Jebal Jais: Ain’t no mountain fast enough!

longest zipline opens in Ras al Khaimah
Geared-up and ready to go, the nerves kicked in right here

As the office’s action man I was keen to head back to Jabal Jais mountains for a thrilling 150kph record-breaking zipline ride. Photos by Anas Thacharpadikkal

I had set off at 6.30am from Dubai to the rocky emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, the morning temperatures barely hitting double figures on Jebal Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE. RAK is becoming the go-to place for thrill-seekers from mountain biking and kayaking to half marathons and Via Ferrata.
Looking at the map of my route on my phone, it looked like a child had taken a marker pen and scribbled on the screen for the 15km up the mountain to the meeting point. Weaving round and round the hairpin turns, the terrain looked like the perfect location to shoot a car commercial. (Later that day, I did spot a film crew chasing a supercar up and down the windy roads). As the sun crept up from behind the mountains and the mist slowly lifted, it revealed the most spectacular views of the Hajar mountains.

longest zipline opens in Ras al Khaimah
Spectacular views, the perfect location to film a car commercial

Stopping occasionally on the roadside to get some great snaps, I passed the base camp I had visited in December 2016 with Haitham Matter, CEO of RAK Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), to experience the UAE’s first Via Ferrata experience. Back then, Haitham has announced that he had bigger plans for the emirate’s adventure scene, revealing that he was planning to build the longest zipline in the world, rivalling The Monster, as it’s known, in Puerto Rico. At this stage, there was a lot of planning and testing still to be done to find the best location for the project, and he estimated that the project would take 12 months to complete.

FR_161120_P_V_Via_Ferrata_Anas
My first zipline experience in 2016

Just over a year later, I was there to see the record-breaking project officially open, once it had been certified by the Guinness World Records as the longest zipline in the world.
The project was a dream come true, Haitham tells me, with RAKTDA turning to Toro Verde, the team behind the Puerto Rican record-holder, regarded as the world’s leading zipline experts. In the space of a year, over six tons of cabling was installed and six months were spent drilling deep into the Hajar mountains to construct the launch platform for the two-part zipline.
The plans don’t end with this zipline, which costs about Dh9.2million and can carry 250 people per day (you can also do tandem rides – it’s only a matter of time before someone proposes on the zipline). In June, capacity will go up to 500 people per day, and by March 2019, the aim is to have night-time rides, a viewing deck, a restaurant and helipads, at an estimated cost of $5-6 million.
I was part of a small group, the first to brave the 2.83km, 150kph experience. Faster than the speed limit on Shaikh Zayed Road, longer than 28 football pitches, suspended 1,680m above sea level, the twin cables zip you along the first stretch to what appears to be a floating deck but is actually a glass platform, well-anchored in a corner of the mountain. From there you zip a further 300m down to the base.

longest zipline opens in Ras al Khaimah
Time to chill before my decent

A shuttle bus transfers you through security and up to the training centre, a small facility with a viewing deck, changing rooms and a café where I signed my waiver form and got strapped up. Stepping into the harness I was clipped and hooked; a helmet is popped on, a camera is clipped on and I was ready. With all the equipment on, manoeuvrability is limited and getting back into the van was tricky, as I tried not to head-butt my fellow passengers.
A five-minute drive later, we arrived at the launch platform. I had already ziplined 300m from over 38 storeys high from the Via Ferrata course, and yet this was a completely different experience. Walking to the platform my heart dropped – I’m confident that the platform is secure; what was unexpected was the glass floor. My heart rate increased as I could only just see the landing pad, my destination. The cables disappeared into thin air – and there was no way I was going first.

I had already ziplined 300m from over 38 storeys high from the Via Ferrata course, and yet this was a completely different experience

The team of instructors had come from Puerto Rico, bringing their expert zipping experience and pumping Latin music, and they seemed relaxed, joking with each other in Spanish. Me? I was really nervous. I’ve stood at the edge of the platform posed for pictures, even gotten used to the glass floor, but the anxiety was still there. Being clipped into what looks like a mountain rescue stretcher made movement very restrictive – everyone was waddling like penguins, laden down with all the straps and a backpack. (The empty backpack is used to carry the harness down from the first base). After a quick weigh-in, I stepped onto the platform for my safety check. I gently knelt down and swung into the launch position, I could feel my feet being grabbed and strapped in. Extra weights are added to maintain the momentum so you make across the entire length of the line. Clicking the Go-Pro on, the instructor shouted ‘have a nice flight’ as he pushed me off.

