“It’s always further than it looks. It’s always taller than it looks. And it’s always harder than it looks.” The three rules of mountaineering
Another guest post here from the other half, this time I asked him to share his latest UAE experience. Last weekend, along with our friend and two sons, he had a boys day out trekking in neighbouring Emirate, Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). A testosterone filled backpack adventure in the mountains that tested their stamina and sense of humour. Here’s his account of their day, I hope you enjoy reading about their outdoor adventure.
PS – I would just like to add the mountain trek we did in Bali was extremely challenging and the hardest physical challenge I have ever done (make of that what you will).
Just a long walk, right?
A very good friend of mine is a keen outdoorsman, he owns three camping knives and everything. He suggested doing a lads hike in RAK. I’ll be honest most of the hikes I have done in the past have been long walks with little fitness or skill required. The human body is designed to walk and most able bodied people can walk relatively long distances if required, certainly for four hours or so. This hike was expected to take eight hours and is approximately fourteen kilometres long. My thinking was eight hours is for ‘normal people’, ‘finely tuned athletes’ like us will do it in under six, hell we haven’t even got any girls slowing us down. Boy was I wrong! The last real hike that I had done was in Bali with the wife (read Discover Bali – The Mountains). Whilst that had some challenges, like a very early start, in the dark, a hyperventilating wife and a really slippery descent, it wasn’t physically challenging. Wadi Shah in RAK was a different story.
It was another early start, a pickup at 5:45am due to second son needing to do a border run on route to renew his visa. To say my friend aka the ‘party leader’ and designated driver was excited would be an understatement, he was ready and waiting at 5:30am and had only slept for an hour! Second son and I had our rucksacks packed with various layers of clothing in case of temperature differences in the mountains, the highest elevation point is a little over 1km. We packed a mid layer fleece and one of those ultra-lightweight down jackets. I read reviews on these from a lot of minimalist travel blogs and the praise they get is well justified, we didn’t need either thankfully as the weather was perfect for us. Although if we had have been delayed on the mountain by more than half an hour we probably would have needed both!
The party leader had given us a full itinerary and strict instructions to take plenty of water (5/6L) and a hat, wise words indeed. I can see why I’ll never be chosen as party leader AND he got to hold the knife, lighter and all the cool stuff ☹. I had made myself some overnight oats (another internet sensation) my top tip – freeze them if you want to eat them later in the day, (self-cooling and perfect temperature for lunchtime), that’s gold for you right there!
The start of the hike is the entrance to the wadi itself, we were uber excited and much banter was had, what can be better than going on a hike with my mate and two sons, proper bonding time. The wadi terrain is great, you get to scramble across the boulders and often need to involve your hands and upper body, choosing your route as you go, mine was always the path of least resistance as I was conscious of my lack of fitness and not knowing what lay ahead. Eldest son was bounding from rock to rock like Zebedee trying to get the best workout possible. Great fun was had and now my preferred type of terrain. Upon reaching the end of the wadi the ascent began, this involved looser, smaller rocks and an incline. We could also see another hiking party above us, being a tad competitive we decided that we would catch and overtake this party even though they were some way ahead (almost at the top off the mountain).
I had seen the map that the party leader had meticulously prepared with all the way points (This is not a marked hike and a number of different routes can be taken). The map proved absolutely invaluable in keeping track of where you were and where you needed to go, so I knew from it that we had still a long way to go. At the top of the climb there is a little village with old huts and a natural resting place for lunch. We did catch the other guys and we recognized them as the UAE Trekking club, they all had proper boots on and everything. Only our party leader with all the cool stuff was wearing the proper footwear. It was also obvious that one of their party was already struggling.
After the village it flattens out for a while passing through a cemetery which provides a much needed respite before the terrain climbs again. We decided to take a different route to the ‘experts’ or experienced trekkers and headed off to cross the ridge at a different place. After much map studying and various reassurances from each other and spotting the odd cairn (man-made trail markers) from previous trekkers we reached the highest point where there were the anticipated spectacular views and the celebratory nods, whistles and chat about ‘How cool are we!’
The route down started easily enough passing a water reservoir and onto another village, here a very pleasant local ambled up to us to say hello and offer any advice on the descent. After hearing that someone was helicopter rescued off the mountain yesterday and bearing in mind we hadn’t seen any of the UAE Trekking group since the cemetery we decided to take the local’s advice on the easy route down albeit the longer way. Believe me taking ‘the easier route’ when the group is awash with testosterone either showed levels of maturity I didn’t know we had or more probably the group of ‘finely tuned athletes’ were finding ‘the long walk’ pretty demanding.
The friendly local warned us that the first part down to find the path was a little tricky. Lesson learnt – when the guy who lives on the mountain tells you it is a ‘little tricky’ IT IS a little tricky. It was at this time that I became a little bit concerned, not overly but certain thoughts started entering my mind “How much light do we have left, What if I or one of the party gets injured, Why did I wear ‘free running’ shoes, How tricky is ‘a little tricky?”. This was the first time there was a bit of doubt in the group about direction and if we were really going the right way. Luckily because of the detailed planning that the party leader had put in beforehand we could quickly check the map and various bearings to navigate ourselves safely down to the wadi.
I have to say, this was now over six hours in, all banter had subsided, I realised that I needed to dig deep and negotiate my way back through the wadi safely. My energy levels were low and my muscles had been working for far longer than they are used to. I became quiet and focused after slipping and falling over in places that I shouldn’t have just because my muscles were fatigued and all the normal elasticity and strength had gone. My legs were no longer working as shock absorbers. Eldest son had already turned over his ankle, thankfully not too badly and it didn’t really stop him bouncing around too much as he led the way out.
We reached the car just before we started to lose light, as the sun drops below the mountain line. I felt a mixture of relief and self-gratification for finishing. It was a lot harder than expected and the combination of terrain and length of time challenged my endurance level. The hike was definitely the hardest I’ve done which only enhanced the satisfaction that comes with achievement and knowing you’ve pushed yourself. The cars from the other hikers were still there, we had beaten them down and their descent would become infinitely harder in low light.
I would definitely recommend Wadi Shah as long as you are reasonably fit and prepare well in advance – read the internet reviews of the route, prepare a map accordingly (with way points) and follow all standard hiking rules, appropriate gear and clothing and take plenty of water, nourishment and sunscreen.
All in all it was an awesome experience, we are very fortunate to have amazing mountains and scenery just two hours away from Abu Dhabi. I plan to do a lot more now that I have the taste for it. Not much, if anything beats a day of adventuring with your family and friends. A special thanks goes to the Party Leader for having the idea and doing such a great job planning it all. This weekend, it’s camping on the beach 🙂
For all of you interested in doing the trek yourself here’s our Party Leader’s map of the hike.
Unless otherwise stated, all views and photos on this page © Jo Brett 2016. All rights reserved. This guest post was written by Dave Brett and the photos are used courtesy of Firoze Khambata and Jack Brett. Thank you all for contributing.