Each time I grow another year older, I experience a renewed sense of my own mortality, yet I still find myself drawn to activities with an element of risk (be it risk of a broken bone or more superficial damage to my dignity). So my interest is piqued when I hear of Gulf for Good’s charity climb to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, scheduled to take place at the end of July. It’s described as a demanding test of fitness, but ‘achievable by anyone in good health, willing to train for a minimum of three months to build fitness and stamina’.
Though not a technical climb, there are challenging sections, and trekking at a high altitude is tough going. Gulf for Good runs its own free training sessions, but what if you just want to get a feel for what you could be up against? An indoor climbing lesson at Pharaohs’ Club in Wafi Pyramids is not a bad way to go – particularly when the instructors include Dhyan Rai, a highly qualified pro who has spent years climbing the Himalayas in his native Nepal, including as a local sherpa mountaineering guide on the formidable Mount Everest. And if you feel as though you’re in need of more training, you can always work towards one of the charity’s next challenges – the Transylvanian Trek in Romania in August, or The Road to Mandalay Challenge in Myanmar in November.
When I arrive at the Pharaohs’ Club climbing wall, Dhyan greets me warmly and instructs me to slip into a pair of climbing shoes from the box, telling me they should feel tight, and my toes slightly squashed to give me a better grip on the wall. I’m then shoehorned into a harness, and it’s time to learn how to tie an ‘8’ knot in the rope, which is threaded through the loop on my front, before being made into a double 8.
First, I attempt the easiest wall, a straight vertical ascent with large, liberally scattered grips in three different colours. Unless you count a school trip to a drab activity centre in the south of England 14 years ago, and a worrying (at least for grandparents) penchant for finding the quickest route to the tops of trees during school holidays, this is my first attempt at climbing.
I make sure to follow Dhyan’s advice and use my legs to push myself up, rather than depending on my hands and arms to pull. After a few steps, the movements seem to trigger some childhood muscle memory, and I fly up the wall. I abseil down, elated, bounding smoothly off the wall – even over-estimating the distance in the final drop and landing squarely on my behind can’t overshadow my small feeling of triumph.
The next wall is harder, with smaller grips spread further apart. It’s a slower ascent, and I have to rely on my toes to cling to smaller protrusions and hoist myself up. Eventually, I’m at the top and ready to bound down again.
Dhyan tells me I’m doing well and, bolstered by his approval, I’m ready for the next challenge. We head back to the first wall, but I’m told to only use grips of two colours for my climb. It’s tougher in parts, particularly where my legs are required to reach higher and push harder to make up the difference in gaps. Over on the second wall, where the same challenge is presented, it’s trickier still, and I feel as though I’m clinging on for dear life to pieces the size of Jenga blocks. I’m not, of course, because I’m attached to a harness and rope, which Dhyan is holding fast below, but when I slip and find myself hanging by my fingers near the top, I feel a huge surge of adrenaline and a tensing of every muscle.
It’s not long before the 60 minutes is up, and I’m exhausted. It’s little wonder these treks and climbs at high altitude require so much training – it’s tough just a couple feet above sea level. Nevertheless, after a quick inspection, I’m pleased to report that my limbs and dignity remain intact following my latest vertiginous escapade. For now, anyway. Climbing lessons Dhs50 for members, Dhs62 for non-members per session. Public climbing without an instructor (for experienced climbers) Dhs40 per session. Pharaohs’ Club, Wafi Pyramids, Oud Metha, www.pharaohsclub.ae (04 324 0000). To find out more about Gulf for Good’s challenges, visit www.gulf4good.org.
Two more to try: indoor climbing walls
Adventure HQ Attempt the indoor ‘Climbing Pinnacle’ wall or the slightly more alternative cable climb across tiles suspended from the ceiling. Dhs50 for 30 minutes. Times Square Center, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 346 6824).
Magic Planet This wall is ideal for casual climbers who fancy trying something new while surrounded by a wealth of less challenging distractions in Magic Planet’s arcade. Dhs70 (adults), Dhs50 (kids). Mirdif City Centre (04 534 7873).