x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Two Emiratis take on Mount Aconcagua to promote an active lifestyle

Two Emiratis spend almost a month climbing the highest summit in the Americas, Aconcagua in Argentina, as part of an effort to encourage others to live more healthy lives.

Yousef Al Gurg, left, and Abdulla Al Muhairbi hold the UAE flag during their ascent to the top of Mount Aconcagua. Courtesy Think Up
Yousef Al Gurg, left, and Abdulla Al Muhairbi hold the UAE flag during their ascent to the top of Mount Aconcagua. Courtesy Think Up

Two brave young Emiratis rang in 2014 not relaxing or celebrating, but halfway across the world, climbing up the snowy peak of one of the highest mountains in the world.

Yousef Al Gurg and Abdulla Al Muhairbi spent the past six months training themselves into peak fitness to scale the summit of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina – the tallest mountain in the Americas and the highest in the world outside of the Himalayas.

The pair began their 6,960-metre ascent on December 21 and expect to reach the summit on Monday. There they hope to fly the UAE national flag – and in doing so, inspire their fellow Emiratis to embrace a more active lifestyle.

“We hope to make everyone back home proud and inspire more Emiratis to get interested in hiking and the outdoors,” says Al Gurg. “Most people are just interested in going to malls, but there are so many other activities to try out.”

The pair had extreme cold and strong winds to contend with this week: a high of minus 14°C during the daytime on some days, plunging down to minus 28°C at night. To endure such conditions, the pair need to work together to keep their spirits up.

“The weather is really unpredictable on this mountain, and whether we succeed or not really depends on the weather,” says Al Muhairbi. “We keep trying to motivate each other, to keep going. We know we are doing it for a good cause and to raise the UAE flag on top of this mountain.”

Al Muhairbi, a 24-year-old civil engineer, started getting fit six years ago and loves to hike and play football in his spare time. He admits, however, that he has never done anything this tough before. “I wanted to take my skills to a new level. Plus, I really wanted to use this opportunity to do something noble.

“In the first couple of days we discovered that the Argentinian people are very friendly, and our team are great too.”

Al Gurg, a 23-year-old former professional footballer and an architecture student at American University in Dubai, adds: “As far as I remember, I have always been a very active individual and that’s what got me into mountaineering and the outdoors in the first place. I’ve never been one for sitting down.

“This mountain has always been one that I wanted to attempt and when I told Abdulla about my plans for this trip, he was interested right away.”

Al Gurg and Al Muhairbi prepared for their gruelling hike by wearing high-altitude masks during their gym workout sessions to acclimatise to the mountain air. They also scaled mountains in neighbouring Oman as part of their training. They are more than a week into their journey and so far so good.

“The UAE embassy in Buenos Aires was very welcoming and made sure everything ran smoothly,” says Al Gurg. “And the support we have been getting from everyone back home has helped us keep our spirits up and keep going for the past few days. It really feels like everyone back home is with us on this climb.”

Campaign followers have been staying in touch with the mountaineers using the Twitter hashtag #thinkfit. And while Al Gurg and Al Muhairbi are busy hiking, back in the UAE, their Emirati-run PR agency Think Up is holding weekly community events as part of a campaign sponsored by the Bin Hadher Group, Karam Coffee, Al Laith Events and Ajmal Perfume.

Young people can sign up for sports on offer such as football, running, CrossFit, boxing and cycling, and are being encouraged to make New Year’s resolutions to adopt a healthier lifestyle. According to Health Authority Abu Dhabi, 30 per cent of six- to 18-year-olds in the emirate are now either obese or overweight.

“We have a very high rate of obesity in the Gulf, especially in the UAE,” says Sahar Al Awadi, spokesperson for Think Up. “Through carrying out such activities every Friday for one month, we aim to raise awareness and hope that residents will be encouraged to play sports on a regular basis.”

artslife@thenational.ae

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