It’s adventure time! An awesome Via Ferrata recently opened on the UAE’s highest mountain, Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. With the Hajar Mountains as your backdrop, you can now attach yourself to a steel cable and, under the watchful eye of the Absolute Adventure guides, you can spend hours exploring the rock and rushing down cool zip lines.
During my years as an outdoor instructor in the French Alps, I spent lots of time of Via Ferrata’s and believe me, RAK has done a great job in building the real monty. It’ll certainly get your heart pumping; think exposed ledges, intimidating step ladders and the sheer adrenaline rush of being on the country’s highest peak. Anyone who’s up for a bit of adventure should check it out.
I covered the inaugural PR launch with the RAK tourism CEO Haitham Mattar, and the Emirati adventurers Huda Zowayed and Hamad Al Mazrouey. Yip … never a boring day in my office! Now it’s open to the public and I really can’t recommend it enough. Check out jebeljais.ae
I would love to go back here and shoot a series of ‘staged’ action shots. It’s a tough one. Access outside the Via Ferrata route is, as you can see, difficult but there is scope for more. And yes any excuse to spend more time on the rock…
There’s never a dull moment in an adventurers life, particularly when it comes to UAE hero Adrian Hayes… over the last ten years, I’ve followed Adrian’s extreme expeditions and had the pleasure of capturing some of them. I’ve seen him at his best and and at his worst… I’ll never forget his flying start on his Footsteps of Thesiger expedition, when the camels turned into rodeo bulls and threw Adrian and his expedition team members off their backs and onto a rocky wadi bed. The next stop was the local hospital rather than the desert! Time with Adrian during both Footsteps of Thesiger and the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge has left me with some wonderful memories. We even did an adventure race together once but unfortunately my bike frame snapped just five kilometres into the race so we were forced to complete the full Arabian Quest course on foot… needless to say we were last in, but at least we didn’t give up!
Adrian is a hard man to pin down as beyond his great adventures, he has a crazy busy schedule with speaking engagements and corporate coaching in Europe, the US and here in the Middle East. I love spending time with him though… it’s always inspiring to pick the brain of a full time adventurer, where he stands now and how he turns future fantasy’s into reality. So I jumped at the opportunity to organise a shoot when a simple yet great idea sprung to mind.
We both share a friend and client, Dewald, who distributes amazing outdoor brands like Marmot and Patagonia. Together, I felt we could build a super strong portfolio of images around Adrian’s training regime and desert jaunts, in preparation for tackling high altitude peaks in the Himalayas or hair-raising polar crossings. Marmot could throw in some amazing new gear… without which Adrian would probably have rocked up in a tatty Ironman Finishers Shirt dating back to 2005 (!)… and Marmot, in return, would get great visual assets and stories for social and editorial use. Win-win for all!
So organised it was and we set off, suited and booted, on a energetic day shooting, hitting the desert in time for the morning sunrise. We headed for Fossil Rock first of all, followed by RAK’s mountains in the afternoon. Needless to say, we had lots of fun and got cracking shots along the way.
What’s my take on Adrian’s life as a full time adventurer? It’s restless, thrilling, vibrant, passionate and his living on the edge is an inspiration. As a worldwide, record-breaking adventurer, the world is certainly a crazy one. Where to go next? What to climb? What to cross? Who’s not done what? You constantly need to be thinking of something harder, higher and more extreme than what’s already been accomplished. How do you maintain your unique voice in a pretty crowded space?
Perhaps this instills in you some crazy thoughts and ideas?
That million-dollar question… how long will it take to shoot? Rock climbing, mountain biking, skate boarding, road cycling, kayaking, surf skiing, camping, trail running, yoga, fat biking, diving, fishing, BBQ… and the shoot list didn’t end there. I looked at the client and replied with “10 days”. They looked back, grinned and responded with “how about three days?” I laughed… and then we settled on five.
Five days… and I still don’t know how we fitted it all in. Days were jam-packed with crew call times at 3 or 4am making for 16hrs day. Pre-production was key, with extensive location scouting and setting up the shots at the best outdoor locations in both the UAE and Musandam in Oman. We pretty much crafted a minute by minute production schedule, making the best of the sweet early morning and afternoon light. I can’t remember how many brands were represented with hundreds of items and dozens of athletes / talent. But most importantly we all an amazing time in the great outdoors.
