
The plan is to descend into Arch cave, explore all the way to 7th Hole cave. Then enter 3 Windows cave, explore it backward, exiting the system by ascending from 3 Windows pithole.
Formations from the caves:
For such trip, it is essential to have 2 teams. Joanna and I were one team, while the other team consisted of 3 cavers who would do the same trip but from the opposite direction.
Their plan is to rig and descend from 3 Windows cave, and exit ascending from Arch cave while de-rigging it.
Our team will rig and descend Arch cave, then exist from 3 Windows cave while de-rigging. Both team were meant to meet half way underground.
Our youngest caver (14yr) Mathew HArdie descends into Arch Cave – Oman
Drone shot getting out of Arch Cave – Oman
Descending into Arch cave:
Our exploration started midday on a Thursday. Joanna and I packed our food and water for the day, put on our PPE (personal protective equipment), grabbed the ropes, and rigged Arch cave.
Rigging requires the first person/team descending a cave, to install the ropes and anchors to use safely. We descended 150m underground, in a large and wide shaft that opens up to a large chamber. We spent some time looking around and taking pictures in the large room. The off we went deeper inside the cave, heading towards 7th Hole cave.
Going through Arch cave:
Arch cave is not an easy cave, it is definitely not for the claustrophobics out there… this 2+ km path will make sure your knees and elbows scream from agony. So don’t forget your knee pads. Half of this path is crawling on rocks, mud and dirt. The other half is a combination of some walking in dungeons, bouldering around large obstacles and climbing up and down some walls. But don’t think the latter is easier, this is where you need your focus to avoid falling into ditches.
Everything went well inside of the cave, up until we reached 7th hole cave. Joanna opened her Drum Barrel to take her jumper out, only to find out her drum barrel wasn’t sealed off properly and her jumper was completely wet. At this stage, Joanna’s clothes were completely wet due to the water we had to go thru, and she was cold. The wind in 7th hole cave didn’t help the situation, it made her shiver. I gave her my dry jumper, but her body was already fatigued and cold from within, one jumper won’t help much.
A negative aura has taken over us, Joanna had mixed emotions: sad, angry, frustrated… I tried to get her warm by wrapping myself around her without any luck. To my advantage, my body overheats quickly which dried off my shirt by then, so adding a warm shirt and jumper, plus body to body heat transfer, she slowly started to warm up. The situation improved; And hereafter, everything just worked marvelously despite the mental and physical challenges we faced in 3 Windows cave later on.
7 hours from the starting point, we reached the mouth of 3 Windows by 9:20 pm.
Going through 3 Windows cave:
3 Windows cave is not any easier than Arch, in fact it is longer, has harder crawling parts, loads of cold lakes to go thru and many tricky technical sections and traverses. And the plan of ascending it makes it more challenging.
We spent about an hour eating, resting and visiting the crystal chamber just by the entrance.
With both of us having recharged our energy, we made a move around 10:20pm with good spirit. We went thru the crawling part, with loads of jokes, failed attempts of taking pictures, and avoiding the stalactites on low ceiling that often digs your back like a spear. During this section, you will rarely be able to stand up, mostly on your knees or with arched back, either dragging your back behind you or carrying it on your chest.
The terrain changes from crawling in beautifully decorated dungeons to muddy terrain, then to dungeons full of gours pools (technical name: rimstone) with very low ceiling.
The path is an extreme adventure course without a finish line.
The Gem of 3 Windows cave:
Soon enough we got to the tunnels full of lakes and running water. I believe this is the best section of 3 Windows cave. It is a mix of walking and swimming in water. On few occasions, you have to dive underwater to pass thru some boulders in the way, or climb above the meanders. One of the most recurrent and tiring action you will be repeatedly doing, is emptying your bag from water every-time you want to get out of a lake. You have to flip your bag upside down and let around 15L of water escape, unless you wish to drag/carry a 25kg bag around.
It was fun, smooth, and loads of interesting conversations. I believe we bonded a lot during this cave especially at this section. We learned to collaborate more together to become a strong and faster team. The only thing that was worrying us, was not bumping into the other team yet. Based on the original plan, we were supposed to meet them at the crawling section around 3 hours before.
The bittersweet twist:
And then, we reach a 5 meter ascent on a free hanging rope, starting from the water. But guess what, the rope was not reachable. It was all tangled up in the ceiling where it had been rigged. That was hard to grasp at the beginning, and almost lost my temper. Especially when thinking if the other team was working according to plan, they would have pulled the rope down for us.
Not being able to ascent this section, means we have to reverse everything we have done so far. With minimal water and food, and exhausted; it means around 20 more hours of action in the cave. So while Joanna was still swimming towards the rope, I started attempting some desperate climbs on a dangerous and very hard boulder without any hope of getting to the rope. 5 minutes later, of funny comments and light conversations, I decided to tie a long sling to a biner and try to fish the rope out of the mess it was in. so I held on tight to a small hand pocket, stretched my leg to another far pocket trying to keep balance, and 3 attempts later, miraculously the biner hooked to the coil of rope and was able to pull the rope down. Phew !!! that was a relief, and hilarious to watch (I am sure Joanna will forever laugh at my attempts).
Around 2 am, we bumped into the other team. Their faces didn’t show positive signs. Ludmil, was solid but had a concerned face. Khajag looked knackered. Karim seemed like a broken soldier coming back from war. We discussed our trips epics, and convinced them to return back, as their plan to ascent Arch cave seemed to be unrealistic at this stage.
Karim, who had fell previously and injured his shin, and had to move slowly, joined our team. We moved slowly but steady with the exception of one long stop for re-fulling. At the beginning, we could always hear Khajag and Ludmil from a distance, however their voices disappeared. I could only think they have carried on with the original mission despite we discussed they won’t.
The updated plan was: Karim and Joanna start ascending on ropes when we reach the climbing sections, while I wait for Khajag and Ludmil to catch up with us, then I will de-rig the ropes as I ascent last. However, and after waiting for nearly 1.5 hours at the bottom of the pitch with no show, I decided to make a move as my body cooled down and I was getting stiff. I started my ascent and catching up with Karim and Joanna. Nearly at the second pitch, I heard Ludmil and Khajag at the bottom, it was a moment of relief to know they did not go to Arch and that they are also safe.
The final steps
19 hours later, we made it out of the cave. Our underground epic adventure ended here, with many learned lessons, great times, stronger team and great story to tell.
We have plans to visit these famous caves of Oman again and explore more. JOIN US 🙂