Two mountaineers who just returned from climbing the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas are now hoping to become the first Emiratis to climb the seven summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents.
The architecture student Yousef Al Gurg and the civil engineer Abdulla Al Muhairbi spent a gruelling 24 days hiking up the 6,960-metre Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, reaching the summit on January 6. Their goal was to inspire other young Emiratis to get fit, a campaign supported on Twitter via the hashtag #ThinkFit. Back in the UAE, their PR agency Think Up held weekly community events as part of a campaign.
Al Muhairbi endured acute altitude sickness, which frequently made him dizzy and nauseous. “At one point, I would walk a few steps and fall over,” he recalls. “One of the guides had to tie himself to me to stop me from falling over.
“Yousef took care of me. He didn’t sleep and woke me every few hours to give me my medicine. He was my doctor. Even now, almost a week after coming home, I still can’t feel two of my fingers.”
The pair survived on a diet of powdered food and nutrition bars. They both dropped a considerable amount of weight after burning 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day on the climb. Al Muhairbi says: “We both craved sushi, we used to mention it at every mealtime. It was the first meal we had when we came back home.”
The pair admit that although they had anticipated the physical difficulties, nothing could have prepared them for the mental challenges they faced. Al Gurg says: “Sometimes we had to spend the whole day in a tiny tent because it was too cold to do anything. We slept with our water bottles in our sleeping bags to stop them freezing, and had to break through ice to get water from the streams. Often it was -10°C inside the tent, and that was warm compared with the temperature outside.
“When we reached the top and called our families, we both broke into tears,” says Al Gurg. “My family is very proud of me. But I’m not sure how happy they’ll feel when I head off to climb the next mountain. Here in the UAE, life is comfortable. But I think it’s important to sometimes go outside our comfort zones to appreciate all the things that we take for granted such as our social life, running water and electricity. When we came home, I got many calls from people saying they wanted to give mountaineering a try and asking which local trips they could join. I’m glad we could inspire people in this way.”