Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: the Emirati adventurer making history, one climb at a time

Already the first Emirati to scale Mount Everest, Saeed Al Memari aims to be part of the elite 'eight thousanders' group by climbing the world's 14 highest mountains

Saeed Al Memari is delighted to have made his mark in history after becoming the first Emirati to conquer Mount Everest. Ruel Pableo for The National
Saeed Al Memari is delighted to have made his mark in history after becoming the first Emirati to conquer Mount Everest. Ruel Pableo for The National

History-making adventurer Saeed Al Memari has already taken Emirati achievements to new heights - but he has not reached the peak of his ambitions just yet.

The fearless 42-year-old etched his name in the nation's record books by becoming the first UAE national to climb to the summit of Mount Everest back in 2011.

Rather than bask in his well-earned success, however, the Fujairah-born mountaineer has made it his mission to seek out new goals in the years since.

He became the first Arab to complete the daunting 'Explorer Grand Slam', which involved conquering the highest mountain on each of the seven continents and to reach the North and South Pole.

Now his latest ambitious challenge will put him in rarefied air.

He is hoping to join an elite band of mountaineers - known as 'eight thousanders - to have climbed the 14 highest peaks on the planet.

“My limit is still the sky,” said Mr Al Memari, 42, about the formidable undertaking.

“I was born in Fujairah between the mountains and the sea, so I always look for a challenge that can stop me and say: ‘This is your limit.’

“I have not found that yet.”

He has already climbed the highest and one of the deadliest in the select group - Mount Everest and K2 - and sets out next week for Broad Peak, the world’s 12th highest mountain located on the Pakistan-China border.

Climbing all 14 is considered the holy grail of alpine mountaineering since all peaks tower more than 8,000 metres above sea level in the ‘death zone’ where the air is too thin to sustain human life.

“People can quickly forget what you have achieved,” said Mr Al Memari about the 57 mountains he has climbed since 2011.

“But when you are the first UAE national and the first Arab to climb summits, you will remain the first.

Saeed Al Memari became the first Emirati to climb Mount Everest in 2011 and has stayed on top of his game ever since.     
Saeed Al Memari became the first Emirati to climb Mount Everest in 2011 and has stayed on top of his game ever since.     

“It is my dream to leave something behind for the next generation so they can also have big dreams.”

Only 40 people have so far summited all 14 of the eight thousanders that lie in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in central Asia, according to records kept by alpine climbing groups.

A deadly combination of avalanches, severe weather and extreme high altitude puts climbers at risk of intense headaches, vomiting, swelling in the brain and lungs, pulmonary, cerebral edema or a stroke.

Mr Al Memari said mental preparation is as crucial as physical strength in conditions where lucid thought is difficult.

“You have to think of the worst situation,” he said

“You have to decide that you will continue even if you lose your friend. You can go to the mountain only if you are fully prepared to face this.

“Mountain sickness can affect your mind so you don’t know what you are doing.

“I have learned from my experiences. It could be you feel you are dying but I knew I had to keep my energy and decide in my head that I was coming back home.”

As if climbing dozens of mountains in the past decade wasn't enough to keep him busy, Saeed Al Memari has also launched an adventure centre in Fujairah. Ruel Pableo for The National
As if climbing dozens of mountains in the past decade wasn't enough to keep him busy, Saeed Al Memari has also launched an adventure centre in Fujairah. Ruel Pableo for The National

He has put his life on the line in many treks, particularly last June when he took on K2, nicknamed the ‘savage mountain’, which at 8,612m is just a few hundred metres shorter than Mount Everest.

Bad weather separated Mr Al Memari from his climbing group.

“I lost contact with my group for two days but I had already prepared mentally to survive,” he said.

“I always have extra food, batteries, a phone but most important, it is how you control yourself, your mind and your body to stay warm because then it is difficult to think clearly.”

His biggest support through all his climbs has been his mother, who he said prays a lot while he is away.

Mr Al Memari also has a day job that keeps him occupied after early training sessions of mountain biking, running and swimming.

He heads the Fujairah Adventure Centre, a government-managed adventure sport facility that will help frame rules and regulation to ensure safety in all outdoors sports in the emirate.

He led the creation of the Fujairah Adventure Park, an expansive skate park with obstacle tracks located in the mountains besides a natural lake.

Mr Al Memari is excited about the park, the first of its kind in the Middle East, made for bikes, skateboards and roller skates for all ability levels with a separate loop for children.

The Red Bull Pump Track World Championships is scheduled at the track in September and will draw professional riders and sports fans from across the world.

“This is a new destination and a new adventure we are presenting to the Middle East,” he said.

Having set in motion the emirate’s adventure zones, Mr Al Memari is preparing for the Broad Peak climb.

Although rated a more straightforward climb than the other eight thousanders, at 8,051m Mr Al Memari knows better than to take any mountain for granted.

“Every mountain has its own challenge – it can be the terrain, snow or the weather. Sometimes on a small mountain, you hit extreme weather.

“But as soon as you reach the summit you forget all the challenges because you are filled with something you cannot describe.

“Every time you climb one peak you discover there is another peak you want to see.”

Updated: June 20, 2019 03:39 PM

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