What started on a school trip four years ago soon turned into an obsession for Leanna Shuttleworth, who plans to become the youngest British woman to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents.
Dubai teenager aims to scale world's top seven mountains
DUBAI // At the tender age of 18, Leanna Shuttleworth has already scaled the highest mountain on four of the world's seven continents. In December, she will set off for the Antarctic to climb Vinson and add another to her list.
The Dubai resident plans to become the youngest British woman to climb all seven by next March when she hopes to summit Everest.
Unperturbed by avalanches and climbs fraught with danger, she said she just focuses on the dream she has had for the last four years. And along the way she will raise funds for the skin condition vitiligo.
Ms Shuttleworth, who has made all her previous climbs with her father, Mark, will also climb Mt Kosciusko in Australia en route to the Antarctic.
Driven by adrenalin and her passion for climbing, the Dubai College student said she cannot wait to begin her next campaign. But along the way, lots of lessons have been learnt and new skills obtained - all of which she will need to tackle Mt Everest, the world's highest mountain at 8,848 metres.
Ms Shuttleworth got hooked on climbing when she was just 14 and her school organised a 21-day hike to Everest Base Camp. Her passion was born despite suffering a bout of severe altitude sickness.
"It was the most stunning trip I've ever [taken] ... It was the best time of my life. Up until now, I've never been happier. It was a really close group of friends," she said.
On her return to Dubai, she could not stop retelling her story, leaving out no detail in the many accounts to her family.
While training for another school trip, to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa's highest mountain, her friends gave her a book that changed her life. Together On Top of the World described the adventures of the first couple to climb the so-called 'Seven Summits' - the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. She began to research the idea and look into duplicating their feat.
"When I brought the Seven Summits up, my father said it should be one mountain at a time. Kilimanjaro went well and he said I could go for the next one.."
Her next target was Mount Elbrus in Russia, for which she needed winter mountain experience. While on a ski holiday in the Alps she learnt how to use specialised gear such as crampons, ropes and ice axes, and honed her climbing techniques.
She reached the 5,600-metre summit in July 2008. "It was fairly terrifying because the guy in front was on his hands and knees trying to feel where the crevasses were and we were walking over these little snow bridges," she said.
Then, her father said, the challenge turned really serious. Denali, a 6,194-metre mountain in Alaska, was next up. "People do Denali in preparation for Mount Everest," he said, with his daughter adding that "a bad day on Denali is the same as a bad day on Everest."
Before the Shuttleworths made their trip, they took a training climb in Scotland. A group making the same climb just a week before died in an avalanche. "That's when it really brought it home to us that what we were doing was slightly dangerous," Mr Shuttleworth said.
He and his wife, Jenny, decided he and Leanna could go ahead with the Denali climb only if they went with the best guides, to take "as much risk out of it as we can". Mrs Shuttleworth does not usually climb with her daughter, but will join her husband and Leanna at Base Camp when they make the Everest climb.
The three-week Denali climb was Ms Shuttleworth's most gruelling. "For summit you have to go up the autobahn; that was the very dangerous part. It was fixed line, it was really steep and a huge slope. If one person falls it could pull the whole team down the slope," she said.
Last December they tackled Aconcagua in Argentina.
She said she felt relief after each climb, happy that nothing has gone wrong.
After Ms Shuttleworth finishes her A levels in the next few weeks, she will turn her focus to the Antarctic and then to Everest. If everything goes to plan, she hopes to have reached the summit of the world's highest mountain by March 31, 2012.
But her ambition does not end there. She wants to become the first woman to climb two summits higher than 8,000-metres within 48 hours, and will attempt Mt Lhotse after Everest.
"I love challenges and it's really exciting. I love pushing myself and it requires a skill as well as improving yourself. It's not something everyone can do," she said.