Ras Al Khaimah: Trekking is a passion for many in the UAE, who look forward to cooler winter months to explore the rugged mountains in the north. But, like most outdoor activities, it comes with a significant amount of risk.
It doesn’t take long for the cool factor in an adventure sport to turn into a misfortune. You might be experienced and well-equipped, but the danger is always there.
In an interview with Gulf News, a trekker recalls how a recent trip to the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah almost turned into a nightmare.
Olga Zolotova, an adventure sport enthusiast, was on a trek on March 10 with a group of experienced hikers, when a member of the group slipped and fell off a cliff.
Fortunately, she survived with minor injuries, but it could have been much worse.
“This case is a good reminder to every hiker, regardless of the [person’s] experience, that when you go outdoor you always are taking risk. You can eliminate risk to a certain extent [right gear, enough water, medical supply, helmets, route knowledge etc.] but you can’t eliminate the risk fully. Even the most experienced hiker can slip and fall,” said 26-year-old Zolotova, who has been trekking for the last three years.
She added that though it is important to prepare well for the adventure, what is more important is being prepared for the worst outcome.
Referring to the accident on March 10, she said: “This accident could have happened to anyone. In this particular case, it had nothing to do with her experience, group size, gear etc. The person who fell was into sport, athletic, she was wearing proper equipment, but she slipped, and it happened.”
Giving details of the trip, Zolotova, who is from Russia, said that the hike was organised by a local expatriate forum to promote sport and outdoor activities with experienced members who had taken all the necessary precautions.
According to Zolotova, on the morning of March 10, the group met at a gas station as they had agreed in advance and headed towards RAK.
“The weather was nice, when we arrived at the starting point, we filled the water bottles, put on the gear and started the ascent. The route was steep and quite exposed, but not difficult technically,” she said.
For logistical purposes the group of around 20 people was split into two smaller groups, added Zolotova, making sure that there were experienced hikers in both groups to help the inexperienced members.
“There were many people who had climbed high-altitude mountains before and have had a long climbing and hiking experience, so splitting into small groups was a right decision,” she said.
At one point on the route, the group came across a big boulder, she said, “but it was not difficult to climb and most of the group, including me, climbed it quickly.”
However, when Zolotova came on top of the boulder she heard a sound of falling rocks and heard people screaming.
“I rushed down to see what happened and could not see anything. People explained to me that a member of our group slipped on the rocks, rolled down and fell off the small cliff (about a metre or two deep),” she explained.
Though the victim hit her head on a rock and was bleeding, she luckily didn’t suffer any fractures and only had a few bruises. However, she was obviously in a state of shock.
“Due to the nature of the route, it was very difficult to carry her down, and to go all the way up and complete hike was also dangerous, she needed medical assistance. We immediately called the local police and emergency and, in the meantime, we used bandage to stop the bleeding,” said Zolotova.
She said that police and a rescue helicopter arrived at the scene within 15 minutes but since there was no proper spot for it to land, the helicopter returned to get a special rescue team with ropes to get the victim down to safety.
“Police and the rescue teams were extremely prompt. Once she was rescued and taken to the hospital, we continued our trek and completed it in the next couple of hours. Our friend had to spend a number of days in the hospital to make sure everything is alright and now she is fine,” Zolotova added.
Though, accidents happen despite all precautions, Zolotova said she doesn’t want beginners to lose interest in hiking due to the risks involved.
“There are many nice hiking places in UAE and Oman and I am personally a fan of the outdoors. Just be careful, be prepared and enjoy the nature in a safe and respectful way,” she said.
Ras Al Khaimah Police recorded 10 accidents involving mountain hikers in 2016 while this year there have been two cases so far.
Urging trekkers to take necessary precaustions, Lieutenant Colonel Marwan Al Jaka, Director of Media and Public Relation Department at Ras Al Khaimah Police, said: “Those who wish to climb mountains must exercise caution and those who are not skilled in hiking mountains and not familiar with safety procedures should avoid hiking the mountains for their safety.”
He said mountainous areas are very rugged and special coordination must be carried out with the authorities to ensure safety.
Inform police about your trip.
Hikers should have GPS or other devices that can help police locate their location.
Hikers should wear safety harnesses including safety helmet, belt, boots and rope.
Avoid venturing into mountainous areas during unstable weather.
Mountain rescues: Timeline
July 10, 2016
Three European tourists who lost their way while hiking on a mountain were rescued by Ras Al Khaimah Police’s Air Wing. Two of them were found on top and the third one was found at the bottom of the mountain. The rescue team found the hikers in poor health due to thirst and exhaustion.
May 16, 2016
Air wing crew of Dubai Police’s Department of Transport and Rescue saved a man’s life after he fell off a mountain in Hatta. The rescued man was in his fifties and had fallen in a very rugged area.
May 9, 2016
Three Asian hikers who lost their way at an elevation of 4,500 feet were rescued by Ras Al Khaimah Police’s Air Wing. The rescue team located the hikers after a 15-minute search and found them to be in poor condtion due to thirst and exhaustion.
February 21, 2016
Four tourists who got stranded on a mountain were rescued by the Ras Al Khaimah Police Air Wing. The climbers were located and lifted to safety.
December 12, 2015
A Briton plunged to his death on a solo climb in the rocky, mountainous terrain in Ras Al Khaimah. The British tourist fell to his death while hiking on the upper reaches of the local mountain range near Al Beih.
April 24, 2015
Eight European tourists who got lost on a mountain were rescued by the RAK Police Air Wing. The tourists said they could not find the way back to their cars. The Air Wing located the climbers at a height of 914 metres above sea level and they were taken to safety.
February 03, 2015
A UAE resident died from heat exposure and dehydration while trekking in the Omani mountains along the UAE border. Bushra Farooqui, a 42-year-old British national of Pakistani origin, couldn’t survive the harsh environment after she inexplicably broke away from her 12-member hiking party and Omani search-and-rescue teams didn’t succeed in effort to locate her.
October 03, 2012
A 31-year-old British national died on the slopes of the Ghaleila mountains in Ras Al Khaimah. The man, who plummeted 1,000 metres to his death, was a pilot with Emirates.
August 09, 2012
Search and rescue crews of Fujairah Police helped two Emiratis after they got lost on a mountain cliff. The police rescue team reached the hikers within two hours and brought them home safely.
May 11, 2009
The air unit of Dubai Police rescued an Australian woman who lost consciousness while she was walking with her family on Al Simna mountains in Oman that lie near UAE borders.