Outside, it was just another baking-hot summer day. But where we were, standing in a pool of water amid high canyon walls that prevented the sun from reaching this spot for more than a couple of minutes a day, it was, surprisingly, a little chilly.
This had seemed like an impossible prospect three hours earlier, when the car's thermometer peaked at 48° Celsius as we drove across the Madam plain on our way towards the Hatta township. Even after we drove into the mountains and walked down to the Hatta Pools, the rock was too hot to touch.
Within a few minutes, we'd entered a different world. A cool one, in both senses, and with a dash of adventure thrown into the mix.
I first did this trip four summers ago, with my contrarian nature rankling against being told by everyone it's impossible to do anything in the UAE's outdoors during the hottest part of summer. A bit of research suggested Hatta Pools was within range of a day trip and had potential to prove the naysayers wrong.
That first trip had been in the middle of the day, when temperatures hit 50°C. In the deeper lower gorge, where at one point the canyon walls meet at the top to create a short cave, it was like being in air conditioning, but after a final swim through a pool, it was so hot on the walk back that by the time we arrived at our cars, every stitch of clothing we had on was dry.
Since then, I've gone back a couple of times every summer, setting off about 4.30pm, after the hottest part of the day.
The upper canyon
The Hatta Pools are a popular day trip in the UAE but the focus is always on the pool itself, where dozens of people gather to swim, particularly on Friday afternoons. But just above and below the pools are a pair of canyons, both cleaner and cooler than the main pool.
Start with the upper canyon, which is much easier than the lower one. Facing upstream from the main pool, climb onto the terrace on the left hand side of the pool and follow it along for 10 minutes or so until you reach a point where you can clamber easily down into the bottom of the wadi, which is probably dry at this point.
The wadi narrows soon enough and becomes noticeably cooler when it goes through a series of short drops. As the water carves its way through the rock, you'll notice pools of clear water and occasional sections of gravel where the water flows underground. If you struggle on the first one, it's best to turn back because those that follow are slightly more difficult.
After more of the same, you'll reach the top of the main swimming pool, which will be obvious but not for good reasons: unlike the previous pools, the water has a greenish tinge and there's rubbish floating in it.
Needless to say, keep your head above the water as you swim 150 metres to the far end of the pool, where the bathers are. Try not to be in the path of swimmers divebombing into the pool from the cliffs above, who don't expect anyone to swim down the pool.
The lower canyon
The lower gorge is significantly more challenging than the upper one and also requires more of a commitment. If you're up for an adventure that tests your outdoor skills, it's also much more fun.
From the main pool, head downstream on the flat wadi bed until the gorge resumes, carved into the rock, and then plunges into a pool 5m below. You can clamber down to the left to reach a jumping point about three metres above the pool (the pool was 2-3m deep in mid-July), or you can awkwardly scramble down further along the left of the canyon to a point where you can step easily into the downstream end of the same pool.
From here, there are more series of pools, constrictions and gravel walks until the walls of the canyon meet at the top, creating the cave where temperatures are always comfortable, even in the height of summer. Ahead is an ancient rockfall - climb over it carefully or scramble through between the boulders at water level on the right. This will bring you to the final pool that goes through another small cave, after which the gorge opens wide. Continue downstream until you reach a place where you can exit easily on the left hand side and walk back to the cars.
Keep in mind
The gorges at Hatta Pools are prone to flooding. Don't start either section if there is any chance of rain anywhere upstream. Every time there's a storm, the canyons change and what was a dry walk on gravel can become a swim, or vice versa, and a pool that was safe to jump into can become dangerously shallow.
Where they are
The Hatta Pools are across the border in Oman but you can get through with your passport or Emirates ID card without having to pay for an Oman visa. It's not signposted from the Hatta township but the residents all know where they are. Full directions can be found in the UAE Off Road guidebook or via a Google search. The road is unsealed for the final five kilometres; cars can reach within 500m of the pools. Four-wheel drives only go another 400m.