It's not every day you get to see an old lady screaming her way down a mountain, but if you happened to be at Jais Adventure Park on Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khamiah recently you may have borne witness to exactly that.
There to try out the park's three signature rides, the Flight, the Sky Tour and the new Sledder, yours truly descended the mountain alternately screaming with laughter and just plain screaming.
An easy day trip from Dubai, it is impossible not to appreciate the sheer, rugged beauty of the Hajar Mountains as the road steadily climbs to the top of the range. Surrounded by banked walls of rock, these are one of the unique highlights of this trip, shifting in colour from grey to orange with the light.
After a quick coconut latte at 1484 By Puro, the highest restaurant in the UAE, which offers stunning views over the valley and excellent food, we head to the equipment room to be suited up for the first adventure of the day — the Jais Sky Tour.
Strapped into a harness, trailing an octopus of ropes that all end in something metallic and technical-looking, and with a GoPro camera attached to the crash helmet, we take a bus to the starting point, a flat plateau overlooking the valley.
Jais Sky Tour
The Sky Tour is a series of six zip lines that link five platforms at different points down the mountain. Ranging from 337 metres to one kilometre in length, the entire distance travelled is close to 5km.
As a group tour, everyone undertakes this adventure together, waiting as each person crosses the zip line. Ours has 10 people meaning our journey takes more than two hours, but this allows time to relax and chat between each section.
It was interesting to watch the group collectively overcome their fears. Some are scared of heights, or wary of the cable and others are nervous about being blown about by the wind.
Each of the six zip lines also offers something different: one is high and fast, while another ends at a platform miraculously clinging to the rock face, while yet another is at the end of little staircase that is inaccessible any other way.
One zip line even crosses a road, which gives me an irrational fear of being hit by cars. However, unless we are all now 10 metres tall, this is an absolute impossibility, yet I scream like a baby anyway. One thing common to all six lines is that once the first has been crossed there is no going back, and the only way out is to keep going.
The speed of descent on any zip line is controlled by the wind and the force of gravity, so as a long, stringy sort of person, I am not heavy enough to reach the platform at the end of each line, and have to haul myself in several times.
The procedure is explained ahead of time, and the bright red line is easy to find while dangling in mid-air, so this is less an issue than a source of embarrassment as once again, I slide to a halt before everyone else.
After the sixth and final zip line, and feeling like minor experts, a waiting bus takes us back to the top of the peak, ready for the next adventure.
The world longest zip line, the Jais Flight is not for the faint hearted. Stretching an astonishing 2.82km across the valley, this is Jebal Jais’s biggest and most formidable ride. Just standing at the top is enough to give anyone butterflies.
As the cables run from the very top of the peak to an unseen point much farther down, the sight and sound of riders flying overhead is enough to make most people on the mountain stop and look upwards, as two tiny figures race, Iron Man-style, across the sky at speeds of up to 140km per hour.
Essentially two parallel cables suspended between the top of Jebel Jais, 1,680 metres above sea level, and on a platform farbelow, the ride is undertaken in pairs, with each flyer lying in a face-down, head-first position. We are securely held in a sling that feels like a sleeping bag and holds us from the neck to the knees.
This is perhaps the most daunting part. As the crew triple check the equipment, calling out each component in turn, I try taking in the view, but like skydiving or looking into the Grand Canyon, my brain can't compute the distance and simply files it under "big". Then, with a countdown, we are airborne.
It's a long way to travel, especially hanging 100 metres in the air, and as we race above the terrain, I have two full minutes to take stock of what is happening, from initial terror to realising I'm still alive to actually enjoying what is happening.
Air rushing past is surprisingly loud, as is the high-pitched whine of the trolley on the cable. But as an experience, it is unrivalled. Sadly, I do not feel like a falcon gracefully swooshing across the sky — more a trussed-up pigeon — but flying over the landscape at 140km an hour is extraordinary, and a thrilling, noisy, life-affirming rush of adrenalin.
The full span across the valley is actually broken into two sections. The first a high-speed descent that takes you to a platform suspended in mid-air, and then a very short line takes you back to terra firma. Once again, I stop short of the first platform.
While the crew are able to shout instructions on how to pull myself in, they are equally quick to scuttle out on the cable to retrieve others who also stop short. As a final note, the platform has a glass floor, meaning that even arriving at the supposed sanctuary means starring straight down to the rocky expanse below.
The third and final adventure of the day is the new Jais Sledder, region’s longest toboggan ride. Despite only opening in February it is very busy. It's essentially a roller coaster that runs 1,885 metres down the side of the mountain. From a distance, it looks deceptively simple, but like all good rides, it packs a punch.
As the name suggests, this is a two-person sled with an upright back and seat belts. It is equipped with a brake that is operated by the rider — push forward to go, pull back to slow — and carts have sensors to maintain safe distances from one another, meaning you can just relax and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is.
After chugging up a small slope, the sled heads downwards, using nothing more than gravity, hitting up to 40km/h, prompting screams and faces locked in astonishment.
Having a lifelong hatred of roller coasters, I approach this ride with caution, yet it is truly fun. Without the stomach-lurching drops, and just the best bits of being thrown from side-to-side on banking corners, this is a joy. It's fun to the point my sides hurt from laughing, and fun to the point I immediately want to do it again.
Jais Adventure Park is open Wednesday to Sundays. More information is at visitjebeljais.com