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Race to the Summit – Jebal Shams Challenge 2018

Rakhi Chu392 views
Jebal Shams Challenge

Dear Explorer,

Did you hear about the awesome Jebal Shams Challenge that took place in Oman from April 19th-21st? The ub-cool team was on site with our sleeping bags, jackets, and game faces – and, what an amazing time we had!
A huge thank you to Husaak Adventures for organizing the 3rd installment of this annual event at Sama Heights Resorts.
If you are considering to sign up for 2019’s challenge and need some convincing, read on to see what it is all about. We guarantee you’ll want to take part next year! We have photos of the beautiful campsite and interviews with the winners, organizers, and the world-class international speakers who flew in for the ub-cool TALKS.


Each participant takes home these medals | Photo Credit: RC

What is the Jebal Shams Challenge?

Jebal Shams is the highest peak in the Arabian Gulf reaching a harrowing 3,028 meters. The mountain boasts some of the safest trekking trails in the area making it ideal for Husaak’s Jebal Shams Challenge.

The challenge to hike up the mountain’s summit wins cash prizes – the first man and the first woman will each receive 1,000 Omani Rials (USD $2,725 / AED 10,000)! But, if you’re not in it to win it, the challenge is a fun day hike up and down the mountain for even beginners; simply go at your own pace, hydrate, and make sure you bring your camera along because there are spectacular views!

The Campsite at Sama Resorts


Camp City!

Tents were sprawled throughout the Sama Heights Resort provided with a certain class of ticket. Some opted to bring their own tents or splurge for the cabins with attached bathrooms. Speaking of facilities, there were spacious washrooms available with warm water | Photo Credit: RC


Entering the campsite, this detailed map shows you (left) the hiking trail for the race and (right) how the camp is laid out | Photo Credit: RC


View of the campsite | Image Source: Husaak


Wondering if you’ll be cooking your own food? Think again! 

Enjoy buffet dining in the comfort of a warm hall. The warmth of this space was much welcomed during the cold nights and mornings | Photo Credit: RC


Facts & Figures

On their 3rd year, this challenge saw more people head up to the mountains for the 3-day weekend event: April 19th-21st.

  • 195 participants registered, but there were 290 at the campsite
  • 19 countries were represented
  • 55 Husaak Team members: guides, medics and volunteers
  • 40 support team members from Sama Heights Resort and Sumri Transport
  • 19 different countries were represented
  • 41% female – 59% male
  • The youngest participant was 8 years old
  • The oldest participant was 68 years old
  • 121 reached the summit (62% of the participants)
  • 55 reached the midpoint (family category)
  • 90% completed (both categories combined)

Country List

The Incredible Views

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The iconic stage at the peak that makes for phenomenal photos is where everyone wants to reach. Posing carefree is para-triathlete, Shaikha Al Shaiba, who flew in from Bahrain | Image Source: Shaikha Al Shaiba


This was my first time to Jebal Shams and I had to stop to admire the view | Photo Credit: Michael Chu


The massive Wadi Nakhr, also knowsn as the “Grand Canyon of Arabia,” reveals itself when you reach Station 3. They call this spot the “IMAX View” – a fitting name for a spectacular spot! | Photo Credit: RC

Ready, Set, Go!

With the sun low on the horizon and a cool chill in the air, at 6:30 am the race began and off they ran! Participants were given 3 litres of water each and a lunch bag containing a sandwich, apple, orange, and some snacks. You’re encouraged to bring your own snacks as well.


The schedule for Day 2 – Race Day | Photo Credit: Adam Al Rashdi

Every kilometer was marked by a station attended by Husaak staff. Your bib number as noted as you passed by to ensure everyone was accounted for so no one would be left on the mountain after dark. There were two stations that offered refreshments and a medic to attend to injuries.

The Husaak team kindly offering coffee and tea to everyone | Photo Credit: RC


Senior consultant trauma surgeon and intensivist, Dr Abdullah Al-Harthy, was on site as the ‘medic on the mountain’ who helped participants (like myself!) complete the challenge | Photo Credit: Anas Balushi


Looking back from around 4.5km into the hike, the campsite is way off in the distance. If you’re not racing, then the fun is meeting people from all over the world. Everyone helped one another sharing their food, water, and hiking poles | Photo Credit: RC

 The Winners!

