Newsletter November 2000

Al Ain Newsletter November 2000


ENHG Hike up Jebel Qatarrah -- A Novice Made It!

by Jerry Buzzell

Twenty-two people assembled near the base of the mountain. Ten of us were novices, five were experts, seven were teenagers (hence both expert and immortal). Ibrahim Zakhar gave us basic instructions. "This is not a walk in the park." There is one difficult spot. Watch where you put your feet. Don't go alone, stay in a group.

As we stood at the bottom looking up, Jebel Qatarrah appeared as a massive cliff, with steeply rising rocky slopes up to the base of the cliff, a plateau at the top of the cliff, and a few bumps at one end of the plateau, which were the peaks to which we were heading. I wondered whether I was in over my head. How were we to climb this? The notice had said "easy to moderate"; where did the "easy" part come in?

For photos of this climb, click here.

Strolling up the wadi to the actual base of the mountain was reassuringly easy. Ibrahim explained that "quatarrah" means a dripping place. He pointed out potholes in the limestone formed by the action of water and stones. He pointed out the three main types of native trees in the area - acacia, sida, and ghaf - and explained how camels manage to feed on the acacia, despite the thorns. He then pointed us up the rock ledges and the climb began. It was 8:30 in the morning.

We were soon at the "difficult spot" which was a short steep chimney filled with stones. No big deal going up; a worry for coming down. Then it was steadily uphill along the rocky slope, following paths and attempting to keep going up and to the left. Magnificent views through eyes curtained by sweat. The sun was blazing. The temperature was rising. Stop to rest. Take a swig of water. Take some photos. Note the turds from feral donkeys, some with bluish coloration on the surface.

This initial stroll along and up the rocky slope seemed to last forever and always the question - how will we get up the cliff face? - was at the back of my mind. I hated to give up ground already climbed, but sometimes I had to. Pick the best path and hope it doesn't peter out. Another rest spot. Find some shade. Drink some water. Go on further. Nice view - take a photo. Move along. Where is everyone? Oh, there they are. Further along. Higher up.

After what seemed like an age, we finally stood above the rocky slope, on the edge of a valley, with a clear and fairly level path ahead of us. Brien Holmes explained that this valley slopes up to the plateau, but that we wouldn't be climbing that way. That was to be a route down. The path we took passed by a couple of large (shady) rocks, past acacia trees and euphorbia bushes, then into a rough creek bed with some magnificent ghaf trees. The walk along this wadi was mainly a matter of picking the best stones to use as steps up or down. At one difficult point, we came upon Bill Jones, who had remained there as a guide and helper. Finally we emerged where everyone else had already congregated, at a spot with a magnificent view - a perfect spot for a picnic. I took advantage of the break for an extra couple of swallows of my diminishing supply of water and a sandwich. And a rest. And more photos.

We were now ready to tackle the plateau. Two people decided (wisely) that discretion is the better part of valour and that they would remain and find their way back to the large shady rocks we had noted earlier. They were advised to wait for an hour and a half, and then to start.

The rest of us backtracked a short distance and then took another small rocky creekbed off to the right. And up. This was the route up to the plateau. It was a pull, but we finally were over the edge.

What a view from the plateau! There were the cars, tiny below. Desert. Oases and towns through the haze in the distance. Dry wadis below, outlined by vegetation.

The footing along the plateau was problematic, because of small flat shale-like stones along the surface. More donkey droppings. Some fireplaces. Some vegetation, both alive and dead. We were headed along the plateau, to where the ground slopes up toward a peak. The slope increased abruptly and the sweat poured off the body. No shelter here and temperatures above 40. Also the realization (not for the first time) that I'd not packed enough water and that my supply would run out before I reached the bottom (always assuming I would reach the bottom). But, ever upward, until I finally stood by the cairn at the top.

A feeling of accomplishment, only marred by the fact that there was a further peak on the other side and those who had reached this spot before we did were already on the way there. Still, I reached this cairn with Anne and David and we took each others photos with the feeling that we had accomplished something significant. Then Brien came along and confirmed our fears - down and up and down and up before the end. Not far, not hard. So we did it.

