UAE mountain rescue groups issue summer heat warning

Hiking in high temperatures could lead to rapid dehydration and even death

A hike in Ras Al Khaimah's leopard canyon. Reporter: Haneen Al Dajani. 7 April 2017. Photo: PJ van Schalkwyk for The National *** Local Caption ***  PP5_5338-Edit.jpg
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Mountain rescue groups have warned hikers of the dangers of organising trips during the UAE’s extreme summer heat.

Experts said high temperatures could lead to rapid dehydration and even death, with one fatality already recorded in Sharjah this year.

Last week, three Emiratis were flown to safety after suffering from heat exhaustion while walking in Ras Al Khaimah.

On May 9, Dubai resident Mohamad Hajjar, 35, from Lebanon, was found dead by search and rescue teams in the mountainous area of Khor Fakkan.

“We have participated in seven rescue missions so far this year involving hikers,” said Ali Al Shammari, founder of volunteer group UAE Rescue.

“All of the incidents occurred in rugged areas located in Fujairah, Khor Fakkan and Ras Al Khaimah where people were found suffering from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

The misconception that people have is that in the mountains the weather is cooler, but it's only two or three degrees cooler depending on altitude

“Dehydration can lead to serious complications ranging in intensity from mild cramps to heat exhaustion or a heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.

“Hikers should carry plenty of water, food, a satellite phone, flashlights, a whistle, wear suitable and reflective outfits and make sure that their phones are fully charged.

“They shouldn’t go alone or without an expert guide as they could easily lose their way. We recommend they go with not less than three experienced hikers.”

The rugged slopes of the northern emirates are a tempting prospect for many adventurers seeking a weekend break from city life.

Clear skies can offer spectacular views of windswept mountains largely undisturbed by human activity.

But increasing summer temperatures in the UAE can also present a significant danger to those wanting to explore the sun-baked hillsides.

Navigating through some areas can also be a challenge, with similar topography making it more difficult for hikers to keep track of their location.

RAK Police often use helicopters to rescue hikers in trouble. Courtesy: Ras Al Khaimah Police

Amy Subaey, ‎director of UAE Trekkers, a hiking company in Dubai, said the risk of getting lost and becoming dehydrated was a serious issue.

“The misconception that people have is that in the mountains the weather is cooler,” she said.

“But it is only ‎two to three degrees cooler depending on the altitude – so if it's 40°C in Dubai it will be 37°C in the ‎mountains

“People should know that if it is over 35°C you will dehydrate in less than half an hour.

‎“They [hikers] not only arrive dehydrated [if they are not used to drinking enough anyway], but also out of shape due to the lack of exercising.”

Jebel Jais, United Arab Emirates, August 30, 2019.  Weekend mountain lovers enjoy the breathtaking break of dawn from 1,450 meters above sea level at the Jebel Jais mountains.
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  Standalone

Ms Subaey said five litres of water should be considered the minimum requirement for a two-hour hike during the hot weather.

“If a person cannot carry five kilograms on his back and walk around the block near his house in the middle of the day for two hours, they’re probably not safe to go on a hike in the summer,” she said.

“The only timing that is safe to be in the mountains in the summer would be from 4am to 7am.”

Paul Oliver, chief executive of Absolute Adventure in Dubai, echoed warnings that trekkers needed to exercise caution during the fierce summer heat.

“My advice to people contemplating trekking during the summer months is don’t,” he said.

“I strongly advise people against all trekking if the temperature is above 38°C.

“During the months of April and May, [through to] October, we operate shorter, less physically demanding trips only.

“Trekking is especially dangerous when humidity is high. Normally, the evaporation of sweat on our bodies helps to keep us cool, but with very high humidity this process is compromised.”

Mr Oliver said his company joined others to work with the Fujairah government to create local adventure guide standards.

“Training courses, seminars and workshops will be available to companies and individuals who wish to work in the outdoors within Fujairah emirate,” he said.

“The first phase of this project has been completed and we hope to finish the other two phases by early 2021.

“We hope that other emirates would then adopt these standards to ensure safety across the country.”

A pair of climbers tackle challenging terrain. Pawan Singh / The National