Challenge Results 2018 JSC The full list of results can be found at:

#1 Male Winner: Saleh Ali Abdullah Al Saidi – 1hr, 35 min

Hailing from Ibri, a city in Oman close to the mountains, this fresh graduate trained hard and came to Jebal Shams with the goal to win the challenge. And, that he did! In an incredible 1 hour and 35 minutes, Saleh completed 10km up the rugged terrain over sharp stones, boulders, and along sheer cliffs to win the prize money!

[Interview transcribed from Arabic to English]

ub-cool: Do you hike a lot?

Saleh: Yes, I do – on a daily basis. I also cycle a lot around 70k twice a week.

ub-cool: You appeared very comfortable running up and down the mountain. Did you train a lot? How many times have you hiked up Jebal Shams?

Saleh: I trained a lot – for about one month because it was my goal to win the challenge. I was hiking on a daily basis under the sun in the hot weather to win. In total, I tried to summit Jebal Shams three times but only reached the summit twice.

headshot copy

The winner seen here enjoying refreshments at the campsite with a medal hanging round his neck | Image Source: Saleh Ali Abdullah Al Saidi

ub-cool: Will you compete again next year to defend your title?

Saleh: Absolutely. I will come back to defend my title; the money is definitely a great incentive. I entered on the budget pass so I brought my own tent and food. I am proud because I achieved my goal to win; and, also, I beat the UK competitor, Flash Gordon, who came in second place and who runs marathons, hikes, etc.

ub-cool: What are your favourite outdoor activities?

Saleh: Hiking, running, and cycling.

ub-cool: What do you think of the Jebal Shams Challenge and would you recommend it?

Saleh: It is a very good event because it makes you challenge yourself before challenging other competitors. It makes you improve your patience and skills. I would recommend this challenge to friends because it is not as difficult as I imaged it to be. It was normal hiking and not running; so, essentially, anyone can participate to enjoy if they do not want to race.

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The winner celebrating at the peak! | Image Source: Saleh Ali Abdullah Al Saidi

#1 Female Winner: Oksana Barraez – 3 hr, 45 min

Based in Oman but originally from Venezuela, this material engineer in the Oil & Gas industry (and mother of identical twin boys!) reached the summit in an amazing 3 hours 45 min!
And, you’ll never imagine but she won the 1st-place prize money… essentially on one foot! The sole of one of her hiking boots ripped right off!
ub-cool: What did it feel like to hike with the sole of your shoe flapping off? 

Oksana: The whole sole of my very old hiking boots came off and this happened just after station 5 (5km) – so there was still 5 more stations to go. The inner sole kept holding up for about 500 m but then only my thick sock helped me out. The terrain in Jebel Shams is quite rough and where there are no rocks there is some gravel and thorns. I had to stop few times to remove some of them as they kept sticking in my sock.

“Once I reached the summit, I applied some first aid to my boot using an elastic band kindly provided by the Hussak team; albeit unstable, it managed to hold up the sole (more or less – with a few repairs along the way) until I got back!”

Oksana boot

Here is the boot, held together by mere first-aid material, on which Oksana won the race! Incredible! | Photo Credit: Medina Ilyassova

ub-cool: Did you cut your foot on the rocks?

Oksana: I was lucky enough not to cut my foot although it was quite sore when I returned to the camp.

ub-cool: How long have you been in Oman?

Oksana: I have been in Oman for just over a year and I left Venezuela in 2005. My job has taken me to amazing and interesting places. Prior to Oman, I worked in Angola and Azerbaijan.

ub-cool: Are you an avid hiker?

Oksana: I used to hike and I must confess that I have not hiked much at all since many years ago; but, Jebel Shams has ignited that again for sure. I was so amazed by the beauty of that place and I can see that I will be exploring the area on the way forward. Since I have not hiked in a while, I have been doing some strength and conditioning training in the UFC Gym in Muscat and that has helped greatly in my overall fitness!!


Thrilled with her win, Oksana poses at Station 5 on her way back down for me to snap a photo of her | Photo Credit: RC

ub-cool: Are What are your favourite outdoor activities?

Oksana: I enjoy kitesurfing and running the most. Swimming and biking are part of my outdoor activities too.

ub-cool: Will you compete again next year to defend your title?

Oksana: Definitely! However, I should prepare better… (new boots to be acquired shortly too).

ub-cool: What do you think of the Jebal Shams Challenge and would you recommend it?

