Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

My UAE: Mountain climber Danah Al Ali is scaling the summits

Danah Al Ali is currently attempting to become the first Emirati woman to climb Mount Everest. She set off from the North Face in Tibet on April 19 and will begin the ascent to Base Camp. It will take her almost six weeks.
Danah Al Ali on Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside Asia, which was part of her preparation for Everest. Courtesy Danah Al Ali
Danah Al Ali on Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside Asia, which was part of her preparation for Everest. Courtesy Danah Al Ali

Danah Al Ali is currently attempting to become the first Emirati woman to climb Mount Everest. She set off from the North Face in Tibet on April 19 and will begin the ascent to Base Camp. It will take her almost six weeks.

To help her body acclimatise, she will journey back and forth between three staggered camps before finally reaching the gruelling 8,848-metre-high summit.

“This is a dream I’ve had for so long,” the 31-year-old mother of two says. “It’s something I really want to do.”

The world’s highest mountain is an exciting challenge, but it’s full of danger. To avoid the Khumbu Icefall, considered Everest’s most treacherous obstacle, Al Ali will climb the less-popular North Ridge.

“There are loads of dangerous sections,” she explains. “I’m nervous about avalanches, and crevices where the only way to pass is with a ladder. You need to be prepared for anything on Everest.

“You can train and get experience from climbing other mountains, but the only way to truly prepare yourself is to get out there and just do it.”

Raised in Abu Dhabi, the athletic Al Ali’s passion for mountain climbing began five years ago. She decided she needed a new physical challenge and set out to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. After six months of high-intensity cardio training and a protein-rich diet, she embarked on her first ­expedition.

“It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life,” she says. “Finally, we reached Stella Point, which is at the top of the mountain but not the top, and then we had to walk another 45 minutes to get to the peak. It felt like the longest time.

“When we officially climbed to the top, we could only stay for 15 minutes due to the altitude. Then we started the six-and-a-half-hour descent,” she says. “It was an amazing experience. I loved sleeping in a tent under the stars, meeting new people and taking a step outside my comfort zone.”

The experience fuelled Al Ali’s thirst for mountain climbing. In need of climbing experience, in 2014, she began training on the north side of Mont Blanc in France, the Alps’ highest peak.

Mount Elbrus, Europe’s tallest mountain, was next followed by a return to Mont Blanc last year, when she also undertook a 10-day trek to Everest Base Camp, to get “a feel for the Himalayas”.

In January, she embarked on her toughest challenge to date: Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside Asia.

“We summitted, but every day we weren’t sure if we would make it,” she says. “Someone got snow blindness. Someone else got bad altitude sickness and had to go back. Some of us had heart palpitations and it was at that point I really started doubting myself.”

For Everest, she has been preparing at an altitude chamber in Dubai. Wearing a backpack on an incline treadmill, she’s exposed to the same oxygen level as those at high altitudes.

She also does circuit training three times a week with a personal trainer. “Climbing a mountain is more mentally than physically challenging,” she says. “You have to be able to take the unexpected and keep going. The weather conditions can change at any moment – one minute it’s hot, the next it’s cold. You might get an upset tummy. There are so many variables.

“One of the most important things is knowing when to turn back. You have to be patient and respect the mountain.”

Al Ali hopes her first attempt at Mount Everest is successful. “You can’t describe that feeling you get when you summit a mountain – the clarity of mind and the quiet. To experience that on Mount ­Everest would be incredible.”

Who is your favourite sportsperson?

The mountaineer Adrian Ballinger. He’s so positive. He is taking me up Mount Everest.

What’s your favourite book?

I’m currently reading Skin by Mo Hayder. It’s a thriller and was recommended to me by a friend. I’m enjoying it.

What’s your favourite place in the UAE?

Abu Dhabi, because it’s home. I grew up here and my family is here. It’s not too busy, which is perfect for me.

What’s your favourite disaster movie?

Everest. It’s sad, but beautifully shot.

What’s your favourite mountain range

The Himalayas. They’re so beautiful, almost magical.

Describe yourself in five words.

Positive, motivated, adventurous, focused and determined.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

Ed Sheeran.

If you could take your family anywhere in the world, where would you go?

The Maldives. We’ve been seven or eight times already and it’s so peaceful. It’s also in contrast to the mountains.

What three things do you always pack when you go mountain climbing?

Pictures and videos of my family on my phone, the UAE flag and baby wipes – they’re the only way to take a bath.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I’d bring world peace.

What was the last tourist attraction you visited in the UAE?

We took my family from Wales to Yas Island.

weekend@thenational.ae

Updated: May 2, 2017 04:00 AM

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