For most people, skiing to the North Pole would be enough of a challenge for one year. But Abdulla Alahbabi, who in April became the youngest person from the 22 Arab League countries to achieve this feat, now has his sights set on conquering the South Pole as well.
On December 15, the 26-year-old Emirati will set off from Abu Dhabi to Chile, where he will meet the seven other team members preparing to fly to Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica and ski the 130 kilometre journey to the South Pole.
The journey is expected to take three weeks and is fraught with danger. With temperatures plummeting to -50 C, there is a serious risk of frostbite, while the high altitude (the team will be skiing at 11,000 feet) makes breathing difficult – not ideal when you are trying to pull a 45kg sled loaded with food and equipment.
But for Alahbabi, who is being sponsored by ADCB, this is all part of the adventure. "I love doing anything challenging," he says in an interview with The National. "If you present me with a challenge, I'm like, okay, let's roll up my sleeves and give it a shot."
Despite the experience he gained during the North Pole expedition in April, Alahbabi expects this trip to be even tougher. He has been training with an elevation mask, which limits air supply and replicates conditions at high altitude but says he will still need to acclimatise quickly to life in Antarctica. "The high altitude impacts on your stamina and your breathing," he explains.
“It will be 10 degrees colder than it was in the North Pole,” Alahbabi continues. “You really have to regulate your body temperature, as you’re on the borderline of life and death. It’s all about putting one layer on top of another.”
Snow blindness, caused by sun rays reflecting off the white snow, is another concern. “You have the sun beating down on you and the reflective rays are pretty severe,” says Alahbabi, who lost six kilos during the trip to the North Pole. “It’s just the effect of the cold on your body. I’ll be having a morning meal, lunch, dinner and plenty of snacks, as well as drinking water with electrolytes.”
But Alahbabi knows overcoming the myriad obstacles will be worth it when he reaches the South Pole and plants the UAE flag in the snow. “That’s the moment I’ll be fighting for the whole way through,” he says.
Alahbabi hopes that his own exploits will inspire more Emiratis to challenge themselves. “I’m trying to send out a message to empower the youth and to let them know that achievements are not just reserved for experienced people,” he says. “Step out of your comfort zone and you can achieve what you desire.
“The purpose of these expeditions is to contribute to the movement we’re seeing in the UAE, where we have a lot of role models saying, ‘Hey, come on, challenge yourself, we can actually achieve the impossible,’” says Alahbabi. “In this year, the Year of Zayed, I wanted to contribute to that movement.
“Reaching the North and South Pole in the same year and being the youngest Arab ever to achieve this unassisted would be amazing for me at this age.”