And there the twenty of us assembled. It was 12:30. The view was magnificent. This time we were looking along the Hafeet Mountain range on the other side from Al Ain, with the deep valley below and other hills and mountains arising from it. Numerous dry watercourses outlined by their vegetation. It truly felt like this was the top of the world.

I also felt as if I was near the end of the line, stamina-wise, but realized that we still had to get down off the hill and there was no easy way to accomplish that. Looking around me, I was pretty sure that I wasn't alone with my concern. The leaders consulted and decided on two routes down. Ibrahim was to lead one group down the valley, whereas Howard Trillo would lead the second group back the way we had come. I chose to follow the second group. So did the teenagers.

What can I say about the way down? One step at a time. Watch those rocks. Spare that water. Put the camera away. Down and up and down and up and down again and we were on the plateau. Along the plateau to the creek bed. Downward, along the rocks until finally we were on the creek near the lunch spot. Stopped to rest. Then along that creek. Another rest stop. At last we were out in the valley and approaching the rock where the two who had remained were waiting for us. Ibrahim's group arrived at the same time. All together, then, to the rocky slope. We could see the cars - they had seemed closer when viewed from the plateau above! Followed donkey paths ever downward and to the left, the way we had come. Came to a place with boulders for shade and stopped to rest. Brien's advice: it's down from here, leave a space between yourself and the person in front so if you slide, you don't take him as well. Bill's advice: if you fall, fall in toward the slope. Good advice. Onward and downward. We could see the valley we'd come up ahead and knew that we still had the "difficult spot" to go down. Last rest stop at a shaded overhang and above the defile. Drained the last water.

The "difficult spot" proved to be fairly straightforward as Howard had had the foresight to bring along a coil of climbing rope. With its assistance, the drop was done, the chimney was past, and we were at the bottom. Just the stretch along the wadi to the cars. And sighs of relief, flexing aching limbs, drinks of any water or pop we had left behind. Waiting until everyone was accounted for and then the outing was over. It was 3:30.

Some comments:

For a person experienced with climbing and hiking in these conditions, this is, no doubt, an easy to moderate hike. For the inexperienced (such as myself and quite a few others), the climb should be rated as "moderate to difficult". Certainly it was do-able for tyros but we would have appreciated more warning of what was in store.

Secondly, I'd like to commend the experienced climbers, Howard, Brien, Ibrahim, and Bill, for the way they led and looked after us. They were patient. They helped, when appropriate. They were knowledgeable. They gave advice. With this many inexperienced people, serious problems could have arisen. We went up, we all got down. We were thirsty and sweaty and scratched and ached from muscles the anatomists had forgotten about, but we all made it safely. And that, in itself, is an achievement.

Thanks guys.

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Arthropod members have successful day at Wadi Jazirah

by Dr. Brigitte Howarth

And then there were more....!

With the change of temperature each field trip is like a birthday - one never knows what wonderful surprises one will find and the excitement is almost too much to bear..... Well, at least, that's how I feel. Our last field trip took us to the oasis Jazirah, a gem amongst oases situated in a valley in the mountainous area behind Mahdah in Oman. Along the same road the Arthropod SIG has visited two further oases, Khutwah and Khabbain. Although we observed similarities in the range of arthropods, each site also yielded new records.

Our visit to Jazirah was particularly interesting as we were accompanied by Geoff Sanderson (Botany SIG co-ordinator) and Peter Cunningham (recording officer). Both shared their botanical and general knowledge with us and Peter pointed out some sites along the wadi where orchids grew. The collaboration between the SIGs is giving us a further dimension when looking at the environment and habitats we visit. It was interesting to listen to Geoff talk of pest species of one of the cultivated fruits on a previous field trip and then actually see the beasts he was referring to by removing the bark from a tree. Equally, Peter was able to point out and name many of the animals we saw, such as fish in the wadi pools, and also show us how to catch and identify toads!

On the way back through the wadi everyone also picked up litter resulting in several bags full in the back of my truck, a very satisfying sight considering how much cleaner we left the wadi.

