Emirati woman among few to conquer North America's highest peak

Hanady Al Hashmi is among the 30 per cent of climbers who successfully make it to the top of Denali in Alaska, making her the first Emirati woman to do so.

Hanady Al Hashmi has become the first Emirati woman to reach the top of Alaska's Denali mountain. Courtesy Hanady Al Hashmi
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Hanady Al Hashmi trained for her ascent of the highest peak in North America in the UAE desert, lugging 20kg packs and pulling along tyres filled with rocks.

But despite the dramatic difference in conditions on Alaska's Denali summit, her hard work paid off.

She was among just 30 per cent of climbers to make it to the top this year - and is the first ever Emirati woman to do so.

"Some end up descending because of frostbite. We were incredibly lucky, our weather was almost perfect all the way," Miss Al Hasmi told The National.

At 6,190 metres above sea level, climbing the mountain is only advisable to climbers with significant mountaineering experience, requiring a great deal of endurance to overcome harsh weather conditions.

"The weather is a big factor for summiting Denali, it can get very cold, wet and windy, which is why we don't hear of many people succeeding," said the Abu Dhabi native.

“People could get stuck for days at a certain camp waiting for the weather window, and if it takes too long, they are forced to descend.”

Having already climbed four of the Seven Summits - the highest peak on each continent - as well as other high mountains in the UAE, Oman, UK and Italy, she knew that training was key to success.

“It took me five months to train for Denali. I'd wake up early, go to the desert, carry a 20kg backpack and start pulling a tyre behind me filled with sand and rocks,” said the 29-year-old.

“Even with the weather change, I'd go early, at about 5am, while the weather was still cool enough.

“Also, almost every weekend, I'd go to Ras Al Khaimah and hike for about 3 to 4 hours. Other than that, I'd train before work and after work, from anything like weightlifting at the gym, doing stairs while carrying a 20kg backpack, swimming, cycling and running.”

Miss Al Hashmi began her Denali expedition on June 11, and it took her and her team 15 days to reach the summit on June 25, with a further three more days taken to descend. Now, she looks back on the expedition and is pleased she has overcome such difficulty.

“Every day was tough. From the beginning of the expedition we had to carry not only our personal gear but also our food for the whole duration of the trip, as well as group gear such as the tents, stoves, shovels,” she said.

“We had to drag a sled behind us and wear snow shoes all the way to our camp at 14,000 feet. I'm assuming the load was about 50kg in total, split between the backpack and sled.”

And it was an even bigger challenge to drag the heavy load through the glacier.

“We were always roped up to each other in case we fell into crevasses,” Miss Al Hashmi said.

Even as the weight load reduced the higher they went up, the climb only became more challenging as it got more technical. They had to climb a 50-degree slope using fixed lines to reach the high camp at 17,000 feet.

“Within a week of being on the mountain, I got a chest infection, which made climbing very hard on my chest, thus making me slower. I had a fever once at night in the tent, which made it hard to sleep, but luckily the guide had antibiotics.”

Despite her body taking umbrage to the trip, Miss Al Hashmi was strong enough to continue and reach the top. The push to the summit alone took 10 hours.

"It was an unbelievable feeling to finally reach the summit - I actually couldn't believe it. I wore my summit parka and took out my UAE flag, which I had ready in my pocket and took some pics.

"We were there for not more than five minutes and started our journey back to the high camp, which took us another four hours."

While she has a long-term plan to finish the Seven Summits, for now she is happy to focus on improving her mountaineering skills in the Alps and Himalayas.

“I will keep you posted on the Seven Summits plan. I aim to do another one or two the following the year.”