A world record-breaking zipline suspended 1,680 metres in the sky and reaching speeds close to 150 kilometres per hour is the latest addition to Ras Al Khaimah’s claim as the ‘go-to’ destination for adrenaline junkies in the Middle East.
The Ruler's son, Sheikh Ahmad bin Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, was the first to trial the new 2.83km Jebel Jais Flight zipline ahead of a public opening, taking the plunge before an official certification by Guinness World Records as the longest zipline on the planet.
Carved into the side of the UAE’s highest peak, the falcon-shaped zipline centre is ready to welcome intrepid adventurers looking for a hefty dose of adrenaline.
The feat of engineering itself is an impressive sight: two cables hang from a launch platform dropping down to a suspended pad where riders land before being dropped off down the mountain.
Costa Rican Guillermo Quesada, general manager at ToroVerde UAE, helped establish the former world's longest zip line in Puerto Rico before arriving in Ras Al Khaimah to work on the UAE record attempt.
“The topography is way different to Puerto Rico, so that has created many challenges,” he said.
“To operate in green mountains, with rivers and forest is one thing. But to come here to the rocky mountains of the UAE is completely different.
“This is 600 metres longer than the one in Puerto Rico, but the speed here is also much greater.”
Delivery of the zipline, which features a steel cable weighing more than six tonnes, has been in the planning phase for over a year.
The process involved extensive feasibility studies, master-planning, comprehensive surveys, soil tests and construction simulations.
Maintaining sustainable environmental practices within all construction acts, strong anchor holes were drilled into the rugged Hajar Mountains. That alone took more than six months.
“Our booking system has been going crazy,” Mr Quesada said.
“The average speed is 120km per hour, but we have reached 148 km per hour on test runs – that is fast, but short of the record of around 165km per hour.
“The mountains are so impressive, and there is nothing else like them in the UAE. RAK is fast becoming a hub of adventure sports for the region and we want to be central to that.
“We are used to operating is specific countries, like in North America, so there have been new challenges for us here.”
One of those challenges was placing a launch platform in the middle of an empty chasm, or on the edge of a cliff face.
The zipline aims to run all year round, although the schedule may change in the summer months.
The sturdy equipment used is particularly resilient to extreme climates, and the venue could be the perfect escape in mid-summer from the stifling city heat. Mountain weather is usually at least 5 to 10 degrees cooler.
RAK Tourism Development Authority is in the middle of a three-year plan to increase tourist numbers to one million by 2018, with visitor numbers already up from about 500,000 a year when the plan launched in January last year.
A longer term goal is to increase those numbers to 3 million tourists by 2025, placing the UAE’s northernmost emirate on par with the whole country of Oman.
The nearby Via Ferrata network of climbing routes and ziplines opened in late 2016, and has been a popular addition to local attractions for adventure tourists, with the TDA hoping for more visitors to follow.
“We are now receiving our largest-ever number of visitor arrivals and are confident that Jebel Jais Flight will propel the destination into the major leagues of global adventure tourism,” said Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
“It will become Ras Al Khaimah’s flagship tourism product and will cement Jebel Jais as the adventure tourism hub of the Middle East.
“We are expecting to see an increasing number of adventure tourists coming from across the globe to try this bucket list experience.”