The end of the trip brought a variety of activities, some of our younger members headed off for a swim whilst others took a walk through the oasis, photographing arthropods; one of the photogenic candidates being a scorpion that Peter found!

The trip was brought to a close with the closer inspection of some old houses and terraces above the wadi where evidence of copper smelting is visible.

Prior to this trip the Arthropod SIG also met for an indoor evening for frolics whilst pinning! Many of our younger members lent a helping hand in clearing some of the backlog of collected material mounting up in my freezer. The subsequent trip has filled the gaps again and so it will be time for a further pinning and identification evening on Monday December 4th from 8 p.m. onwards at my home. Everyone welcome. For further information please contact me either by phone (7614316) or e-mail (

A further field trip to an oasis is planned for November 24th. Please meet at the lower parking lot, Intercontinental Hotel at 8 a.m. for an 8.15 a.m. departure. Details on what to bring and location will be posted on the website later on this week.

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You just won't believe . . .

. . . what had happened to me this weekend - can't believe it myself and feel awkward about the whole issue. At the end of our walk, I felt something in my eye, but thought that it might be a hair or something. On my return to Al Ain my eye got progressively worse and late that night I could hardly stand it anymore.

Had a look with a torch in the mirror and found "larvae of some kind crawling around in my eye"! I was horrified to say the least as you can just imagine. Told [my wife] about it and she was obviously sceptical. I then proceeded to try and get them out of my eye with some success albeit a heck of a process accompanied with language from my side! Found them to be tiny maggots/larvae/worms of some kind. [My wife] helped me get some out - 6 in all - approximately 1mm in length. Needless to say I did not sleep a wink and at first light rushed to Tawam to let them have a look.

Was met by incredulous stares and "nudge-nudge...wink-wink" attitudes which did not go down well with me at that time of the morning. The ER staff found "nothing" in my eye, but mucus "that sometimes looks like worms sir" - I left for [a private medical practice]. He was more sympathetic and professional, but also found nothing in my eye, but did make an appointment for me with the Ophthalmologist at the American Hospital in Dubai.

I went home and dug out another larvae and left for Dubai with IT on ice as proof this time. Very professional outfit in Dubai I must say as well. They still did not manage to find anything in my eye however - although with my proof, etc. I did convince them. The Ophthalmologist (Nadim Habash) said that I was his 2nd such case in his career, the other being a Nigerian in USA - who was also seen as mad with his claim of worms in his eye! He suggested that my problem could be the larvae of some kind o fly!

I certainly could have passed something into my eye as I was collecting faeces and scratching around in bat guano and collecting snails which according to Gary [Feulner] are the host for the Bilharzia parasite in the Yemen, but nothing from UAE yet. So anyhow I was vindicated at last although told that the only cure was to mechanically remove the larvae as I had been doing with some antibiotic cream thrown in.

I am now typing with a taped close eye for ease - having already removed three more since being back from Dubai. Have a live one and some damaged others in the fridge and would like to have a look at them under your microscope if you don't mind - maybe you could even ID them for me! The latest larvae are quite small, but still caused enormous discomfort I can assure you. If its OK with you - send me an email - could I come over tomorrow (Sunday) evening to have a look at the things - what else can you suggest I do? Have you ever heard of such fly larvae entering human and/or other mammal eyes here locall?

Sorry about the gory details! Now I know why I am not particularly fond of arthropods!

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Emirates Natural History Group - Al Ain
2000/2001 Committee Nomination Form

The election of officers will be held at the Annual General Meeting of the Al Ain Chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group on Tuesday, 28 November 2000, at 8 pm. All current members are encouraged to attend and consider standing for Committee positions. The AGM will include the annual photography competition.

Nominations will be accepted for all Committee positions. Please complete this form and give to any current Committee member. You are free to copy as many of these forms as you need for nominating purposes.

To see (and print) a copy of the nomination form, click here.

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Schedule of speakers and topics for upcoming meetings

Date Subject Speaker
November 28 Annual General Meeting and Photography Contest ..
December 12 The Arabian Leopard Trust Robert Llewellyn-Smith
December 24 Christmas in the Desert ..