Oksana: It was a fascinating experience. It was my first time at Jebel Shams and I could not stop admiring the beauty of the place when I was driving up to the camp. The challenge was very well organized and the staff were so friendly and helpful. I truly loved the experience. Plus, all the fellow hikers were so enthusiastic and they kept cheering me up when I was meeting them either on the way up or the way back.

“I would certainly recommend the Jebal Shams Challenge. It has it all: stunning landscape, great ambiance, and a great challenge.”

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Oksana at the iconic view point standing proud! | Image Source: Oksana Barraez 


ub-cool TALKS’s Inspirational Speakers

For this 3-day event, ub-cool TALKS brought 4 inspirational speakers to give talks and meet the participants. Three flew in from Belgium, Dubai, and Bahrain, while one is based in Muscat, Oman. We caught up with these four incredible individuals to hear about their experience at the Jebal Shams Challenge weekend.

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ub-cool founder, Medina Ilyassova (right) with Gertjan Verdickt (left) and Manal Rostom (middle) in Muscat before heading to the mountains for the challenge | Image Source: Medina Ilyassova 

Gertjan Verdickt

This Finance PhD candidate gave an engaging talk about how he runs marathons to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. He described how incredibly difficult it was to run and come in 3rd place at the Antarctica Ice Marathon last year.

“I did meet amazing people. I was unable to attend the inspirational talks of the others, but this idea was something I liked as well. It was very well organized. The surroundings are beautiful, so the (short) hike was really worth it.

After his TALK on the 2nd night, Gertjan rushed to the airport to get back to Belgium in time to run a marathon + 16km! Anticipating his upcoming races in Europe, Gertjan decided to do a short hike of 4km on Jebal Shams to reserve his energy.



Gertjan hosting his ub-cool TALK at the campsite to intrigued listeners on Day 2 after the challenge | Photo Credit: RC

Shaikha Al Shaiba 

This Bahrani para-triathlete and businesswoman competes in the toughest challenges showing the world that even with one arm she can achieve greatness. She hiked up Jebal Shams in only 4 hrs 55 min!

“I will try to come back again next year. I definitely recommend people try this challenge in 2019 it is a different kind of challenge compared to the races I am used to doing. You get to chill and meet people people from all over and spend some quality time with everyone.”

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This smiling pair is Shaikha Al Shaiba and Ali Husain, founder of Husaak Adventures | Image Source: Shaikha Al Shaiba

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Waving the Bahraini flag with pride, Shaikha smiles high up on Jebal Shams | Images Source: Shaikha Al Shaiba

Jonathan Shubert

Based in Muscat, Oman, this British World Record holder for cycling from Muscat to Salalah in under 48 hours gave an inspirational talk to the participants about his experience as an endurance athlete and cycling around the world.


Jonathan Shubert proudly holding a gift he received after his ub-cool TALK from Oman’s Minister of Environment | Photo Credit: RC

“The Jebel Shams challenge showcases Oman’s premier mountain in all its glory. The Husaak team does a tremendous job of marking and marshalling the route so that all you have to worry about is enjoying the views and getting to the top!”


Jonathan giving his ub-cool TALK at the campsite at the end of Day 1 | Photo Credit: RC

“Pit yourself against the local mountain boys and see if you’ve got what it takes to keep up with real mountain goats. What ever your level of fitness, you’ll find a challenge on Jebel Shams”



Hooked by Jonathan’s speech, participants relaxed around the fire | Photo Credit: RC

Manal Rostom

The first Nike Hijabi feature athlete & Run Coach, as well as the founder of the “Surviving Hijab” Facebook group, attended the event and really enjoyed the hike.

“I really liked the event because it was a cozy, fun getaway that is friendly to all ages. You don’t need to be super fit; you just need to watch for time because I almost ran out of the time to reach the top. I would definitely recommend to everyone – it is very easy to be by anyone of a basic fitness level. And, I love that there were many moms who brought their kids as well.


At the IMAX Viewpoint, Manal stands between ub-cool’s Adam Al Rashdi (left) and Medina Ilyassova (right) | Manal Rostom


Manal added Jebal Shams to her list of mountains that she has conquered! | Image Source: Manal Rostom


The Organizers – The Dream Team!

We were so impressed with this event we had to find out more from the team that runs Husaak Adventures: Ali Husain, Founder, and Khalid Jaffar, Partner.
ub-cool: What is the goal of the event? 

