Defiant Dubai climber still out to make history after record bid fails

Caroline Leon came agonisingly close to being the first person in world to climb the highest mountain in each country in the Middle East

Caroline Leon training in the RAK Mountains. Courtesy Caroline Leon

A Dubai climber who was told she would never walk again after breaking her back in a horror fall has vowed to become the first person in the world to reach  the summit of each of the region's highest mountains.

Australian Caroline Leon, 34, recently attempted to set a world record by travelling across all the countries in the Middle East, and climbing the highest mountain in each nation inside 30 days.

Security and logistical issues in Bahrain, Palestine, Iraq and Yemen prevented her from scaling all the heights.

However, that has not stopped her from plotting her return in her attempt to make history.

"For it to be an official world record you have to do it in a specified amount of time. It can't be open-ended for you to complete it whenever you want," she said.

“This was never really about setting a world record though. Nobody has been to the summit of all these mountains before, I am still very much planning on becoming the very first person to complete the set.”

Ms Leon is certainly no stranger to overcoming adversity.

She suffered terrible injuries four years ago when she fell from an outdoor climbing wall in Dubai.

Doctors told her the damage was so severe it was unlikely she would ever walk again.

She used a wheelchair for six months and had 14 operations and 23 blood transfusions before she was able to slowly regain the ability to walk.

Ms Leon spoke to The National after a whirlwind journey across the region, with visits to Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“It was an absolutely amazing experience even though I didn’t get the record,” she said.

“I managed to get to 13 countries and scale 10 of the summits within 28 days.”

She said while the record eluded her, the experience was life-changing in ways she was not prepared for.

“It really opened my mind,” she said.

“If we didn’t have issues in Iraq, for example, then I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the town of Erbil getting to know so many families there.

"We only went into town because we couldn't get up the mountain. The people were so warm and friendly, they invited me into their homes and couldn't have done enough for me."

She said while her journey went relatively smoothly, there were still moments of high drama.

"When we were climbing Jebel Shams in Oman we encountered blizzards, torrential rain and fog," she said.

Caroline Leon pictured during her climb of Kilimanjaro. Courtesy Caroline Leon

"My guide had to request military assistance in getting back down the mountain. On top of that I broke my mobile and ended up having to rely on my satellite phone."

Ms Leon admitted she was more nervous about entering some countries than others.

“When I went to Iran, I was conscious there had been recent issues with Australians being detained,” she said, referring to the September arrest of three Australian and British citizens in Tehran.

"The reality was I experienced no issues."

She was quick to discuss the high point of her trip, which she had not expected.

“When I was climbing Jabal Sawda, the highest peak in Saudi Arabia, I couldn’t help but be blown away by how beautiful it was,” she said.

“It was all lush greens and there were baboons at the foot of the mountain and eagles above that reminded me of the pterodactyls in Jurassic Park.

“It was just so beautiful. You hear so many stories but the truth is I felt safe in every single country I visited.”