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Field Trips

Field trips are organized for members of the Al Ain chapter of the Emirates Natural History Group. If you are interested in joining one of the field trips, please sign up at one of the regular meetings. Please sign only if you plan to attend as numbers may be limited. Tour organizers donate their time, vehicles and expertise. Your cooperation is very much appreciated.


The individual special interest groups may be holding meetings or conducting field trips on relatively short notice. If you are interested in the work of any one group, please contact the coordinator as listed on the last page of this and every Newsletter.

Thursday November 16
Tour of Al Ain Coca-Cola plant

A tour of the Al Ain Coca-Cola Bottling Plant is scheduled for 10am Thursday 16 November. It should take 45 minutes to one hour. We will meet in the small parking lot of the Hilton Hotel at 9:30 to arrange rides for those who need them. Children are most welcome! The plant is 10 kilometers out from the Hilton on the Mezyad road. If you turn onto the Mezyad road at the falcon roundabout by the Hilton, keep going until you pass the Military College on the right. The Coca-Cola plant is ahead a ways on the left. Go up to the roundabout and turn back towards Al Ain for access to the plant's driveway. Watch out for camels being escorted across the road at the roundabout- it' sometimes well-trafficked!

Friday November 24
Khor Kalba, Fujairah

Canoe through the mangroves at Khor Kalba, on the east coast of the UAE! This is a unique experience as you meander through the mangroves, home of a variety of shore birds, mammals and plants. The plan is to meet at the Hilton in Fujairah and travel with the tour company to the site. Members can travel as a group to Fujairah (sharing transportation) or agree to meet at the Fujairah Hilton at noon. At press time, we were still negotiating a fee. Cost will be Dh180 per person. Two-person canoes and soft drinks provided. Please arrange your own transport and hotel. There is a limit of 34 on this trip; at press time, 26 had signed up. Please confirm by email ( or sign up at Tuesday's meeting.

What to bring: Camera, hat, snack, lunch (or can purchase at the Hilton)
Where to meet: Fujairah Hilton at noon(?), or convoy from Al Ain (meet at Hilton carpark at 9 am) (Phone number to contact for time is 04-346 0808.)

Thursday, Friday November 23,24Overnight camping, hiking at Masafi

We travel to Masafi almost every year because it is a beautiful and interesting place. The plan is to camp overnight Thursday and begin hiking Friday morning to an oasis, passing geology features, abandoned habitats, interesting flora and fauna. Please sign up at Tuesday's meeting or contact Ibrahim via email ( A maximum of 18 places. Four-wheel drive vehicles required; lifts may be arranged depending on availability. Please indicate if you need a ride or have room to spare.

What to bring: camping gear, food for three meals, lots of water, knapsack, hat, camera, binoculars, tent? (might be heavy dew), wood, torch, good hiking boots, shorts.
Where to meet: at 2 pm for 2:15 pm sharp departure on Thursday, 23 November at the Hilton parking lot.

Friday, December 8
Triple Crescent Event: Jebel Hafit

If it is December, it must be time to climb Jebel Hafit. Ibrahim will lead this year's challenge, his 18th ascend of the Al Ain landmark. At almost 1200 meters, Jebel Hafit is an interesting geological challenge, with upthrusts, folds and compressions to admire during the climb. We would like to limit the number to 12. Please sign up at the meetings only if you intend to join the climb so that others are not left out. Estimated time: minimum 7 hours. Difficulty: very difficult. The ascent will follow the 'tourist route' on the west side of the mountain.

What to bring: knapsack, three liters of water, hat, suncream, good hiking boots, snacks, camera, binoculars, shorts, reference books, gloves are helpful.
Where to meet: Ain Al Faydah parking lot at 6:15 am for a 6:30 sharp departure Friday, December 8.

Nizwa area, Oman

Geoff Sanderson will be leading a group into Oman to visit the Nizwa area and the many sites nearby including Jebel Shams, Misfah and Hamra. At the moment, this trip is fully booked. We may arrange a second trip to Nizwa in the new year.

(Do you have a field trip you are looking forward to, a place you would like to visit, but would like someone to join you? Write to )

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