As Ras Al Khaimah boosts it profile as an international holiday destination, the emirate’s new flagship adventure tourism product – the Via Ferrata (“Iron Path”) – opens to the public this week.
To make sure the facility offered up the heart-pumping adventure thrill-seekers demand, the Via Ferrata was first put to the test when the chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), Haitham Mattar, and the Emirati adventurers Huda Zowayed and Hamad Al Mazrouey tried it out.
To do so, they climbed, trekked and zip-lined the challenge set against the backdrop of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain peak, and all agreed it was an adrenalin rush.
Visitor numbers to the emirate are likely to increase from 740,000 in 2015 to 840,000 this year, Haitham Mattar, the authority’s chief executive, said recently, and the new attraction is designed to help that target be achieved.
By 2025, RAK aims to boost the number of visitors to three million, with an annual growth rate of 28 per cent, and tourism revenue to Dh7.2 billion from Dh1bn in 2015, Mr Mattar said.
The three-course Via Ferrata is the first commercial route of its type in the region.
“This product is a tremendous tribute to the country’s advancement over the past 45 years and in particular to its natural assets and its advancing tourism industry, which is a key pillar in the UAE’s economic diversification,” said Mr Mattar. “It was an exhilarating experience, one which definitely gets the adrenalin flowing and which, we are convinced, will attract a keen following from the local, regional and international adventure tourism segment.
“With RAKTDA currently developing Jebel Jais into an adventure and activity tourism hub, the rugged terrain already plays host to extreme climbing, hiking, driving and trekking enthusiasts. For the less adventurous, Ras Al Khaimah’s natural mountain beauty will soon be available to enjoy from observation decks that are being planned for the Jebel Jais peak.”
The Via Ferrata spans the rocky facades of Jebel Jais, which rises to more than 1,900 metres and is part of the rugged Al Hajar mountain range where the average climate is 10°C below mean Arabian Gulf temperatures.
“I found the whole experience invigorating,” said Ms Zowayad, an international adventurer from Dubai. “This Via Ferrata means we don’t have to look outside of our home country for experiences to test our capabilities, grow our personal confidence and build resilience, which are just some of the benefits I have found from adventure travel,” she said. “There’s plenty research now that shows that adventure activities actually deliver powerful physical and mental health benefits and the beauty of this Via Ferrata is that a wide range of ages and abilities can attempt it.”
Ras Al Khaimah’s 470m-long Via Ferrata is unique to the region in that it comprises three individual start and finish points, as well as three zip-lines measuring 50m, 60m and 300m.
“I loved it,” said Mr Al Mazrouey. “The whole experience is a cross between rock climbing and mountaineering. It gives outdoor enthusiasts a chance to reach the same high, vertical faces as rock climbers, without the same strenuous training or severe risk because of the metal-ladder rungs fixed into the rocks and the cable to which you are secured. This is where accessible adventure meets the extreme,” adds the seasoned climber who has scaled some of the highest peaks in Africa, Asia, Scandinavia, Australia and Europe.
The standard and easiest course, the Ledge Walk, will take a group of up to eight adventurers around four hours to complete. It starts with a gentle climb through sedimentary rocks, goes into a vertical stretch which leads to the 50m zip-line. A gradual slope then leads to the 60m zip-line before another path leads to 300m zip-line for the journey back to the middle section. From here the return back to the wadi is about 225 metres long.
The middle, technical route – the Middle Path – will take around 3.5 hours and comprises three vertical sections and a horizontal traverse. It rises 60m from the wadi bed to join the Ledge Walk before the ﬁrst zip-line. After completing the Middle Path, guests continue on the standard route including the three zip-lines and a walk out.
The higher, vertical route – Julphar Scare – will take around 1.5 hours. This is the most direct route to the long zip-line. It is a 120m ascent using ladders through five different vertical sections with adjoining horizontal sections.
“All visitors will need to prove themselves on the standard course before being allowed on one of the more technical routes,” said Mr Mattar. “It’s a unique opportunity to experience the dramatic Jebel Jais scenery at just under 400 feet – that’s the height of a 30-storey building.”
“This is the first in a range of mountain, activity and adventure products we are developing specifically for nature and adventure seekers,” he said.
“Already on the drawing board is the world’s longest zip-line and adventure park, which we are planning to launch in Q4 2017. We believe the Via Ferrata and our planned adventure tourism products will have strong appeal with both the domestic and overseas activity tourism and sports market and we are currently engaging source market trade partners who want to join hands with us in developing a niche sector which leverages Ras Al Khaimah’s spectacular Al Hajar mountain resources.
“Our Vision 2019 includes a roadmap for innovative hospitality concepts which take advantage of our destination’s unique natural assets – including amazing coastline, stunning mountain ranges, hot springs and expansive desert. We have identified these areas as excellent opportunities for investment in luxury mountain resorts and wellness retreats,” said Mr Mattar.
“Ras al Khaimah’s natural and cultural assets are well positioned to target key high-yield global tourist segments including wellness seekers, active adventurers and cultural explorers. We can offer these visitor segments adventure through mountain activities, 7,000 years of historic sights and authentic Arabian culture, as well as other unique features such as hot springs and access to untouched nature. With Ras al Khaimah’s natural assets offering popular hiking, driving and trekking, we are welcoming amateur and professional adventurers on their own private trips and at large-scale events such as the GCC Hiking Championship and North Face Run,” Mr Matter said.
“Via Ferrata is the first in a line-up of adventure and sporting challenge projects we have planned including the longest zip-line, cycling tours and unique accommodation concepts, to capture a slice of the increasing demand for activity, nature and adventure-based tourism.”
Tourist groups, who will be offered complimentary transfers from and to Manar Mall, Ras Al Khaimah, can choose from the three routes in twice-daily supervised tours starting at 8am and 1pm which come with a price tag of Dh400. Bookings for the Via Ferrata challenge can be made via www.jebeljais.ae.
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