UAE’s Best Kept Secret:<br/> The Hill Climb To Nowhere
Desert Adventure

Imagine you’re standing on the side of an empty desert road in an enormous open valley. You’re surrounded by a flat bed of scorched earth, spotted with chalky rocks and shrivelled-up, emaciated shrubs; stretching as far as the eye can see. At the edge of the barren rock bed, a ring of towering mountains loom in the distance, casting great ominous shadows in magnificent gradients of beige, gold and blue. Then, twisting through the relentless terrain is a wide, paved road. It carves its way forcefully through the jagged rock ledges, bending and twisting for what seems like forever, until it reaches the highest peak.

Jebel Al Jais is the tallest mountain in the United Arab Emirates, and, thank goodness, I wasn’t here to climb it on foot. Armed with a brand new 542hp 2015 Nissan GT-R courtesy of Nissan Middle East, I’d be ascending the mountain in style and with more than adequate power.

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When faced with a gruelling 28-hour-long journey home to New Zealand from Sweden last month, we decided to break the trip up with a quick four-day Speedhunting layover in Dubai. Seeing as this was a fairly last minute decision, we didn’t have a huge amount of time to get organised, but thankfully we were put in contact with local journalist and fellow petrolhead James Davison, who was able to act as our guide during our stay.

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James was able to arrange for a Nissan GT-R press car to be dropped off at our hotel upon our arrival; all we had to do was figure out where we were going to drive it. The UAE has plenty of long, straight and very flat highways, but these roads would be less than ideal for properly discovering the GT-R’s abilities, especially with the heavy traffic and numerous speed cameras.

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We’d heard about an incredible driving road somewhere north of Dubai; a road with plenty of corners and elevation changes, and best of all – in the absolute middle of nowhere. It sounded like the perfect place for us to put the GT-R through its paces, so the very next morning after we landed, we left the air-conditioned comfort of our hotel room and headed north in search of this mystery mountain road.

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I was really surprised at how abruptly the city ended. One moment you’re completely surrounded by huge mirrored buildings and the next it’s just nothing but flat golden sand for miles and miles. After about an hour of driving (and to my extreme disappointment, not seeing a single camel), we reached the smaller and more conservative emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

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We stopped here for gas and a bite to eat, as we learnt it would be the last petrol station before we headed into the mountains.

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This was my first time driving a GT-R, and my first observation was that it was extremely thirsty! Usually I’d be complaining, but gas is so ridiculously cheap in the Emirates that you begin to think about fuel economy differently. I suddenly felt obliged to step harder on the throttle at every given opportunity.

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From Ras Al Khaimah we headed northeast, until there were fewer and fewer houses and no more golden sand dunes – just weird rocks and strange wiry trees sprouting from the dusty earth. We drove past a cluster of unusually opulent compounds, all in bright pastel colours and with high fences and big golden gates. All of a sudden I felt very aware that I was in a foreign country.

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I took this sighting of a pair of 911s as a good sign, as they had just, no doubt, returned from a blast up the mountain road that we were headed to. I couldn’t help but feel jealous, but those feelings would soon disappear as I realised that the GT-R was possibly the perfect car for the road we were about to conquer.

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Staring up at the colossal mountain range looming ahead of us, it suddenly dawned on me that that was where we were going. But surely there was no possible way up there? These weren’t your usual majestic rolling mountains – they were more like towering waves of savage rock. How on earth could a road be built up there?

One Of The Best Roads In The World
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We finally reached the base of the mountain range, which borders the Musandam Governorate, which as I learned is actually an exclave of Oman. From here the road would continue up and over the highest peak, known as Jebel Al Jais. There was a catch though – it was still under construction, and we were told we’d have around 10 minutes of hard driving before it would abruptly end near the top.

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Before we began our ascent there was a long straightaway running through a valley resembling a giant bowl with toothed edges.

