The Record Breaker

Harper's Bazaar (Arabia) - - The Highlights -

Next month, moun­taineer Danah Al Ali will make a bid to be­come the first Emi­rati fe­male to summit Ever­est. Here, she talks to Bazaar about reach­ing the top

In 2013 Emi­rati clim­ber Danah Al Ali sum­mited Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in Tan­za­nia, and last year she be­came the first Emi­rati wo­man to summit Aconcagua in Ar­gentina. In midApril this year, she will start her two-month mis­sion to scale Mount Ever­est, with the aim of be­com­ing the first Emi­rati wo­man to summit the world’s high­est moun­tain, at 8,848m above sea level. All this aged just 33, with a full-time job in the govern­ment sec­tor and a mother to two chil­dren, Ham­dan, 10, and Elyazia, 8. With a deep pas­sion for ad­ven­ture and sports – “specif­i­cally ex­treme sports” – com­bined with a love of travel, moun­taineer­ing seemed an ob­vi­ous next step for some­one who has jumped out of planes, bungee jumped and snow­boarded. “Five years ago I Googled ex­treme sports and travel and Mount Kil­i­man­jaro came up,” she re­calls, “so that be­came my first moun­tain ex­pe­ri­ence.” With her big­gest chal­lenge ahead, she laughs, “If you told me five years ago, that I would be climb­ing Mount Ever­est, well...” Mid-prepa­ra­tion and with just two months to go, Bazaar meets Danah at home in Abu Dhabi to dis­cuss Ever­est, the climb of her life. Harper’s Bazaar: You’re not a pro­fes­sional moun­taineer, so how did you pre­pare for your first climb, Mount Kil­i­man­jaro?

Danah Al Ali: I did a lot of re­search and watched a lot of YouTube videos. The hard­est thing was con­vinc­ing my fam­ily to let me go and get­ting time off work, but they knew how se­ri­ous I was so I had every­one’s full sup­port. HB: When you’re prep­ping for a climb, what is your train­ing sched­ule like? DAA: I train at the gym three to five times a week twice a day, a lot of en­durance and high in­ten­sity, and I wear my pack that I have to carry on the moun­tain. I go to the desert to train on the sand dunes, and I hike in the moun­tains in Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain. I also train at a high­alti­tude chamber, to help me ac­cli­ma­tise to the heights. Kil­i­man­jaro was more of a hike, whereas for Ever­est you need to have more tech­ni­cal skills, so there’s also tech­ni­cal train­ing with the ropes, cara­bin­ers, walk­ing on cram­pons, how to hold an ice axe... HB: Is it purely phys­i­cal train­ing? DAA: No, there’s a lot of men­tal train­ing that goes into a climb too, which peo­ple don’t re­alise. Some days you don’t feel good on the moun­tain. The weather can change, you’re cold, you’re hot, you miss your fam­ily... So you re­ally have to be strong men­tally, too. HB: Is there an ac­tive sup­port sys­tem in the UAE for moun­taineers? DAA: There are climbers, and I’ve met a lot of Emi­rati moun­taineers, but un­for­tu­nately the ma­jor­ity are men. Women are still learn­ing about the sport, so there aren’t so many women in moun­tain climb­ing yet. HB: Is it dif­fi­cult be­ing one of only a few fe­male moun­taineers here? DAA: I mean, peo­ple ask me all the time, ‘Danah, how do you do it?’ There are a lot of bar­ri­ers that I have to break when it comes to culture, re­li­gion, be­ing a mother, and how I just go out and do it, do what I love. For ex­am­ple, when it comes to cloth­ing, I’m not in my tra­di­tional clothes [when climb­ing], I can’t be, but I still dress re­spect­fully and I will still hon­our my culture. I still wear the hi­jab, for ex­am­ple. So yes, I’ve had some amaz­ing achieve­ments but there have been hur­dles along the way. When it comes to me as a mom, an Emi­rati Mus­lim wo­man leav­ing her kids, hus­band and fam­ily be­hind, and trav­el­ling alone... It’s not com­mon. But my fam­ily have ac­cepted it now.

