x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Up into the wilds of Kilimanjaro

A team of nine will embark on a 10-day climb this month to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain peak, to raise money for Palestinian refugees.

Off to Kilimanjaro: Climbers from left; Adib Mattar, Bouran Qaddumi, Nabih Bouery, Janwa Dajani, Saeed Barhoush and Hisham Malak.
Off to Kilimanjaro: Climbers from left; Adib Mattar, Bouran Qaddumi, Nabih Bouery, Janwa Dajani, Saeed Barhoush and Hisham Malak.

A team of nine will embark on a 10-day climb this month to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain peak, to raise money for Palestinian refugees. The team, many of whom have been friends since childhood, gathered last night at Dubai International Airport to embark on what they say will be the biggest challenge of their lives.

Coming from Abu Dhabi and Dubai and from as far away as North America, they will be raising funds for the Canada-based Palestinian Education Fund, which raises money to educate refugees in the Palestinian Territories. Hisham Malak, 35, one of seven members of the team of Palestinian descent, says the group chose the charity for its link with education. "It would be great to help bring education to these people in the refugee camps," he said.

"This charity is non-religious, non-political, and it does great work with scholarships and bringing a higher level of education for these people." Group members range in age from 16 to 35 and have been training hard since November, when they decided to make the climb. The idea stemmed from a conversation between Nabih Bouery, 34, and Mr Malak after they had both read the Jon Krakauer book Into The Wild, the true story of Chris McCandless, a young American man who in 1992 walked deep into the Alaskan wilderness and whose farewell note and emaciated corpse were found four months later.

"That was the beginning of the whole thing," Mr Bouery said. "The book and movie are amazing, and from there we decided we wanted to do something amazing, too." Although Kilimanjaro is one of the easier high mountains to climb - scaling it is akin to trekking, and traditional climbing gear such as ropes and ice axes are not necessary - there are risks. The route covers some 80km, and atmospheric oxygen at the peak, 5,890m above sea level, is only half the amount at the bottom.

The group will spend two days acclimatising to high altitude. Experienced local guides will lead the climbers on their eight-hour treks each day and will monitor their medical conditions. The guides will ensure that the climbers eat properly and at regular intervals, despite losing their appetites as they ascend. Mr Malak said: "If the guides don't think someone is fit to go on, that's it; they send you back, even if you wanted to go on.

"The biggest worry is how the body will cope with the altitude. You can't prepare for that. You can just be as fit as you can be for the trip." While Mr Malak has run half marathons and generally keeps himself fit, he is unsure how others will cope. "Even Adib [Mattar], who has climbed up to Machu Picchu, is nervous, as altitude is something out of our control," added Mr Malak. Concerns such as possible side effects of malaria pills and the yellow fever vaccination that the group have all had are other factors adding to the climbers' and their families' worries. Wind and sun burn are yet further concerns.

"There is, of course, an element of risk involved," said Mr Malak. "It's fun, though, and we have a group of friends who will have such a great sense of camaraderie, and our friendships will grow even more." Mr Bouery - a finance manager at the events company Flash in Abu Dhabi - recently spent two weeks at a Thai boxing camp, training for five hours a day to prepare for the expedition. He says the climbers' friends and families have been supportive of the project but are naturally worried.

"Some people say we're crazy, but most people are so positive about it. It's something so different to do. We're all getting older, so it's great to experience more out of life." The climbers will experience the four seasons on their trip, culminating in temperatures which reach minus 30C at their most extreme. The group has created a Facebook page called Mountains For Education and says that this charity adventure will be the first of many.

On their final day, the climbers will set off at midnight to reach the summit for sunrise. After seven days of climbing, they will descend in just one day, but this will have great impact on their knees and muscles. "It's a trip that we'll remember and will stay with us forever," said Mr Bouery. mswan@thenational.ae