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Expeditions

May 08, 2019

Oman’s Nadhirah Alharthy Knows No Limits as She Prepares to Summit Everest

In a country where mountaineering falls far outside the traditional gender purview of women, Oman's Nadhirah Alharthy is poised to become her country’s first female to ever summit Everest.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The frigid 8,848-meter summit of the world’s tallest mountain is an environ as opposite from hot, arid Oman as imaginable. But Nadhirah Alharthy is enlivened by the gnawing cold and high-consequence terrain of the Himalayas. In 2018, the Omani woman attempted Nepal’s Ama Dablam, a 6,812-meter precipice with a reputation as a training ground for Everest hopefuls. Just shy of Ama Dablam’s exposed pinnacle, she gazed across the ice-choked valley at the Everest Massif, her eventual goal.

Two years ago, she met Khalid al Siyabi, who became the first and only Omani to tag the peak in 2010. “I want to summit Everest, too,” she recalls telling al Siyabi. In Oman, mountaineering falls far outside the traditional gender purview of women, but al Siyabi sensed the depth of Alharthy’s ambition. “Alright, let’s do it,” he replied.

In Oman, mountaineering falls far outside the traditional gender purview of women.

The 42-year-old is not an obvious candidate to be her country’s first female to crest the world’s tallest mountain. Alharthy grew up in rural Oman and moved to the capital of Muscat to study education and social sciences. She received a master’s degree in geography with an emphasis in geomorphology; her research analyzed road damage due to flash flooding.

Read about the wider Dream of Everest expedition, along with regular updates from Everest here.

Post-graduation, Alharthy landed a position at Al Amal (“The Hope”) School in Muscat and as a coordinator with NASA’s Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program, which is an international effort to crowdsource atmospheric and environmental data. Through GLOBE, Alharthy led a team of students up Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro to collect hydrological measurements in 2015. The climb of Africa’s tallest peak was her first experience with altitude, but the native Omani acclimatized to the challenge and returned to the Arab peninsula with a nascent craving for more. Back in Oman, Alharthy threw a finger to the pulse of the nation’s climbing scene as her fledgeling mountaineering thrill fermented into an intoxicating ambition: to summit Everest.

Abseiling in wadi Qasheer

Fate would push open the door Alharthy had cracked. It was after Kilimanjaro that she met al Siyabi, who saw room for an Omani woman on the roof of the world. Alharthy began to prepare per his instruction; she was a “gym regular”, but Everest training pushed her into uncharted depths of the pain cave. What does it take to develop a mountaineer’s inexhaustible cardiovascular engine? Alharthy describes her regimen as “endurance-based”, with hiking, climbing, and swimming peppered throughout her week. For anyone without an athletic background, 2+ hours of intense aerobics is arduous‒to Alharthy, it was “a gift to myself for my upcoming 40th birthday, to prove that I could push my limits”.

In late November of 2018, she used the gruelling 137-km UTMB-Oman ultra-trail run as a measuring stick of her training progress. Despite dropping out of the race after 90 kilometers, Alharthy evinced considerable fortitude on the grinding, technical course in the remote wadis of Jebel Akhdar.

All smiles after running 90 kms of the 137-km OMAN by UTMB ultra-race

Whether training on chossy mountain trails, desert dunes, or on the paved roads of Muscat’s oven-like 33°C (91°F) heat, Alharthy is bound by Islamic Sharia law to wear the hijab. Proponents maintain that the headpiece allows wearers to retain their modesty, celebrate their religious or cultural identity, or exercise freedom of choice. Critics have called the garment an instrument of female oppression symbolic of the barriers that have kept Himalayan summits out of reach for many hijabi women. Alharthy knows that to some Omani, her pursuit of mountaineering is preternatural and improper, but she has never felt that the hijab restricts her opportunities.

“…I recognize I am carrying a message when I am climbing: if you have a dream‒even if it is hard or takes a long time, even if you must convince those around you‒you can do it.”

When Alharthy broke the news of her aspiration at school, there were a few sceptics, but most of her co-workers were encouraging. Full disclosure with her family, however, was more emotional; after training in secret for two entire years, Alharthy had to address the concern of her parents. But they’re unnerved by the danger of the ascent, not their daughter’s gender-defying pursuits. “They think that Everest is a death-wish,” she laughs. “I’m convincing them that both the technology and my ability level are there.” In short, her Everest aspirations have been largely well-received in a country where women have only recently made inroads into male-dominated activities. Images have power, and the significance of a hijabi Arab woman on top of the world is not lost on Alharthy, who noted that initially, she trained for individual fulfilment. “When I began, I was focused on a personal accomplishment,” she recalls. “But I recognize I am carrying a message when I am climbing: if you have a dream‒even if it is hard or takes a long time, even if you must convince those around you ‒ you can do it.” Sporting a hijab and an indomitable spirit, Alharthy will trumpet her message from the tallest podium known to man or woman in May of 2019.

Alharthy on Jabal Shams, Oman.

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Expeditions

Jul 01, 2019

Trans Himalaya 2019: First Contact

In his first contact since embarking on a 2,500 km self-supported journey last month, Peter Van Geit ventures deeper into the most remote corners of the Himalaya.

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WRITTEN BY

Peter Van Geit

Last month, The Outdoor Journal introduced an alpine-style journey for the ages in which wilderness explorer Peter Van Geit, along with filmmaker Neil D’Souza, embarked on a 2,500 km self-supported journey across 100+ Himalayan high passes in Himachal, Ladakh, and Uttarakhand. Now more than one month into their journey, Peter shares the first field notes update from their psychedelic experience amidst the mountains.