Why do I love shooting adventure sports? Because we’re all in it for memories, all keen to create stories. And stories are so powerful. It’s a great opportunity to work with amazing athletes and adventurers. And its a grand excuse to head out into the mountains, live it to the max and enjoy the great outdoors. For me, it’s pretty much second nature but for some of the crew it meant first-time camping or getting high up in the mountains. Seeing their enormous grins during those long days was super rewarding.
I created a mood board with images I’ve shot in the past or collected from adventure brands for years, just as a reference to dig into when stuck on site or to explain individual concepts to the team. In an ideal world, you’d shoot a real and raw adventure over a ten day expedition where gear, people and clothing naturally gets worn in and roughened up. Instead, in this shoot we sped up time by rolling in the sand and using other dirty tricks. At the end of the day, the images had to look genuine, unstaged, real and inspiring. I know that’s what we delivered.
Have a look at my main site where you’ll find the full image gallery and seriously check out the behind the scenes video on the top of this post, which besides the production side of things also shows the adventures YOU can have in our region. We do live in an amazing playground with unlimited access.
A big shout out to the crew at Absolute Adventure for keeping us out of trouble and being our partner in ground support. Anyone who gets inspired and is keen to venture off should contact these guys. They’ll take you outdoors, look after you and give you an amazing adventure experience.
I’ve got a few amazing brands that support me with the work I do. Many thanks to Goal Zero for keeping us powered up, fstop gear for their fab pack to haul our gear around the mountains, Aquatec for keeping my camera bombproof dry in the ocean, SanDisk for their fast and uber reliable CF cards and Western Digital for safely storing 100’s of GB’s of data on their HD’s. These are amazing brands to rely on when digging it deep in far away places.
Finally, thanks to everyone for bringing their energy and making it all happen! When tempted to buy some new outdoor toys and gadgets. Check out the Adventure HQ stores around the UAE… and when you’re there, pick up the new catalogue. I heard it looks really nice…
I’m currently prepping for my annual escape from the heat… Dubai, you may have heard, was recently marked as the hottest place on the planet! As always the loose agenda involves quality family time in Europe, fresh air, green mountains, local produce and hooking up with friends. A little work but mainly play, a chance to take a breather from Dubai’s hectic work-life balance…
This trip is also pinned to be a chance to crank up my running mileage again, digging into my passion for trail running and exploring new places. So with 55 days in Europe, I’m up for a little challenge. The question is, what challenge? One that gives me ample chance to run but also falls in line with family time… I wouldn’t swap valuable time with my wife and kids for any race. Being too sore to play with my boys or falling asleep during dinners just isn’t an option.
So my decision landed on committing to run every day… 55 consecutive days and 555km total mileage. I’ll run a few trail races (listed below) and in between I’ll just crack on with daily jaunts myself. I figure by writing down my wish list, I’m making myself accountable… telling the world via the world wide web. I plan to record my runs too with my Suunto Ambition 3 so stay tuned to my Facebook page where I’ll be posting updates, stories and images.
19k Trail De Schaak – Holland
24k Oosterhoutse Trail – Holland
30k Utrechtse Heuvelrug Trail – Holland
26k Trail du Ventoux – France
31k Matterhorn Ultraks – Switzerland
31k Trail des Fantomes – Belgium
16.5k Trail Landgoed Bornia – Holland
29k Kromme Rijnpad – Holland
Why am I doing this? I’m not going to answer that question. If you can’t answer it yourself, just take the plunge and give it a try yourself. You’ll soon discover why!
As for how I came up with the 555 challenge?
I was inspired by my South African friend, Lisa de Speville, who started off running every day for the 35 days before her 35th birthday. She’s been doing this ever since, adding a day with each passing year. I loved the idea and started off with a 40 day running plan, to mark my turning 40 this year. Somehow that evolved into 55 days! Lisa runs her own adventure blog and also www.AR.co.za… a must visit for avid runners.
To avoid running injuries and ease myself gently into the mileage, I’ve been doing some shorter runs here in Dubai. 5.30am starts mean I can beat the sun rise and the soaring heat. Each one acts as another reminder of why I’m escaping next week!
I recently took a magical two days off and headed out to the mountains. As many may know, I’m a big fan of mountain days… spending quality time immersed in nature and soaking up fresh mountain air can surely only lead to great things!
This trip was no different. To get me into an inspirational mood, I downloaded a podcast from The School of Greatness to listen to on the drive down. I can’t recommend listening to these podcasts enough. Thanks to Google maps and a bit of exploring, I found a new dirt track leading deep into a wadi or billabong as the Aussies would call it. As I drove deeper into the valley, the track got rougher and rougher and I was into (more…)