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It’s what you’d perhaps imagine the surface of another planet to be like; raw, untouched and uninhabited, but without all those poisonous gas clouds and stuff.

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We’d already used a quarter of the tank of gas driving to the base of the mountains, and we were told that each run up the hill would be intense enough to drain another quarter. So we decided to do a recce run first, followed by a clammy-handed, #JoyOfMachine-inducing assault at full pace.

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The road stayed flat for roughly a kilometre before the walls began to close in, gradually narrowing in tight around the wide coupe as we began to turn and weave at a shallow incline, slowly ascending the dramatic topography. Now I could see the seemingly narrow passage clinging to the sides of the mountain before us.

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At that point, the road opened up into three spacious lanes with plenty of run-off, giving me more than enough space to navigate the muscular GT-R through the corners. Now we’re talking!

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I’ve been behind the wheel of a few supercars before, but previous to this I’d never driven a modern (factory-spec) Japanese car in the 500hp range. From afar, I’ll admit that I’d never been a huge fan of the R35 in the past, but the appeal became instantly apparent as I buried my foot to the floor and felt the brutal acceleration of the twin turbo VR38 combined with the copious amounts of grip laid down from all four wheels. The R35 really is ridiculously good value for money.

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Higher and higher we climbed, and I counted at least 32 corners; tight 180s combined with long, sweeping S-bends and some long, straight sections in between, where I could pick up more than enough speed to keep my heart racing.

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The road flowed beautifully with the new seal – in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever driven on such a smooth and flawless surface.

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By this stage I was really trying hard not to think about how high up we were, as even though the barriers were sufficient, I still knew there was a sheer drop into the steep canyon right behind them.

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Seeing as the road didn’t actually go anywhere (and I’m not even sure it has a name yet) we only came across one or two other cars that afternoon, and with the additional passing lane continuing the whole way to the top, traffic wasn’t any issue. It turned out that there would be some other obstacles, however.

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Thankfully no stray animals had found their way onto the road, so we didn’t have to return the GT-R with a large goat-shaped dent in the bonnet. However, on one occasion I did come around a corner to find an enormous road roller in the middle of the two lanes, and another corner revealed a road worker kneeling down – once again in the very centre of the road, smashing up a large rock with an even larger mallet. After successfully avoiding both, I had to laugh at how weird both situations were!

View From The Top
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After returning back down the hill, we took a quick breather before our next full-speed attempt, where I had some time to reflect on the big-boned Nissan’s performance.

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I don’t usually fancy big cars, unless we’re talking about classic ’50s and ’60s Chevrolets and Cadillacs with fins; there’s just something about small cars which I find more appealing. Perhaps it’s because they’re generally more nimble and lightweight, or perhaps it’s simply because I like rooting for the underdog.

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I’ve always thought the R35 looked like a lumbering whale in comparison to the sleeker R32 and svelte R34 Skyline models, but those feelings gradually disappeared, along with my stomach, each time I planted my foot flat on the throttle.

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At just over 1,700kgs it’s not a light car at all, but the power delivery is superb, and it totally cancels out the weight of the vehicle – even when you’re attempting to climb a mountain taller than the Burj Khalifa! The GT-R might feel a bit gluggy running errands around town, but it comes to life when being driven aggressively.

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For my next run, I put the car into R-mode (or should I say, arghhhh!-mode) and went #MaximumAttack. The lateral and longitudinal g-forces pulled on my stomach even harder, giving me the same sensation of being on a roller coaster. It was an incredibly fun car to drive, and although the grip levels were immense, I did eventually find the limits of the front tires when diving hard into the tightest hairpins. I really enjoyed the clunky, mechanical sounds of the AWD system as it struggled to find purchase, really making you feel all 632Nm of torque as it pushes you into the back of your seat.

