ABU DHABI // It took more than stamina for Suzanne Al Houby to reach the top of North America’s highest peak, courage was just as crucial when she had to walk on edges less than 20 centimetres wide.
After three failed attempts to scale the 6,190 metre Denali in Alaska – the highest peak in North America – the Palestinian mother of two made it to the summit, and became the first Arab woman to complete mountaineering’s “seven summits” – climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents.
It completed a set that includes Mount Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania – which she has climbed 10 times; Mount Everest in 2011; Mount Elbrus, in Europe – three times; Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America; Vinson Massif in Antarctica; and Mount Cartstensz in Australasia.
“On Denali, one is forced to walk on knife edges with huge drops on both sides and the edge is sometimes less than 20cm wide … that is a big challenge and one has to not hesitate crossing, as fear will for sure cause falls,” she said.
When asked about her most difficult moment, she recalled climbing Pig Hill on Denali – “a feature just below the summit, it was steep, long and almost at the end, so it took lots of energy. The air also was so thin and I was breathing hard”.
“I overcame it by knowing that this could be the last push.”
After 21 days of harsh conditions, including temperatures that reached 30 degrees below zero at times, Ms Al Houby reached the summit at 4.15pm on June 1.
“I had tried reaching its summit three times earlier,” said the 46-year-old from Sharjah.
The first time she could not climb above 16,000 feet when her team ran out of time waiting for a window in the weather. Her second attempt met with fierce winds while climbing the headwall on ropes at 16,200 feet.
“And after a couple of hours of climbing I realised that something was wrong with my fingers. It turned out that I had developed frostbite in two of my right-hand fingers and it was clear that I had to quit my attempt if I wanted to save my fingers.”
She was closer to achieving her goal the third time, having reached 18,000 feet and four hours short of the summit. However, the weather closed in and they had to quit again.
“I feel ecstatic as I have earned it – finally.”
Reflecting on the day-to-day adventures of the trip, she described her backpack as “the monster”.
“It was a daily challenge of who will win,” she said.
“We all had to do our business – toilette – in a bucket and we had to dispose of the waste in a few designated crevasses assigned by the national park service to keep the mountain clean. Doing your business in a bucket is not fun.”
Food, tissue and toilet paper also became scarce towards the end of the trip.
“After being generous with sharing our food initially, we started being ungenerous and kind of keeping our own portions hidden to ourselves.
“Also we started trading a chocolate bar for some toilet paper or a wet wipe napkin etcetera.”
While the days spent climbing were quite hard, the days spent at the camp waiting for the weather to clear up were not much of a comfort either.
“We had to fortify our camp and protect it against the wind and build snow walls around the tents.”
The preparations for the climb were equally hard, as it included “brutal training” of endurance, strength and stamina.
“Variations were carrying a heavy backpack and climbing 250 stairs, or running my 10 kilometres as fast as I can after my strength session.”
Following 15 years of climbing the world’s highest peaks and also becoming the first Arab woman to climb Mount Everest, in 2011, Ms Al Houby cannot decide why she started.
“I guess mountains found me when I was in Africa and saw Kilimanjaro for the first time. My journey began with hiking, then rock and ice climbing and then high-altitude mountaineering.
“The liberating feeling one gets when one reaches the highest point through hard work is indescribable. There is nothing that you can see impossible when you come back to the city.”
Ms Al Houby is the founder of the adventure travel company Rahhalah Explorers, and lives in the UAE with her 22-year old and 19-year old daughters.
Source: uae news