The UAE’s northernmost emirate is to be home to the first internationally certified multi-day hiking experience in the GCC.
Ras Al Khaimah will host the region's first Highlander hiking experience in November. Organised by Highlander – the only certified international hiking association in the world – the launch experience will be a three-day, 51-kilometre trek called Highlander55 that will take place across Jebel Jais, the UAE's highest mountain.
There are also plans to develop the Highlander hiking trails to extend over 100 kilometres in the future.
Founded in Croatia in 2017, Highlander is known for its curated hiking adventures. There are 20 experiences on the roster, taking place annually in 15 destinations including Morocco, Egypt, Montenegro, Russia and Austria.
Ras Al Khaimah was the obvious choice for Highlander UAE, said Jurica Barac, chief executive of Highlander Global at the media preview on Jebel Jais on Thursday.
"Nobody believed we were coming to the UAE for hiking, but when we showed up with the pictures and the drone footage of the mountains, people were amazed. And this is why we decided to come here and create one of the best hiking events in the world," said Barac.
"Highlander55 offers views and new trails, surrounded by beauty, culture and heritage and we can't wait to share this trail with you guys in November," said Fadi Hachicho, managing director at Highlander UAE.
Under the slogan "the adventure of a lifetime", Highlander experiences are not a race. Instead, they are about appreciating nature, self-sufficiency and being in the moment.
Highlander UAE has been developed in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) and the brand's sustainable "Leave No Trace" policy aligns well with the tourism authority's focus on environmental preservation.
Raki Philips, chief executive at RAKTDA said: “This launch marks the latest in a series of new, sustainable and nature-focused experiences as we look for ways in which to immerse our guests in the natural beauty of our Emirate and protect its diverse surroundings for generations to enjoy for years to come. We cannot wait for everyone to enjoy this new adventure on Jebel Jais.”
Outdoor sports thriving during Covid-19 pandemic
Addressing those attending the Highlander UAE preview at Jebel Jais Adventure Park on Thursday, the man behind Highlander Global explained a little more about the concept.
"It's a very simple concept, we just want people to go into nature, to enjoy the outdoors and to release stress. This is why we started Highlander six years ago in Croatia, as a long-distance hiking event and with the goal of making it the number one hiking series in the world."
"Hiking is a huge trend at the moment, outdoor sports are seeing a popularity surge during Covid times and this is going to continue to grow. We want to show people the beauty of the area and give them an incredible experience."
Communicating that the event is not competitive, Barac added: "It's not only about the hiking; it's about the sleeping under the stars, enjoying the campfire, making new friends, it is really the adventure of a lifetime."
What is the Highlander55 event?
Highlander55 will be the launch event of the Highlander UAE series. Taking place from Thursday, November 18 to Saturday, November 20, 2021, the three-day experience is for adults with a moderate level of fitness, but participants don't need to be hiking experts. Less intrepid adventurers keen to get involved will be able to opt to trek the Highlander Experience, a shorter 30-kilometre, two-day adventure.
Highlander trails around the world are designed by local mountaineers and the UAE is no exception. Highlander55 will offer participants access to unique experiences including exploring new Jebel Jais trails, sleeping under the stars at Camp 1770 – the highest campsite in the UAE, and attending campfire talks to learn more about the natural landscape of the area and the rich culture of the emirate.
Where will the hike take people?
The inaugural edition of the Highlander55 event will see participants trek over carefully flagged routes, more than half of which are off-trail. Starting at Wadi Ghalilah dam, the trek follows part of the Ghaf Summit trail and hikers will have to be ready for a steep climb – the hike tackles 1,800 metres elevation gain in the first day.
Day two sees the trail wind across newly created routes designed by the Highlander team. These will wind along the rocky mountain ridge, with the ocean on one side and cliffs on the other. Hikers will get the change to trek through an old settlement above Wadi Haqeel and follow along on an even older Bedouin trail. On day three, the adventure will take in a date farm near Wadi Haqeel before ending at Shimal.
Every hiker must be self-sufficient and carry their own equipment. There will be checkpoints that all participants must cross to receive stamps showing they have completed the trail. Hikers must also be committed to nature preservation and complete the trek leaving no trace of their journey other than footprints.
How can I take part in the first Highlander UAE event?
Pre-registration is open now for the inaugural event in November. It is open to anyone over 18 with a moderate level of fitness, with fees starting from Dh985 for early bird pricing.
Included in the entry charge is transportation to and from Ras Al Khaimah and the event, access to on-duty UAE rescue services if required, a hiking map, Highlander finisher badge and a certificate of completion.
Three meals per day are also provided by the Highlander team, the majority of which are cooked in the homes of the locals who call the Jebel Jais mountain area home. Campfires will be set up at designated spots along the trail where hikers can set up their tents or bivouacs and then relax under the stars and swap stories with other participants.