What do you do when a family friend visits UAE for a short weekend? After I run the Bahrain Marathon on Friday, I decide to take my buddy Lance to Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah to check out the Via Ferrata and Toro Verde, two new great outdoor adventures.
Via Ferrata opened last year and is an “Iron Path” along the side of a cliff at the bottom of Jebel Jais Mountain, just outside of RAK. Toro Verde is a big-ass zipline (World’s Longest!) that zooms from the top of Jebel Jais across a huge valley at really high speeds.
What is Acrophobia?
Via Ferrata takes place in a beautiful part of the Hajar Mountains, where we go through a safety briefing, get some equipment and head off on our trek. The concept of Via Ferrata is trekking while clipped into a metal cable safely secured to the side of a mountain, so that people may traverse steep and otherwise inaccessible cliffs. In RAK to add a little spice to the trek, they include three ziplines. The entire adventure takes about four hours, depending on how much you stop and take photos or pause to contemplate how to spell “Acrophobia” as you admire the cliffs at your feet.
Enjoying the view of Hajar Mountains
The Double Clip System
I love the Via Ferrata. When we first clip into the cable, nobody trusts it and we focus on not falling. We gradually begin to test the cable as we ascend, and become adept at the double-clip system we learned about at the safety briefing: you have two clips, and you only unclip one at a time as you move from section to section, so you are always clipped into the cable. Think about it – it’s really important. The Via Ferrata gives me the sensation of climbing cliffs and bouncing along the cliff walls like a prowling puma – but without endangering myself. Some of the route is pretty simple, but there are a few sections that I did not feel particularly comfortable with, even though I’m clipped in.
The system of three ziplines on the Via Ferrata allows us to test ourselves as they get higher and longer as we progress. Ziplining is like hanging from a rolling pulley along a cable which is secured between two cliffs, with some elevation under our feet. It’s also a great way to test your comfort level with the Via Ferrata team: they clip you into the zipline and tell you to step off the cliff into the thin air above a 120 meter cliff. That first step is a great challenge, but once you are moving you realize that you are at the point of no return. Easy theory, but wait until you are standing on the top of the cliff.
Going from Via Ferrata to Toro Verde
The Via Ferrata takes place at the base of Jebel Jais, and after we finish we drive up Jebel Jais to the Toro Verde staging area for the World’s Longest Zipline. Toro Verde is a completely different experience than Via Ferrata, despite some common themes – both take place at Jebel Jais and involve cables and harnesses. Via Ferrata is four hours of action with a group of eight that requires constant concentration and some physical challenge in climbing up and along a cliff. Toro Verde is much more of a passive activity for people looking for an adrenaline rush of crazy speed and altitude, and requiring only an absence of fear to participate. Holy crap.
The Fashionable Body Hammock
Toro Verde – taking off
What’s a Body Hammock?
Toro Verde shuttles people to the top of the mountain, where somebody dons a harness on you and brings you to the platform. The guys at the top give you a helmet and strap you into what is essentially a body hammock, which seems strange until you figure out what is going on. The body hammock is what they secure to the zipline and you are, in turn, secured to the body hammock, which prevents you from moving around. I visualize this system as an ingenious method to safely transport a sack of potatoes down the mountain on a zipline. Game on, I’m ready.
How do you Zipline?
For anyone new to ziplining, the zipline is 2.8km stretched from a platform at the top of Jebel Jais across the mountain to a little white dot which is actually a landing platform so far away. The concept is simple: you strap into the body hammock and the Toro Verge guys check your gear and then release you. You hold on to the rope behind your legs so your arms don’t flail about, which would cause you to rock back and forth. This seems so simple and the element that I am not describing is the speed. The mountain is steep and you pick up amazing speed so quickly.
Strolling down the Via Ferrata
How Fast is Fast? 156km/h
The guys at the top platform describe the experience as the closest thing to flying. Somebody compares it to bungee jumping. Who knows. After the guy released me and I begin zooming down the mountain, there is a loud hissing noise like an airplane propeller – it’s the sound of the pulley whirring and gathering momentum. After about five seconds of contemplating the meaning of life and reconsidering my priorities, I open my eyes: oh my god. I am just starting to fly over the first valley, suspending in a body hammock hundreds of meters above rocks and cliffs and my body tenses up completely to the point of cramping. Somehow I manage to take a couple deep breaths and let myself completely relax, which helps me get comfortable flying. I am going so fast that my face muscles are stretching from the wind, and the pressure is forcing my arms back. Afterwards I check my Garmin watch: my top speed is 156km/h. Cool.
Via Ferrata or Toro Verde?
The Via Ferrata and Toro Verde are definitely great day trips from Dubai. We love both of them. I will not recommend one over the other: they are different adventures for different people. I prefer the Via Ferrata, because I love climbing mountains and the sense of walking along the cliffs like a puma. Lance prefers Toro Verde because of the raw speed and sense of actually flying. Toro Verde is a full scale tourist operation that even had souvenirs for sale. Via Ferrata had great facilities and new equipment, but is intended for people wanting to spend a few hours climbing around rocks. Both are great adventures for people looking for some adrenaline in the mountains, but if you do both, do Via Ferrata first, then Toro Verde. ■
Words + Photos by: David O’Hara