Dubai climber aims high with Mount Everest

Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, is taking on the world's tallest mountain to raise awareness of gender inequality

Dolores Al Shelleh on the summit of Mount Manaslu in Nepal. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh
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A Dubai mountaineer is poised to take on the highest summit in the world in an effort to raise awareness of gender inequality.

Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, has her sights firmly set on the daunting 29,000ft peak that is Mount Everest.

The Jordanian national has already made history after becoming the first Arab woman to climb Mount Manaslu in Nepal, the world’s eighth highest mountain.

But now the unrelenting communications officer has a new target in the North Face of Everest, arguably a tougher route to the top than approaching the mountain from the south.

"As an Arab woman in my 20s, gender equality is an important issue to me," she told The National.

“I am doing this because I want to inspire women to achieve new heights and follow their dreams and goals.

“I’ll be speaking to women in the villages about how life is for them and what has changed over the years.

“It is important to me to support and empower women everywhere.”

Dolores Al Shelleh pictured training in the Alps. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh
Dolores Al Shelleh pictured training in the Alps. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh

Ms Al Shelleh is due to leave the Emirates for Tibet at the start of April, in preparation for an attempt on the summit in May.

Almost all climbers require a minimum of two-weeks at Everest base camp prior to an assault to allow time to adjust to the high altitude.

The North Face is renowned for its unpredictable weather conditions, with high winds, snow and cloud cover rolling in with little to no notice.

Legendary explorer George Mallory died there in 1924, with his body lying buried and undiscovered for more than 70 years until 1999.

Everest stands 29,029ft (8,848m) tall and more than 4,000 people have summited the peak since it was first climbed by Edmund Hillary in 1953.

Since then, some 297 people have died trying to reach the top. The last year of no deaths recorded on the mountain was 1977. On May 10, 1996, eight people tragically lost their lives in just 24 hours.

On Thursday, the eve of International Women’s Day, Ms Al Shelleh described having been mocked and taunted by some of her male friends for wanting to become a mountaineer.

She said the cost of her expedition was likely to exceed $65,000 (Dh239,000) and that part of her training had involved sleeping in a high-altitude tent, equipment which mimics the low oxygen levels experienced by climbers at altitude.

“It’s going to cost us [her team of four] around that because we have to pay for the equipment, the tickets to get there and the Sherpas who will act as guides,” she said.

“We are going to be spending around two months in total on the mountain and we’ve got to provide food and a salary for the Sherpas as none of this would be possible without them.”

Ms Al Shelleh first made headlines when she reached the summit of Mount Manaslu in October 2018.

She revealed her success on the mountain was hard-fought, and that she would never have made the 8,156m climb without making a great many sacrifices.

“I have to work out at least twice a day,” she said. “If I skip a workout it is simply because my body is asking for a break.

“I have also had to eliminate negative people from my life. I’ve had to avoid people who make me doubt myself and my ability to do this.

“I also tried to distance myself from some people who thought I would be too weak and soft to climb mountains.

“They said I looked more like a fashionista than a mountain climber.”

Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, while training with her team in Nepal. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh
Dolores Al Shelleh, 28, while training with her team in Nepal. Courtesy of Ms Al Shelleh

Ms Al Shelleh’s epic assault on Everest is being sponsored by her employer in Dubai’s Sustainable City.

She said the support from her family, friends and colleagues had also been an invaluable aid in her quest to climb the world’s highest mountain.

“Initially my family were scared,” she said. “It wasn’t because I was a woman, it was because I was climbing some of the world’s most notorious peaks.”

Ms Al Shelleh only started mountaineering in 2016 and has already climbed Mera Peak, Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus and Mount Manaslu.

“Mount Manaslu is regarded as the world’s fourth most dangerous mountain and has a fatality rate of 15 per cent,” she said.

“We did have accidents along the way. A Sherpa and a team member got caught in an avalanche and had to be dug out. Thankfully they didn’t die but they did suffer broken ribs.

“I also tore ligaments early on in the climb and had to carry that pain the whole way.”

Ms Al Shelleh will be one of an estimated 800 people who try to climb Mount Everest this year.