Ali: The Challenge is a continuation of Husaak Adventures’ efforts to brand Oman, and Jebal Shams in particular, as THE adventure destination, while also establishing Jebal Shams as the premier mountain challenge in the entire region. And, I think we’ve achieved that this year.

ub-cool: As the organizer, what part of the event did you enjoy the most and why?

Ali: I was at the summit for most of the afternoon seeing everyone push themselves to reach the top. Watching the Husaak team and the other participants encourage them and push them to get there was probably my favorite part of the whole weekend.


Ali Husain making his way up to the peak | Image Source: Husaak

Khalid: I was lucky enough to be at basecamp to greet a lot of the adventurers when they came back down. To see the looks on their faces as they received their medals and hearing each of their stories was so gratifying.

“We always aim to give people an experience that’s as much about exploring themselves as it is about exploring nature; and, seeing the effect of that first hand is always such a treat!”

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 Khalid Jaffar seen here in his favourite place: the outdoors | Image Source: Husaak

ub-cool: For next year, have you planned to do anything different, or is too early to ask?

Ali and Khalid: It’s still early, but we’re always exploring ways to add more and more to each of our events and to our trips. Next year will definitely be bigger and even better!

ub-cool: How many team members were on site this past weekend?

Ali and Khalid: The Husaak Team was about 55 strong, including guides, medics and volunteers.

ub-cool: How many of the team are full time and how many are volunteers?

Ali and Khalid: Our core team now stands at 27 members, with another 20+ volunteers.

ub-cool: How long did it take to set up the tents, flags, etc., prior to Thursday April 19th?

Ali and Khalid: The team was on the trail every day in the week leading up to the Challenge.

ub-cool: You mentioned that your team is the only all-GCC-member tour operator in the GCC – is that correct?

Ali and Khalid: Our team is made up entirely of people from the GCC. We all come from different professional backgrounds, brought together by our love for the outdoors and a deep desire to share that with the people joining our adventures. And, having guides who are from the region give all our adventures a local insight that’s unique. There are 7 of us that are full-time Husaak right now, while the rest of the team maintain their “other” careers and guide trips on weekends and days off.

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The Dream Team!

This crew kept everyone safe and happy at this amazing event. 


Husaak Adventures received tremendous support from their sponsors to execute yet another amazing mountain challenge.


The event’s list of sponsors | Photo Credit: RC

And, many thanks to Oman Air for supporting ub-cool and being our official airline sponsor transporting our inspirational speakers to Oman for the event. Also, thanks to the Park Inn Muscat for their continued support in hosting our guests at their hotel.

ub-cool’s official sponsor, Oman Air, flew in Gertjan Verdickt (featured above) from Belgium for this event | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan

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Gertjan and Manal with the wonderful staff from Park Inn Muscat, who hosted the ub-cool TALKS speakers while in Muscat | Image Source: Park Inn Muscat


Fun Photos from the Amazing Weekend

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Along the hike, we came across these types of motivational plaques! Thanks Husaak for the energy boost! | Image Source: ub-cool


ub-cool’s Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, making new friends | Photo Credit: Heather Duncan


The fun of this Challenge is that you stop for fun moments and great shots! ub-cool’s Medina Ilyassova and Adam Al-Rashdi stop for yet another shot | Image Source: Adam Al Rashdi 

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Shaikha Al Shaiba and a participant stop for a photo | Image Source: Shaikha Al Shaiba


The ledge was calling my name! | Photo Credit: Michael Chu


Usama Barwani enjoying the views | Photo Credit: Anas Balushi


American Alex Abel, based in Saudi, flew in for this challenge and left a happy camper! | Photo Credit: Anas Balushi

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Shaikha Al Shaiba and the Husaak team | Image Source: Shaikha Al Shaiba


ub-cool friend, Michael Chu (facing his fear of heights) mustered his strength and came as close as he could to the ledge | Photo Credit: RC

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Definitely not afraid of heights, the female winner of the race, Oksana, poses at the summit of Jebal Shams! | Image Source: Oksana Barraez

If you were at the Jebal Shams Challenge 2018, let us know your experience in the comments below! 

See you all next year! 

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Rakhi Chu
Explorer, writer, and chief editor with a passion to travel the world, delve into history, and just write write write! Three continents later, this Canadian lives in Dubai. Recent Adventure: Jordan - Jerash, Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea. Bucket List: Caves - Hang Son Doong (Vietnam) and Krubera (Georgia).

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