HB: What’s your mes­sage to women or girls with sim­i­lar dreams? DAA: I just want them to fol­low their dreams and be­lieve that if they have a goal and if they put their minds to it, there’s no chal­lenge they can’t con­quer. Ev­ery­body has a moun­tain to climb, and mine just so hap­pens to be an ac­tual moun­tain! Stay positive, never give up. I faced many, many de­lays, but I never gave up. This dream started back in 2013 and five years later... I’m still try­ing to con­quer Mount Ever­est. HB: How will it make you feel when you summit Ever­est as the first Emi­rati wo­man?

DAA: I’m kind of lost for words... It would mean the world to me. I can’t ex­press how I feel, but I’m very ex­cited about it. HB: Which women have in­spired you the most in your field? DAA: Suzanne Al Houby, who is the first Arab wo­man to summit Ever­est. I met her when I came back from Kil­i­man­jaro and she re­ally men­tored me. And also Raha Mo­har­rak, she’s the sec­ond Arab wo­man, and the first Saudi wo­man to summit Ever­est. They’re both in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing. HB: So you’re mid-prepa­ra­tions right now. What is the next step? DAA: Aside from the train­ing, it’s all about spon­sor­ship, which is the one of the big­gest chal­lenges. And then I have to buy the gear, check all my kit, sign up for the ex­pe­di­tion, get travel in­sur­ance, make sure ev­ery­thing is set for my fam­ily... It’s not just about sign­ing up and get­ting on a plane.

HB: Do you have to fol­low a very strict food reg­i­men in the build-up too?

DAA: I have a very bal­anced diet – fruits, veg­eta­bles, more high protein – as it’s im­por­tant we put on a bit of weight be­fore we go up the moun­tain, be­cause we lose a lot of weight whilst climb­ing. I also start drink­ing a lot of wa­ter to get my­self used to it, be­cause on the moun­tain, wa­ter helps avoid high-al­ti­tude sick­ness.

HB: What per­sonal items will you take?

DAA: I will take two pic­tures my chil­dren drew for me when I went to Kil­i­man­jaro, and take them to the summit, along with the UAE flag. I also had them write on my boots, so that when I’m climb­ing, ev­ery time I take a step, my chil­dren will re­mind me why I am there, that I’ve left them for a rea­son and that I’m go­ing to do it. They will mo­ti­vate me to keep go­ing. I’ve also got a book that all my friends and fam­ily are writing in, so that I can read spe­cial notes and mes­sages when­ever I’m feeling low.

HB: Any spe­cial crea­ture com­forts?

HB: I’ll have a satel­lite phone, so I can get in touch with my kids; cho­co­late – I take mini-bags of Mal­te­sers; and some es­sen­tial oils – such as laven­der, as it helps you sleep well. I’ll also wear a set of bracelets I love: one’s from Mecca, one’s from Me­d­ina, and one is from Nam­che Bazaar that I got on my way to Ever­est Base Camp. HB: What else will keep you mo­ti­vated? DAA: My faith keeps me go­ing. Noth­ing just gets dropped on your doorstep, you’ve got to work hard. I work so hard and I’ve given it ev­ery­thing I’ve got and I be­lieve the rest is in God’s hands. I be­lieve ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son. HB: What’s the first thing you’ll do once you’re back? DAA: I promised my kids I’d take them to the Mal­dives for a month! It’s one of my favourite places in the world and I just want to spend some time chill­ing on the beach with them. But I don’t think it will be long be­fore I’m look­ing for my next chal­lenge... HB: Ex­actly, af­ter Ever­est, where do you go next? DAA: There’s the sev­en­sum­mit chal­lenge, where you con­quer seven of the high­est moun­tains in each of the seven con­ti­nents. To­day, I’ve done El­brus, Kil­i­man­jaro, Aconcagua and hope­fully Ever­est. So there will be three more for me to con­quer.

“There are a lot of bar­ri­ers to break when it comes to culture,

re­li­gion and be­ing a mother”

Danah Al Ali

Danah Al Ali, at home in Abu Dhabi, pre­par­ing for her summit to Ever­est next month. Abaya, her own

Pho­tos of Danah’s pre­vi­ous sum­mits

Danah’s prep work, and her boots with hand­writ­ten mes­sages from her chil­dren

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