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With such a thriving modified car scene here in Middle East, a stock GT-R in the UAE is almost unheard of, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to drive a GT-R with double the amount of power this car had. Shortly after this, we paid a visit to the team at Alpha Logic Performance, who had plenty of R35s hanging around their Dubai-based workshop, although we struggled to find one possessing less than 1,000hp. Still, this could well have been the best choice of car for the task at hand, and I know this will be one of the top driving experiences I’ll ever have in my life!

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As I saw the approaching ‘ROAD ENDS’ signs and looked at my phone, I was pleased to see that this time I’d managed to clock the mountain in under 10 minutes. I shut the engine off, got out of the car and walked 200m further up the dirt track after the paved road had finished, and paused to take in the amazing view.

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The vista was absolutely breathtaking, but the sound was the most beautiful – there was nothing. No wind, no birds or insects, just the occasional yell from a brave mountain goat echoing in the distance. The winding road looked like a thin shimmering ribbon reflecting in the late afternoon sun.

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By the looks of it, the road will eventually cross the UAE border into Oman, and – wait for it – a luxury artificial ski resort will reside at the peak of the mountain. The arid landscape seems like a crazy juxtaposition to a ski field, right?

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This incredible passage to heaven really does seem like it was built with a high-speed hill climb race in mind. I’m not sure who needs to get involved to make it happen, but there needs to be some kind of top-level competition racing held on this road at some point in the near future!

Words by Taryn Croucher
Instagram: taryncroucher
Twitter: @taryncroucher
taryn@speedhunters.com

Photos by Peter Kelly
Instagram: speedhunters_pedey
pedey@speedhunters.com

A special thanks to James Davison for his help with this feature.

Bonus Images
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46 comments

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1

I have a question for the team in general. I notice that you all are always able to get data, such as your GPS just about anywhere in the world. How does all that work being an international speedhunter?

2

No chapters. Right on! Your exploration led you to this passage to heaven as you call it. Astonishing stuff, really. I have no intention to derail the conversation or complain about the fact that we get limited fresh content since December because I understand you are not rodbots ...but I would like to ask if there is any chance to see more posts from Linhbergh?

3

Wow! Looks like someone went to Pikes Peak and got some ideas. Hopefully it will still leave opportunities to be attacked once it finishes.

4

This has opened my eyes so much more to the GTR... Great post Taryn and Peter!

5

This kind of reminds me of the I-15 drive from St. George, UT to Las Vegas, NV.  The view is spectacular on both fronts.  Thanks for the great post!

6

LukeEVOVIII Dino posted a review on the Nismo GT-R in 2013. Are you implying that a post on a regular GT-R impressed you so much? This is 2015 and not 2009, Luke.

7

@zz Hmm I'm not quite sure what you mean. If you mean mobile data, we all just have tremendous phone bills! If you mean GPS navigation, generally I just always make sure I have a car with built-in GPS, but I know that some of the guys have their own Nav system they take with them when travelling.

8

Articles like these is the reason I come to SH.

9

Thanks LukeEVOVIII! @TROLLS ROYCE Correct, Dino has reviewed the Nismo GT-R here: http://www.speedhunters.com/2013/12/nismo-gt-r/ 


This is more of a travel story as opposed to a car review, hence why I've tried to focus more on the incredible location :)

10

@TROLLS ROYCE Glad you like the new format. I have to say I'm really loving it too!

11

I have never been more jealous in my life!

12

My God, what beautiful sights you have there!
Imagine if you would drive a 2015 Nissan GT-R R35 on the Nurburgring...

As always, great article!
Another fine road on my bucket list!

13

@TROLLS ROYCE Taryn Croucher now when I share an article with fellow car mates that aren't internet folk they can see the whole article instead of first page and thinking that's it!!
my fav part is the presentation mode tho.. so much love for it. uh!

14

Taryn Croucher I'm still totally bummed I didn't get to meet you while you were out here. Trust me that isn't the only great road here in the UAE. Next time you come, you have to see the road after you cross the current border into Oman. It rivals Pacific Coast Highway in its beauty.