After exactly one month since the start, I completed the first section of my journey, the state of Uttarakhand East to West starting from the border of Nepal until entering the neighbouring state of Himachal today. Uttarakhand has been mesmerizing – lush green forests, countless small hamlets, virgin valleys, beautiful paths and trails connecting villages, overwhelming hospitality.

As 3330m we pitched up camp at the last flat space next to a large snow bridge before a steep 600m climb to Balsi Khal.
Peter and Neil’s journey is self-supported, which means they carry all of their own gear and navigate using offline maps.

In total, I crossed 127 hamlets in the state, some very remote hidden deep inside the mountains, climbed across 27 passes touching the snowline near to 4000m, hiked through 27 valleys in between the passes, some with many hamlets and farmlands, some uninhabited virgin jungles, crossed several wild streams, saw various wildlife including a black bear, monkeys and deer.

Read next on TOJ: Field Notes: Solo Ultra-Running the High Himalaya

Another steep climb follows above Pana till the path crosses a major ridge at 3100m. To my surprise I find a kind shepherd camping at the same spot inviting me over for tea and night stay.
These routes are rarely used, if at all, by local shepherds.

Aside the stunning natural beauty, what touched me most was the remote hospitality of Uttarakhand. Especially while passing through remote tribal settlements where very few or no travelers would have ever crossed, people were extremely friendly and warm, inviting me in for food and a night’s stay without expectations. In many homes, I was treated as if I was their own son, as they showed concern about my well-being and guiding me to the next pass.

On the way from Joshimath to Mondal, we descended and crossed a side valley on the way to Dumak (2400m) where the village kids playfully welcomed us.

The most memorable night stays were those with the “Bakris” or shepherds who roam the entire summer in remote sections of the high mountains grazing the “bugyals” or meadows with hundreds of their sheep. They are truly your best friends in the remotest corners of the Himalaya. Staying with them around a warm campfire in the cold high altitude nights, sharing yummy rottis (flat breads) with “sabji”, fresh goat milk, lying on your back and watching the night skies lit up with millions of stars, listening to a 20 year old Philips radio playing Hindi songs from All India AM radio. That experience is out of this world.

After a full-day journey traveling in 3 share taxis from Mondal to Sonprayag through madening pilgrim traffic and dusty under construction ghat roads we finally settled down at Trijugi Nārāyan 2200m, a peaceful hamlet above the pilgrim madness at Sonprayag 1700m.
The snow clad peaks above Kedarnath span across the horizon. The other side of the pass follows a long gradual descent along a ridge. At 3300m there is the small hamlet of Panwali Kantha.

The most challenging parts of the journey have been those where we lost the path or where the trail fades out in the jungle. You then have to scramble across steep valley slopes, sometimes dense thorny vegetation, cross wild streams, hang on to trees and roots climbing across landslide sections, rely on contour maps to navigate your way around vertical cliffs, etc. The intensity of the effort and calories burned multiplies manifold once you go “off trail” finding your way through the jungle towards the next hamlet or pass.

On the way from Bhatwari to Hanuman Chatti, we reached the Darwa pass within 1.5 hours. From there it was a quick descend back down to Doti Taal where I gobbled up yummy rottis with spinach veggie. Met a nice Colombian who was doing a 6 month Yatra, or religious pilgrimage in the North.

Towards Western Uttarakhand near to the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh we came across remote fairytale villages built from beautiful natural stone and wood. We discovered ancient wooden temples beautifully handcrafted by previous generations. Homes have several vertical levels with beautifully crafted terraces, animals staying below and people on top.

Beautiful wooden temple in Phari village, at 1500 m elevation.

Most hiking groups usually select 1 pass and take a week to acclimatize and cross the pass over several campsites. Doing 27 passes in one month, or nearly one each day requires a lot of endurance and speed. Going minimalist and lightweight is the key to go faster, with less food and less night stays in between. Proper nutrition and night rest is key to keep up the daily momentum of some 30-40km with an average elevation gain of 3,000 meters. You easily burn 5,000 calories for each pass crossing which needs to be refueled in the villages in between.

I found a nice path leading up Northwest along the ridge leading towards Kedarkanta. After a 30min walk a hidden settlement of Darsaun 2400m revealed itself. Here I lost the path and asking the locals for directions did not help either. At the last home I met an old friendly lady who invited me over for some hot “dude” (milk). Soon after that a sumptuous breakfast followed with thick rottis, curd, cheese, spinach. Best home made food I had in my entire journey.

The entire trip so far went alpine style using offline contour maps, pre-planned trails and some local guidance here and there. 85% was on proper trails and paths between the villages and passes, 15% was “off trail” scrambling through jungles and valley slopes. Most of the night stays are near villages and in people’s homes, a lesser number in the wild and near the passes with the shepherds. We usually cross passes in between valleys in 1-2 days and carry only enough food ration with us. Each day usually starts at 5 am and goes till sunrise targetting the first village out of the forest in the next valley. No rest days so far with approximately 800 km covered and 70 thousand meters elevation gain.

According to Peter, his only objective is to inspire others to explore these beautiful locations. You can read more about Peter’s experiences and motivations in his interview here – Alpine-Style, Ultra-Challenge in the Himalayan High Passes. Stay tuned on The Outdoor Journal for Peter’s next update along his 2,500 km journey.

To follow Peter’s expedition, visit his blog.
Facebook: @PeterVanGeit
Instagram: @petervangeit
Chennai Trekking Club

For more Neil Productions, visit: http://neil.dj/
Facebook: @neilb4me

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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