UAE Hiking - Ras al Khaimah and Dubai

Published: November 17th 2020
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The weather has finally started to turn nice, so that means lots of outdoor activities. Lately, that means hiking. Usually, I'm not a huge fan - it's just not my thing - but it has been nice to see all these different areas of the UAE from this perspective. It is so quiet and peaceful, with a little bit of history thrown in. Not to mention, it is pretty much automatically social distanced, especially since we tend to take the less popular hikes. And yes, we have mountains here in the UAE. A pretty large Hajar Mountain range actually, highest point being around 6,000 ft. So, here are three of my most recent hikes and a camping trip.

Wadi Shawka

I was asked if I wanted to go for a hike on a Friday, Joevet set this one up with Luke kind of leading the group. For some reason, I thought we were going to Fossil Rock, an area that is hiking through the dunes and up a rock for a view of the sea of dunes toward Dubai. That was how I had mentally prepared myself. No, we were going to Wadi Shawka, which I found out when I parked and it seemed weird.... I was still the second one to arrive. So, it was five of us who set out towards these very tall concrete stairs going up the mountain behind the dam! Very opposite of what I had planned for. It took me a while to climb - I hate straight vertical. :p When we got to the top, the views were well worth it! It was a popular place to be and hike, so there were people huffing and puffing up the stairs the entire way. Definitely a great work out! I think some people just climbed the stairs and went back down.

We turned to the other direction, and started to hike down the back side of the mountain to the wadi behind it where there were some 'pools' (stagnant water). Still pretty popular. Not crowded but a constant flow of people with their dogs who loved the pools. We stopped near the first little (and I mean little) pool where we had a snack and started to head back. However, we got off the trail and wound up on the gravel road. Once we had gone about 6 miles, M said she
Jebel Jais areaJebel Jais areaJebel Jais area

you can see me coming near the tree
did not want to walk any more. I so valiantly and humbly offered to stay with her while the rest walked back and L agreed to come pick us up. Otherwise, it was a great first hike of the season!

Jebel Jais area

My next hike, Luke and Ben invited me as it was Ben's first hike of the season and he needed to 'get in shape'. Neither of us knew what exactly that would mean. Boy was I about to find out. Ben likes to hike, likes to hike mountains. So, yeah he may have been slower for his pace, but I swear he could go all day. Fortunately, the guys were so incredibly patient with me. I forgot to eat breakfast and forgot to bring the food I laid out, so I was hiking on an empty stomach. They had said we would have lunch at the restaurant on Jebel Jais, so I figured we would be done around 2 or something and it would not be a big deal. Um, no.

This was a wadi near the highest point in the Hajar Mountains, Jebel Jais, but no, we did not climb that! Just a smaller mountain area nearby. We started off just after 7am and with the high sided wadis, we were kept mostly in the shade while we climbed over boulders and then along the slopes until about 10:30. Then, there were a few small trees, but otherwise no shade. We climbed and climbed along narrow goat paths and I kept stopping. 😊 Each time I thought I saw the top, it was another gradual slope when I reached it. Finally, we reached the peak around 12:30. We admired the view, seeing the new switchback road in the distance that led up to Jebel Jais, also where they have the longest zipline in the world.

It was a nice route. Along the way up, we passed by abandoned villages with terraced farm areas. Ben even got photos of old baskets and things like that. We descended slightly to the shade of 'his' tree on one of these terraces for lunch. We enjoyed this for about 40 minutes before heading down the other side of the peak. I was so happy. First to have actually made it, then to actually be leaving! On our way down, we encountered a goat farmer. Ben had
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the road to Jebel Jais in the distance
previously met him on previous hikes, but never took him up on the offer of chai tea until today, which was me casting the deciding vote. We went to his shelter where he poured us each a glass, with us pulling off our boots and sitting on the mat on the floor. He was from Pakistan, and soon his coworker came to join us. Their English was limited, but the guys soon bonded over a shared love of cricket. They told us they gathered rain water each year during the winter, and had giant blue barrels nearby full. They said during this time of year, they started to see hikers more often, so I guess it helps keep them from being too lonely.