FINAL_CHOCK
Strapped in, just moments to go…

My body weight, combined with the extra ballast, soon picks up speed, as the wheels on the steel ropes drown out any other sound except the yelp I make as I fly over the edge into a massive drop and see the roads I had driven up earlier that day. My eyes began to water; I could feel my cheeks flapping in the wind as I sailed at approximately 150kph – although it didn’t feel like it. I’ve raced cars around tracks at top speed but this didn’t feel fast at all. With arms by my side, I could see nothing but air between me and the ground. My eyes by now are streaming, I could feel the tears fly off my face and it was getting hard to catch my breath. I was riding with the roof down, this was as close to flying I would ever get. Ahead I could see the suspended first base platform, the flight seemed a lot longer than the three minutes I’m told it lasts. A massive jolt hits me as I come closer to the platform, and I’m pulled in, clipped to the safety rope and unstrapped from the flying suit. I could feel the wind gently sway the platform.

I could see nothing but air between me and the ground. My eyes by now are streaming, I could feel the tears fly off my face

The team of instructors had come from Puerto Rico, bringing their expert zipping experience and pumping Latin music, and they seemed relaxed, joking with each other in Spanish. Me? I was really nervous. I’ve stood at the edge of the platform posed for pictures, even gotten used to the glass floor, but the anxiety was still there. Being clipped into what looks like a mountain rescue stretcher made movement very restrictive – everyone was waddling like penguins, laden down with all the straps and a backpack. (The empty backpack is used to carry the harness down from the first base).After a quick weigh-in, I stepped onto the platform for my safety check. I gently knelt down and swung into the launch position, and could feel my feet being grabbed and strapped in. Extra weights are added to maintain the momentum so you make across the entire length of the line. Clicking the Go-Pro on, the instructor shouted ‘have a nice flight’ as he pushed me off.

longest zipline opens in Ras al Khaimah
No turning back now, seconds to go

My body weight, combined with the extra ballast, soon picks up speed, as the wheels on the steel ropes drown out any other sound except the yelp I make as I fly over the edge into a massive drop and see the roads I had driven up earlier that day. My eyes began to water; I could feel my cheeks flapping in the wind as I sailed at approximately 150kph – although it didn’t feel like it. I’ve raced cars around tracks at top speed but this didn’t feel fast at all. With arms by my side, I could see nothing but air between me and the ground. My eyes by now are streaming, I could feel the tears fly off my face and it was getting hard to catch my breath. I was riding with the roof down, this was as close to flying I would ever get. Ahead I could see the suspended first base platform, the flight seemed a lot longer than the three minutes I’m told it lasts. A massive jolt hits me as I come closer to the platform, and I’m pulled in, clipped to the safety rope and unstrapped from the flying suit. I could feel the wind gently sway the platform.
Next up is the final part of my descent, a 300m suspended zip down to the base. Clutching on the hardness I was fighting the wind and desperately trying not to spin. I had been instructed to push on the harness to keep facing forward, but this was not an easy task. My arms were hurting, eyes streaming but within seconds I was back on terra firma; the instructor grabbed and steadied me that was it, it was over. Although it’s not a physical challenge, I was exhausted, grabbing some water I watched the final people take their flight, from the ground I now could appreciate the epic speed I had just travelled at. A recording-breaking first for the UAE, and a speed record for me.

ZIP FACTS

Age: No restrictions
Max weight: 150 kg
Min weight: 45 kg
Min height: 120cm
Price: Dh650 per person
Flight time: 2-3 minutes
Speed: 120-150kph
Bookings: toroverdeuae.com
More info: jebeljais.ae
You should wear: Athletic clothing, sturdy trainers or running shoes with good grip, sunglasses and sunblock.

Leave a Reply