15

This new don't-have-to-click-to-get-to-the-next-chapter format is seriously better!!

16

Taryn Croucher Sorry, what I meant to say was, how does the team use so much data, is there like some international plan you all use? But seeing that you all just use roaming data I now understand!

17

Yayyyy, I really enjoy driving my dads Boxster S on straight Ohio roads....... Im so sad

18

Great road? View Velefique in Almería Spain...........

19

Neopolitian  : Now the only Thing they should Change again is the "do you really want to leave this page" message which appears everytime yo open a new article, reload the page or want to open a different page when browsing the main-page. This sucks, please remove this dumb 90ies-styles Messages again!!

21

@JDMjunkies_ch Neopolitian ?? What? That is definitely not a feature. Do you see this on all browsers?

22

Neopolitian Glad you like it. The chapters were only ever supposed to provide greater punctuation and flow for the stories, clearly the over UX we built originally for them wasn't all that smart though :)

Thanks for the feedback!

23

It's amazing to experience drives like this in such a remote part of a world, and even in a remoter part of our culture habits. I have a strange feeling that the world would change and not for the better in the future.

24

hahaha love the tire marks in some of the pics!

that is one awesome drive, taryn!

25

Neopolitian ditto.  now if only other sites follow speedhunters' change :)

26

Sign means dangerous killer goats lol.


I thought the GTR had sort of a good fuel consumption, what MPG did you get driving normally?

27

Great pics - interesting how much it's like the pikes peak/Arizona type landscape in some ways...yet clear on the other side of the world. Pretty cool. Lots of cars migh be more fun to toss around those roads, but having one with good air conditioning and comfort behind it must have been nice.

28

Nice road, but is there ANY vegetation in that part of the world besides those little grey shrubs? And I thought the location where they filmed "The Road Warrior" was bleak.

It looks like some great force just scrubbed everything living from the land and left only dirt and rock behind.

29

I also get that message in IE but not in Chrome

30

RBJKT  I get the same "Do you really want to leave this page message too" on IE,
It's very annoying! Loving all the chapters on one page though!

31

I rarely comment here, but damn. Really wonderful. The story is a joy to read. The scenery, roads and the vibe look/feel exceptionally fresh. Thank you for these amazing few minutes :)

32

@Jon @Ed @JDMjunkies_ch  Aah IE.. up to its old tricks again. A painfully bad piece of software that. Thanks very much for bringing it up, we'll look into it.

33

"I was pleased to see that this time I’d managed to clock the mountain in under 10 minutes. I shut the engine off (...)"
did I read that correctly? you did not wait for the engine to cool down?

34

Cheap gas, damn. I bet that includes the high octane fuels too.

35

MarekAz Haha, no, not exactly. This text is really a condensed version of what took place over half a day :)

36

RemiM That's some awesome feedback, thank-you!

37

Ice Age It's a very different landscape to what I'm used to in New Zealand, that's for sure!

38

@Revtil9k Yeah, it made me realise how terrifying Pikes Peak would be without any guard rail/barriers near the top… I hate heights!

39

EvolveWRC Maybe it just felt like that because I'd got used to driving cheap rental cars everywhere :)

41

lgunnz I've heard that Oman is beautiful… definitely on the to-visit list!

42

Woow Amazing story I really enjoyed the post,,
Im from Oman and we have a lot of this roads there, you should visit its one day :)

43

Hard core road for hard core driver

44

I've been to Jebel Hafeet last year in summer and love the
road, climbing through the mountains. Now with chilled temperature, engine runs
faster!

45

Going to Dubai in September.  Yas is certainly on the list and now this.  Wonder how painful it would be to rent something like this there……...

46

just as Hazel  implied I am surprised   that anyone can   make $6092 in 4 weeks on the computer .  look at  more 
http://tinyurl.com/dailyjobs04

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