The first Qatari citizen to scale Mount Everest, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abduallah Al Thani, talks about surviving the climb of Mt Everest in Nepal and his dedication to climb it, in order to raise awareness and charity for the children of Nepal, as the brand ambassador of Reach Out to Asia (ROTA).
Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) Brand Ambassador and the first Qatari to scale Mt Everest, Sheikh Mohammed has returned victorious from his two months grueling climb to the highest point in the world, reaching an altitude of 8,850 m.
All of Sheikh Mohammed’s mountaineering expeditions are connected with a noble mission of raising awareness and charity, and the expedition to Mt Everest too was to raise US $1 million QR3,641,300 for ROTA’s education projects in Nepal.
Sheikh Mohammed began his two-month-long journey to the top of Mt Everest on 4 April 2013, accompanied throughout his adventurous by a team of Arabs that named their group ‘Arabs With Altitude,’ which included his friends Raed Zidan, who became the first Palestinian man to summit Mt Everest, Iranian Masoud Mohammad, Raha Muharrak who became the first Saudi Arabian woman and youngest Arab to summit Mt Everest and the videographer Canadian-Lebanese Elia Saikaly. Sheikh Mohammed and his team successfully reached the peak on 22 May 2013.
‘There were a lot of firsts this year in the mountain. First Pakistani, first twins from India, first Palestinian man, first female from Saudi Arabia. So we’re very proud of that,’ said Sheikh Mohammed.
While climbing the world’s highest mountain, Sheikh Mohammed, a husband and father of three, missed the birth of his first daughter, Nama, who’s now three-weeks-old. ‘One of the hardest and happiest moments for me was when I got a baby girl when I was in the mountain. She was born on the second day after they fixed the line [climbing line] so it was a very happy day for me,’ he said. Sheikh Mohammed has two sons. Abdullah is almost six-years-old and Sultan is almost two.
However, the first thing Sheikh Mohammed remembered when he got to the summit of Mt Everest was call his family. And he started with his mother and said:
I didn’t even say hello. She said hello and I said ‘guess where your son is standing right now?’ She said, ‘where are you?’ I said ‘I’m standing on top of the world.’ Of course, they were extremely happy. My family, wife and kids and all – they were happy. And then my friend was standing next to me and said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this happy in my life.’ And I said, ‘it’s because I reached my goal.’
Explaining how he felt after standing on the highest point and mountain in the world, Sheikh Mohammed said:
It was like my gold medal. It was my Olympics and I won the gold. I wasn’t competing against my fellow friends, I was competing against myself. When people say Mohammed conquered the mountain. I didn’t conquer the mountain. I conquered the mountain inside me because there was a huge mountain inside of me saying I can’t do it. And standing at that point, I just proved myself wrong that I can do it. And was a gold medal on my neck. Standing there, I think it was one of the best moments in my life to raise the Qatari flag on that mountain. You could see how happy and proud I was.
Mountain climbing is a rare sport in the Arab region especially in Qatar therefore those who choose to follow in Sheikh Mohammed footsteps should go to him for assistance. ‘People approach me. They want to climb. They want to know more about it. Unfortunately in Qatar, I think it’s a new thing and I’m sure in the future, people would like to climb at least Kilimanjaro or something. I would be more than happy Qataris or a group from Qatar to Mt Kilimanjaro to experience standing on the highest point in a continent. And that’s a feeling like no other,’ he said.
Born and raised in Sharjah, Sheikh Mohammed completed his MBA in 2006 from the American University of Sharjah. In January 2012, he was entrusted with the position of director-general of Sharjah Statistics Centre. He is also a member of Air Arabia’s Board of Directors and co-founder of musafir.com. For Sheikh Mohammed, mountaineering is a passion. His dedicated mission is to push his limits to reach the seven highest summits of the seven continents of the world. In September 2011, he summited Mont Blanc at 4,810 m. He also climbed twice the summits of Mt Kilimanjaro at 5,895 m on March 2010 and on 12 November 2011, respectively. Similarly, on 25 December 2012, he reached the top of Mt Vinson, the highest peak of Antarctica, at an altitude of 4,892 m, on 28 August 2012, he reached the summit of Mt Elbrus, the highest point in Europe at 5,642 m, on 11 October 2012, he summited Mt Kosciuszko, Australia at 2,228 m, on 5 January 2013, he reached the summit of Mt Aconcagua (South America), the highest peak in the Western hemisphere at an altitude of 6,960 m and on 22 May 2013, he reached the top of Mt Everest in Nepal at an altitude of 8,850 m.
Here’s what he had to say:
What has this experience taught you?
Surprisingly, the mountain taught me to be patient. Something the mountain teaches you is that it’s not always your way. It’s the mountain’s way. And whatever you do, if the weather is bad, you’re stuck in the tent. If the weather is bad, you can’t go to the summit. So if you ask me what I learned, patience is the hardest thing over there.
People ask me and say you’re adrenaline junkie and I say no, I’m not an adrenaline junkie but at the mountain, it’s all about survival and patience not the other things you learned about. The second thing you get out of the mountain is clarity. When you leave the mountain, your mind is clear and you know exactly what is life.
When did you begin training/preparing to climb Mt Everest and what did it consist of?
