x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Dubai mountaineer strives for peak perfection with Denali challenge

The first Arab woman to reach the top of Everest is now hoping to fulfill her dream of reaching the highest peaks on all seven continents.

A handout picture from ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller public relations company shows Suzanne Al Houby, a Palestinian who lives in Dubai, climbing Mount Everest on May 21, 2011 before she became the first Arab woman to scale the world's tallest mountain. AFP PHOTO/HO/ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller
A handout picture from ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller public relations company shows Suzanne Al Houby, a Palestinian who lives in Dubai, climbing Mount Everest on May 21, 2011 before she became the first Arab woman to scale the world's tallest mountain. AFP PHOTO/HO/ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller

DUBAI // Mountaineer Suzanne Al Houby is about to have another try this Saturday at completing her bid to scale the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

She has already reached the summits of six, but last year's attempt to scale Denali in Alaska – the highest mountain in North America – failed because of bad weather. Now she is heading back to try again.

Ms Al Houby, a Palestinian mother of two who lives in Dubai, became the first Arab woman to reach the top of Everest in 2011. Her ascent is recorded in the official Himalayan climbing database.

"I tried Denali but I didn't summit due to weather conditions," she said. "Now I'm going back, though I cannot be sure I'll get to the top.

"The thing about mountains is that you can train as much as you want – it takes years of commitment and some mountains take years of preparation – but you never know.

"It's not you who decides, it's really the mountain, the weather, your body.

"There have been mountains where I was just 200 metres away from the summit and I had to turn around because it was the right thing to do. The mountains have to be merciful, they do not allow us to climb them all the time."

Last year Ms Al Houby reached the top of the sixth of the big seven, Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, Indonesia, which at 4,884 metres is the highest peak in the Oceania region.

"It got me closer to my dream, because I have now summited six out of the seven highest mountains," she said. "I am the first Arab woman who has climbed all these mountains."

The others Ms Al Houby has conquered are Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, Elbrus (Europe), Aconcagua (South America) and Vinson (Antarctica).

She has set aside a month for the Denali attempt so if she encounters bad weather again she will still have time to reach the summit.

"I'm feeling a little bit anxious but I've done the best I can with training," she said.

"I'm hoping for good weather this time, that's my concern."

Ms Al Houby's love of mountains began during a safari holiday in Tanzania.

"When I saw my first free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro, I found my calling right there and then," she said.

"I physically felt I wanted to climb this mountain."

She signed up for an expedition to climb the peak but turned up with unsuitable gear and clothing, and without having completed the necessary training.

"Climbing as a culture didn't exist here, so I did not have somebody to talk to, to ask the right questions," Ms Al Houby said.

"I was miserable by day three – really, really miserable. It was raining and I had blisters all over my feet."

She felt like abandoning the climb, but her pride kept her going.

"I wasn't going to go to the guide and tell him to turn me around. I decided to keep pushing until I really could not push any more.

"Four days later I was standing at the summit. What a liberating feeling that was. If I was able to do it being in so much pain, with the bad gear I had and a lack of understanding of what climbing a mountain really means, then maybe I would be able to do more."

She said this success turned her into an altitude junkie.

"I just loved pushing myself in the thin air, pushing my boundaries and releasing my potential. Once you realise what you're capable of it's really hard for you to say I cannot do this, I cannot do that."

 

csimpson@thenational.ae