They told us the 'hard' way down was steep, but would only be an hour. I said, 'safety first' - they insisted it was safe, laughing, but I worried; however, maybe I should have listened to them. The 'easy' way was an hour and a half so we opted for that one. Then we were like, was this an hour and a half for them? These guys who climb these paths daily? With their flip flops? Yeah, I was good for the first hour. We left their place around 2pm, and eventually made it down 3 hours later. I was done. At the end, when we were still climbing out of the wadi, with the sun setting, I was ready to just sit and wait for dawn. But we made it out... but where were the cars? Another 250m to the left, climbing the main road and back down again. Luke took my car keys and set off, allowing me to make it up the slope in my own good time, waiting on the concrete barrier with my boots off and waiting for rescue.

I could not drive. Obviously lunch was off. Ben went home. Luke drove me up the winding road in search of Pepsi, and we each downed two. It was interesting to see the people parked and camped at small parking areas (with restrooms) along the side of the road. Great views! I was on a weird adrenaline kick I think. Very weird mood the ride home, but so happy I did it! 11 miles, 9 hours, approximately 1,800 ft.

Baqal Village Hike

I was so sure after my last outing, I would never be invited to hike again. So, to my surprise, just a few days later I was asked to join the next hike on Saturday. This one looked marginally better, a little less distance and a few more people to join. We met near the mouth of Wadi Naqab after some confusing directions and a 90-minute drive. Luke said we would just visit the one village today, not the second one since it would be a little further. So, we hiked up a narrow wadi and a goat track, until we joined an unused, washed out road in very poor condition. We had seen two guys walking down with 4 donkeys as we started out, and they soon caught up to us on the way up. Embarrassing - I mean, they easily passed us without breaking a sweat! The whole hike was a climb up, very little flat, but fortunately it was on a road and was a hike there-and-back, so we knew coming down would be much easier than the previous week. But still, I struggled a bit. The road was most of the way, except for some boulders near the very top we had to clamber over. The geology was amazing: folds, tilted beds, small caves....You could see the village at the top of hill in the distance from one of our break points. Incredible.

After the boulders, there was another small section of poor road before we reached the top. You could see the semi-abandoned village nearby. Apparently, the previous inhabitants still occasionally come here during the winter months. But for now, it was very quiet. So, we found a large tree near a rock wall to have a little lunch and enjoy the view. I think this was my favorite of the hikes. I loved seeing the village which looked like it was well maintained, with rain barrels and locked doors, but just very empty. Perhaps, the two men with donkeys were heading to the next village...

Then it was time to go back down, which was fine on the roads, but hard on my toes on the boulders and goat paths, and areas the road was washed out, because it was a bit more steep than the previous week. It took us just under two hours, while it had been a four hour climb up. Overall, my Fitbit recorded 9 miles. But I felt much much better - I had brought food, plenty of water, and I was not that sore the next day!

Hatta Camping

I joined my friends for a one-night camping trip in the mountains near Hatta, which is part of the Emirate of Dubai, but about an hour and a half drive away. We have had a project there for about the last year straight, so I was familiar with the area, but did not know where to camp. My friend had taken the lead, but the location she was given was not a campsite, so we had to search for a new place well after the sun went down. We soon found an area near Hatta Wadi Hub, setting up on the ground in the middle of nowhere, so it was perfect. We had three tents, and plenty of scrub brush for a good campfire. It did get cold in the middle of the night! The stars were amazing and we enjoyed the tons of food we brought. Plus we played my favorite party game, Telestrations. I left early the next morning, but the rest went kayaking at the Hatta Dam and many went back the following weekend. Hopefully I can do some more camping myself this season.

Additional photos below
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17th November 2020
Baqal village

It sounds like you had good company on your hike. Looks like you had fun.

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