As I was going to the far east anyway, I found out that a stop in Dubai with Emirates Airlines was a good opportunity to gather more country high points. Actually I had planned to do only United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman, but things changed a bit when the experienced country high point collector Lars Holme decided to join me. Quantity rather than quality was now the major focus, so we agreed to visit Bahrain and Qatar during our 4 days trip as well. It was a great idea, but that plan had small margins if something unexpected would happen.
Lars landed an hour later than I in Dubai (at 10pm), and he seemed somewhat stressed. Maybe it was because of the short transfer time (only 40 minutes) at the airport in Zurich, where he had to run in order to catch the flight to Dubai. But fortunately both of us arrived Dubai pretty much on-time. We got automatically a 30 days tourist visa at the airport in Dubai, without filling out a single paper. The arrival visa for UAE is also completely free of charge (as opposed to Oman, Bahrain and Qatar). I had already booked a rental car from Budget at the airport in Dubai. We had been told (by Petter) that we would need a 4x4, so our preferred choice was then a Toyota Fortuner. But in retrospect we realize that the country high points in both UAE and Oman, would be doable with a smaller and much cheaper car too. We chose Budget because they allow their rental car to be taken into Oman, however, it's a 20% additional charge per day plus extra insurance for Oman. Budget Car Rentals arranged the necessary paperwork and insurance for Oman, so we would not experience any problems at the border when we eventually got there by the next day. For other car rental companies in Dubai, cross border driving might actually be difficult to arrange, even impossible.
Because we arrived so late in Dubai, we had not booked any hotel. Our plan was simply to drive as far up Jabal Bil Ays as possible that evening/night and then just find a place to camp along the road (under the stars). Before I left Norway I had downloaded a roadmap for the entire Middle East on my gps, thus we had no trouble finding the correct way out of Dubai. It took us only an hour or so to drive from Dubai Airport to Ras Al-Khaimah on nice motorways which had 120 km/h as speed limit. We had a short stop outside of Ras Al-Khaimah to buy plenty of water and snacks for the upcoming hike. We also got ourselves a night meal at a local fast food restaurant which was still open at midnight. The way forward to the foot of Jabal Bil Ays could have been a real challenge at night without a gps and map. But having the map of Middle East on my gps, it went like a dream on the dark roads. It was mostly good asphalt road all the way up to where the hairpin bends begin. There it was ongoing construction work and "drive at your own risk" signs. We also came to a "drive prohibited" signs a little higher up, but still we took the chance to pass this sign as well.
Why in the world they are building a 4-lane road up here, we don't know, but this is after all UAE where every vision seems to be huge. When the road is completed, probably in 2012, it will go like a charm to drive all the way up the mountain. Approx 60 km from Ras Al-Khaimah and 1300 meters above sea level, it was about time for us to stop, because from here it was too much on-going construction work. We decided to camp on the side of the road, not by any standard a nice spot because of the rocky ground with lots of dust from construction. Lars had an inflatable mat, while I had to spend the night on a thin bivvy bag, not very comfortable on the rocky ground. A beautiful starry sky, however, sent me into dreamworld almost instantly.
After a few hours of sleep we woke up at dawn, so we could start the hike before it got too hot. Initially we hiked on the dusty road, and then we took a more direct route with some scrambling involved, in order to gain the ridge quickly. We eventually found a faint track that led to the Sheik's summer residence shortly before the top. The Sheik has created some stone-paved roads around his residence. We could see a number of small cars around his residence, which he must have used a helicopter to bring up here. Remaining was a short walk up the highest point of UAE, the west summit of Jabal Bil Ays. We had spent 1 hour and 40 minutes on the approximately 6 km hike from the car. The summit we measured to be 1892m, and it had a modest prominence of only 9 meters. Of course we also had to do the nearby main summit, even if this is located a few hundred meters inside the border of Oman and thus not being the high point of UAE. We didn't see any border police here, so we were simply free to top out Jabal Bil Ays (1911m) as well. The summit is on the edge of a giant drop, and boast fine views towards Oman.
We decided to return before it got too hot. When we arrived back at the car, we had spent a total 3 hours and 40 minutes on the trail. I got a sudden panic attack when I discovered that my gps had fallen out of the pocket. Fortunately, Lars had walked behind me and picked up things after me. Pure luck, and very important since much of the information about the upcoming country high points were stored on my gps :-)
Now we could start the car, put air condition on max, and begin the long drive towards Jabal Shams, the country high point in Oman.
Drive from Ras Al-Khaimah at EveryTrail
Jabal Bil Ays at EveryTrail