I started training almost over four years ago when I started my first base camp. I had in mind that Everest is coming up so each mountain was training for me. With one mountain, you get the technical ability. With one mountain, you get the height. With one mountain, you get the weather. So each mountain teaches you something. And in Everest, you have the whole thing; you have the weather, the altitude and the technical. You have to know everything about mountaineering to climb this mountain. So I started four years ago and since then I never stopped.
Before you left to Mt Everest, how did your family take it? Were they worried?
I’m very lucky to have a very supporting family that supports whatever I do…they would rather me not climb of course because they’re worried about their son or husband. They don’t want me to do dangerous things. However, they support me in what I love doing, which is to climb mountains.
What kind of challenges did you face climbing the mountain?
You have two types of challenges. You have the physical challenges then you have the mental challenges. Surprisingly, the mental challenge is much more intense than the physical one but physically you’re ready. You go to the mountain, you’ve done you homework, you’ve done you training, you’ve done the stairs – all these things. But you go there, and then you’re surprised you’re there for two months. It’s difficult to be away from everyone. Luckily, I was with my friends but still you feel away from everyone. Communication is hard. You get telephone signals sometimes. We had a satellite phone but with a satellite phone, you do one call only to your family or something. You don’t check what’s happening in the world. So the mental aspect was really hard on us as a team. We missed our families. We missed our children and our friends. Basically, you miss a good bed. You’re sleeping on icy floors. You miss water. The water you get there sometimes it has rocks and stuff. It’s grey but you drink it.
Physically, you have to stay healthy. Hygiene is an issue. There’s no water. So the food you eat must be clean. You get sick easily, if you’re sick, you get off the mountain. So you have to really take care of your health there. I’m not even going to talk about how hard it is to climb the actual mountain, going up and down the mountain. It makes it even harder if you’re sick. I found I have asthma in the mountain. I didn’t know that. I had it as a kid. Then I found out, when I was coming from camp three, I wasn’t breathing well. I went to the doctor and I thought my climb was over because I thought I had primary lymphoedema, which is water in the lungs. Basically, you’re off the mountain. The doctor gave me an inhaler and I tried it then he said you have asthma. I was like ok, good to know. After that, I was fine with the asthma.
You always get issues. I had asthma then a rib injury. So you keep getting small injuries but anything can get you off the mountain and you don’t know what so once that happens with you, you also play the mental game.
So these are the kind of challenges you face in the mountain, other than the usual avalanches that you see all the time and hope it doesn’t hit you. And ice fall and crevasses that you hope you don’t fall into. And the rock fall, you look up and hope there’s no rock that’s coming to crush your head.
What was life like in the mountain – what did you eat, drink and do?
Luckily I went with a very good company, we had a chef cook in base camp. She was from the states. She’s very creative. She was even cooking Arabic food for us, some days. It wasn’t Arabic food actually. It was Arabic Nepali food. It was fatoosh with Prata because she didn’t have bread. Life in base camp, we would be training to go up before lunch. After lunch, we’d be just sitting down basically chilling. Basically when we’re in base camp, we’re resting. We don’t do heavy work. However, we do a lot rotations, going up and down the mountain, acclimatising. So we have three rotations. Each rotation takes about a week. Between them, we take four days rest in base camp.
In terms of global warming, what did you observe in Mt Everest as you climbed it?
I witnessed that first hand coming down from camp four to camp two, we saw huge lakes…lakes there means the ice is melting and if you see pictures of the cumbo, 50 years ago and compare it with today, you can see how much less ice there is now. The second thing, the lhotse face is known to be very icy but it was all squishy and soft. It was good for us. It was much easier for us to go down but the guides were telling me – they’ve been there for many years – and they’ve never seen the lhotse face to be that bad.
Was there ever a point were you felt like you want to quit?
I had to do it. Not for me. For them [ROTA]. A lot of people were depending on me climbing this. If I were to quit, I’m not quitting on myself. I’m quitting on the 100,000s of kids who are going to benefit from this. How would they feel if someone who’s sponsoring them generates funds then quit? You have no idea how much pressure that put. I don’t like taking sponsors. Many companies come tell me, I’ll sponsor you to climb. I usually say no because a sponsor expects me to put their flag at the summit. And my problem is, I can’t control the weather or myself – if I get sick or something happens, which is not in my hands. I can’t help. However, when I know thousands of people are depending on me climbing – I’m not even talking about my families, friends or people who are following my blog – I’m talking about all these kids who are going to benefit from my climb so you can’t even think of quitting.
You’ve mentioned that there were many other climbers on Mt Everest. Could or did you interact with them?
There were about 300 climbers this year so Nepal gave about 300 permits to climb Mt Everest this year. Most of us spend a lot of time in base camp, between rotations – waiting for rotation, waiting for weather. At the same time, we go up and down the mountain so we keep crossing people the whole time so you make friends and you meet people. When you’re bored and have nothing to do, you walk around and go to the other camps and see who’s there. We got to know many of the climbers by doing that. It’s also a social event. We were three friends, which was good but at the same time, you want to meet who’s there on the mountain.
My goal is to climb the seven summits, which are the highest mountains in each continent. At the moment, I climbed six of them. I have one left, which Mt Denali in Alaska. We’re planning as a team, as Arabs again, to come together next year hopefully by May. We started as a team together and we’d like to finish all together.