Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 June 2019

UAE mountaineers 'lucky to be alive' after historic Everest climb

Dolores Al Shelleh and Fatima Deryan both witnessed the deaths of fellow climbers in separate incidents

Two UAE-based mountaineers have told how they narrowly escaped death during their successful attempts to scale Mount Everest.

Jordanian Dolores Al Shelleh, 29, made history last Thursday by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the summit via its North Face.

Separately, Fatima Deryan, 26, also became the first Lebanese woman to reach the top last Wednesday from the Nepal side.

Both overcame high winds and sub-zero temperatures to complete the gruelling challenge, and both also witnessed other climbers die in their efforts to stand on top of the world.

Speaking to The National, Ms Al Shelleh revealed how her journey had been fraught with danger every step of the way.

She watched unable to help as a fellow climber died right in front of her. She herself suffered several fractured ribs in a fall.

“He died as we were making our climb down the mountain,” Ms Al Shelleh said.

“It all happened so quickly. It looked like he had an oxygen issue before he started struggling. He fell over and died.”

Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, while training with her team in Nepal. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh
Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, while training with her team in Nepal. Courtesy: Delores Al Shelleh

This year's Everest season has been the fourth-deadliest on record with 11 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday.

There has been criticism of the number of permits issued by the Nepalese government, with 820 climbers and sherpas trying to reach the summit in a short weather window. It has been claimed some climbers lacked experience and appeared unfamiliar with their own equipment.

Ms Al Shelleh said many of her family had feared for the worst when reports began emerging last week of 10 deaths on the mountain.

Images of queues of climbers awaiting their turn to ascend a narrow ridge to the summit did little to allay their fears.

But in an interview on Tuesday, Ms Al Shelleh said her route up the North Face, as opposed to the south-east ridge from Nepal, had avoided the bottlenecks.

EVEREST-CLIMB
EVEREST-CLIMB

In fact, she said was totally unaware so many people had died on the mountain last week until Sunday, when she made her descent.

“On the North Face there is no traffic, so I was not caught up in any of that,” she said in a brief phone call from China.

“I had to tell my family and friends that I was not part of those queues.”

Ms Al Shelleh’s climb was by no means lacking in traumatic moments, however.

“As well as the man dying in front of me, I saw bodies from people who had previously tried to climb Everest,” she said.

“Then one of our group was trying to get to the summit without oxygen, for the fourth time.

“He had to be taken to hospital in Kathmandu after he was coughing up blood.”

The North Face of Everest is notorious for its treacherous conditions and is considered an extremely tough climb in mountaineering circles.

It is often much colder and has higher winds than on other routes, leading to higher fatality rates.

Ms Al Shelleh, who works in marketing, said she hoped her expedition would raise awareness of gender inequality.

She said her success would not have been possible without the support of her main sponsor, Faris Saeed, CEO of Diamond Developers in Dubai’s Sustainable City, who is also her employer.

“I also wanted to shine a light on the importance of sustainability,” she said.

“I hope that the attention I now receive will give me a platform to raise these issues.”

Ms Deryan, who lives in Sharjah and runs a business in Dubai, revealed she had been stuck in a tailback of climbers for hours while making her way up the mountain from the Nepal side.

She also hit out at the number of climbing permits that were issued this year, adding that it was obvious many of those on the mountain were not qualified to take on Everest.

She described being knocked off her feet by a woman in the same line who was suffering the effects of exhaustion.

“I was stuck in the queue for hours and it was worrying because the winds were high and the temperature was minus 35,” she told The National.

Fatima Deryan unfurls the Lebanese flag at the summit of Everest
Fatima Deryan unfurls the Lebanese flag at the summit of Everest

“At those temperatures you have to be constantly moving so standing still was a problem.

“I was very worried and spent that time fearing that I might have frostbite. It was so crowded that you could barely take a step.”

Ms Deryan also revealed that she too had witnessed another climber's death.

“He collapsed in front of me and died but we had no choice but to keep on climbing because it was so dangerous,” she said.

“When I was in the queue to get to the summit a woman passed out and fell against me. Because we were held together by rope, I was pulled off my feet. I thought I was going to die.”

Ms Deryan, who owns an online cleaning company, said the Nepalese government and tour companies have to do much more to ensure climbers have the training to tackle Everest.

“You had people who did not even know how to put on their own equipment, they had to get the sherpas to do it for them,” she said.

Fatima Deryan, 26, pictured before her successful Everest ascent. Reem Mohammed / The National
Fatima Deryan, 26, pictured before her successful Everest ascent. Reem Mohammed / The National

“Others had two or three sherpas with them and just seemed to expect them to do all the work and just carry them to the top.

“There were clearly too many permits issued and there should been much more stringent background checks on the people applying this year.”

She added that her achievement of being the first Lebanese woman to climb Everest had yet to sink in.

“There were two other Lebanese women who were climbing Everest and started a day before me, so I didn’t really give it a second thought,” she said.

“It wasn’t until afterwards that I was told I had been the first to complete the climb. I went up the mountain as plain old Fatima Deryan and came down as the first Lebanese woman to climb Everest.”

Updated: May 28, 2019 10:34 PM

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