Our teen-life author tracks the ascent of two of Dubai's aspiring teen mountaineers.
Some teenagers go in search of peak experiences
The first time we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Austria, I refused to leave the place, not least because the mountains were filled with the friendliest goats I had ever seen. Well, the only goats I had ever seen.
I absolutely loved the trip because what kid hasn't imagined herself as Heidi frolicking around with Schwanli and Baerli the lambs in the Alpine meadows? OK, maybe not everyone, but I was a dreamer, loved Heidi and anything to do with mountains, and had temper tantrums when I was refused a straw bed in my own loft because, unforgivably: "We don't have a loft!" The excuses some people come up with.
There are teenagers, however, who are determinedly making the effort to realise their dreams. Climbing the crème de la crème of mountains is no a fantasy for Abhinav Mathur, a former student of Dubai beginning his first year at the University of Edinburgh.
He decided to climb Kilimanjaro after his friends trekked to Everest Base Camp and told him it was fun. As you do. Helped along by his trainer, Neville Hopwood, he overcame altitude sickness and disgusting porridge for breakfast to climb to the 5,895 metre-high Uhuru summit.
Training, he admits, was hard, to say the least. "You haven't really lived until you feel some of Nev's 'love', which involved a 20-lap warm-up around the school track without a break, followed by intense push-ups and sit-ups and squats. He also threw in some sprints for fun. Plus, the Friday early morning suicide runs were not easy." The name would be enough to put anyone off.
Although stoutly sticking to his principles that "what happens on the mountain, stays on the mountain", he remembers one incident very clearly. "There was the time when one of the porters who was carrying our big trek bags was scared after hearing something buzzing in one of the bags. 'Bomb', he thought, reluctant to carry the bag anymore. Only to find out that a member of the team had forgotten to take out the batteries from an electric shaver in the bag."
While he maintains that the climb was a wonderful, character-building experience, the trip was not without its challenges: when he was sick and unable to eat anything, his friends had to force food down his mouth to help him keep his energy up. By day three, they had started receiving yellow, funny-tasting water that was filtered through makeshift do-hickeys. Nevertheless, if he had the chance to do it again, he enthusiastically declares, he'd love to.
Meanwhile, 18-year old Leanna Shuttleworth has her sights set high - but then great heights aren't a problem when you're a seasoned mountaineer. She is working towards becoming the youngest British female to climb the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. Having already vanquished four continents, she now plans to conquer Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia and, of course, Everest.
The hike up Aconcagua in South America was one of her most unforgettable climbs because summit day also happened to be Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was at camp: the team did their best to conjure up a festive atmosphere by creating a Christmas tree out of ice axes and crampons, looped with rope, with a glove on the top for a star. While the little group sang carols and had a (sort-of) Christmas dinner, Leanna shrugs that the spirit was difficult to maintain, as they had to dismantle the tree to use the crampons later that day. With half of the world's highest peaks behind her, she has by no means taken it easy on herself. "In training for Everest and Vinson, I'm doing two weekly sessions at the gym, two weekly sessions either on a stepper or a running machine, and one exercise class. We went along to a class at Core Studio this weekend and I've hardly been able to walk for two days! Once I damaged my knee and couldn't do anything for four months, but really I get bored without the pressure of training - I don't know what to do with myself." Well, yes, any teenager would understandably get bored if she couldn't spend most of her afternoons training to break a national record.
I shouldn't be surprised at all if next Christmas proves to be just as, er, enjoyable for Leanna; the next time she belts out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer could well be when she's standing tall (or crouched shivering, hoping for a quick descent) on literally the top of the world.
For one Dubai teenager, the refrain of Climb Ev'ry Mountain, or at least the best of them, is a very feasible goal.
The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai