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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 August 2018

Portrait of a Nation: Emirati adventurer recalls brush with death on the mountainside

Ebrahim Al Khajeh has established an outdoor adventure company combining trekking, climbing and meditation

Ibrahim Al Khajeh for Portrait of a Nation. Antonie Robertson / The National
Ibrahim Al Khajeh for Portrait of a Nation. Antonie Robertson / The National

After a near death mountain experience, spending 11 days in a silence retreat and learning how to use the healing energies of the mind, Ebrahim Al Khajeh has decided to share his acquired wisdom with others in the most practical way possible.

The 32-year-old Emirati mountaineer has been a keen sportsman for as long as he can remember, and has established a specialist outdoor sports company.

He used to be a professional footballer, and also has competed as a boxer, bowler, runner, power lifter, body builder and chess player — but decided to walk a different path after losing his competitive spirit.

Mr Al Khajeh discovered a new passion for the outdoors, and now practises different kinds of climbing.

It was one near-death experience in the mountains that pushed him to take a transformational step into a new career combining outdoor adventure with meditation.

“One day I was rock climbing in Oman with another experienced climber, who up until this day still doesn’t know he almost killed me.”

His partner did not put the belay device on guide mode, which means the rope he was using for support was useless.

During the climb, he grabbed a loose rock — and realised should he fall, the rope would not have held him from falling 60 meters down to a likely death.

“When I saw it on my GoPro video later on, I thought how many people have been learning to do this the wrong way? People say we are professional, but not everyone is certified.”

Since then, Mr Al Khajeh decided to get certified at a top mountaineering school, along with his friend, Fadi Hachicho.

The pair went to Alaska in August 2015 to train how to become mountain guides.

“That was one of the most beautiful, but difficult climbs we have done in our lives,” Mr Al Khajeh said.

During the two-month mountaineering certification course they jumped through sink holes that no one has seen the end of, and crawled their way back up.

They climbed over ice and rocks and learnt how to survive by hiding food from wild animals, and how to conduct an avalanche and crevasse rescue.

“We learnt a lot about leadership style,” he said.

“Whatever we learnt, we now need to share it with others, because when someone shares the wrong techniques it can lead to a fatal accident.”

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The pair have since formed Adventurati Outdoor — a company organising various types of trekking trips inside and outside the UAE, but with a twist.

Their tips combine trekking with the art of Vipassana meditation, a skill taught in India 2,500 years ago. Courses involve long periods of silence for up to 11 days.

“I went there thinking this is the most difficult thing that I will have to do; I am a doctor of philosophy so we always have a lot of concept to talk about,” he said.

“First day there was the silence, second day we had to sit for 14 hours with our backs straight and not do anything.

“It was painful in my back and knees to a point when It felt like someone had stabbed me with a knife.”

For three days, they continued to practice this painful “doing nothing” exercise in an effort to switch off mentally.

On day four, Mr Al Khajeh said he was beginning to be able to focus on the pain in his body and relieve that pain through concentration alone.

“Anywhere I have pain, I can now focus on it and it’s gone,” he said.

“The mind has to be sharp and focused, and you get sharper by training. I’ve read plenty of books in the past, but didn’t learn as much as I did from this course.

“Now we’re doing this within our trips without giving courses. When we see people are interested we will start giving lectures.”

Throughout the trips, participants face situations that require more than technical skills to overcome, so indirectly he teaches them to use the power of the mind and team work to overcome those challenges.

Mr Al Khajeh plans to translate his experiences into a book, which he plans to start working on later this year.

The biog

Age: 32

Qualifications: Diploma in engineering from TSI Technical Institute, bachelor’s degree in accounting from Dubai’s Al Ghurair University, master’s degree in human resources from Abu Dhabi University, currently third years PHD in strategy of human resources.

Favourite mountain range: The Himalayas

Favourite experience: Two months trekking in Alaska

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