UAE policeman scales world's sixth-highest peak

Officer dreams of Abu Dhabi beach as he quits smoking, braves the cold and conquers Cho Oyu in China.

Salah al Habsi plants the UAE flag on top of mount Cho Oyu in China, the world´s sixth-highest peak.
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ABU DHABI // For days - months, it seemed - Salah al Habsi woke each morning with a thin coat of ice covering his eyebrows and moustache.

As he lay in his tent, his muscles aching and stiffened by the cold, the 44-year-old Emirati prepared himself for the next eight hours of his quest to reach the top of mount Cho Oyu in China, the world's sixth-highest peak. Once there, he would raise the UAE flag.

Now safely back in the country after last's month successful expedition, the police officer said he had a "new-found respect for the UAE's weather". "My worst enemy is the cold," said Lt Col al Habsi. "If anyone asked me then what was my one wish, I would say to be on the beach in Abu Dhabi in the hottest day of summer."

His preparations for the trip took 18 months. After quitting smoking, and taking several days off work each month to undergo an intensive training course, he was ready. With the UAE flag tucked in his backpack, he set off.

His 25-day trip started in the jungle, moving up to the black solid rocks, and then the snow. Each stage had its own challenges and "worries", he said.

Lt Col al Habsi was one of only three who made it to the 8,201m peak, barely 600m below the top of Everest, the world's highest. Eighty-one others on the expedition could not, with many suffering hallucinations at high altitude.

He, too, suffered hallucinations. "It would take me 30 minutes to pray, I couldn't remember if I had already said the Quran verses or not."

At one point his guide warned him that if he had any more, or started walk unsteadily, he would have to turn back.

"We were three hours from reaching the top. I was tired, my eyes were red. My guide then said we need to turn back, but I refused. Only when my walk is unsteady will I turn back, I told him."

But as soon as he reached the top, all feelings of tiredness, "and drain of energy" were gone. Before taking off his safety gear and without realising how close he was to the edge, he grabbed the UAE flag from his bag and waved it in the air before digging it deeply in to the mountain.

"I was so happy, I had faith in myself that I could do this, now I have fulfilled my desire for climbing," he said. "I want Arabs to see these pictures and participate in such expeditions, not many do."