The tough but terrific hike to UAE’s Leopard Canyon

Despite being billed as an 'easy beginner’s hike', trekking to the village in Leopard Canyon was a challenge on what turned out to be the hottest weekend of the year.

Haneen Dajani hikes to a village in Leopard Canyon. PJ van Schalkwyk for The National
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LEOPARD CANYON, RAS AL KHAIMAH // If you want to see RAK’s ancient village dwellings, be prepared to hike hard for it.

Despite being billed as an “easy beginner’s hike”, trekking to the village in Leopard Canyon was a challenge on what turned out to be the hottest weekend of the year.

Our group met on the road to Jebel Jais at around 8am, climbed into 4x4s and took a rocky 20 minute drive towards the start of the trail.

Along the way, we were greeted by mountain goats, their skinny frames barely supported by sparse grazing patches.

We hit the trail at around 9am and started hiking. It started off fairly easy.

But halfway up, about an hour in, dehydration started to kick in a bit. I was determined to catch up with the first group making their way to the village, so I did not take any breaks during the first part.

Altogether the trek is 7.85km and takes about four and a half hours.

Although this is my seventh hike of the year, the climb does take it out of you.

My occasional swigs of water and the floppy beach hat were not enough to fend off the blazing sun and rising heat.

Just before reaching the first rest stop, I started to feel nauseous, so I put down my backpack, pulled out my electrolytes and the inflatable pillow I had stuffed in there and lay on a rock.

But just as I was telling my friend that I’d drop my macho act and slow my pace, I saw a spectacular view above me.

Trees dangled from the tall, dark mountain above, like a scene from a fantasy story.

A small waterfall also winds its way down the mountain, so I got up and made my way to shower under it and cool down.

After we all had our fun with the water, we were briefed on the safety instructions to go up to the village.

When there was nothing to hang on to, we were told to keep our feet and heels steady and press hard against the ground.

I don’t remember exactly how we got up there, but the view was certainly worth it. To our knowledge there is no recorded history of the origin and age of the stone houses we saw, but that made the experience all the more captivating. Indeed our tour company, UAE Trekkers, hope the government will explore the history of the village and mark it as an official hiking site.

On the way down, towards the end of the hike, I had my share of stumbles as I got lost in thought amid the scenery.

We were warned against leaning or sitting on the rocks to slide down, as that might cause stones to tumble down and hit those ahead of us. A rock hit the back of my leg as the person behind me slipped a bit, but we made it.

I came out “with the wounds of a warrior” as a fellow hiker said. But I consider my scraped knees and bruised legs a source of pride for completing the hike to this fascinating place.