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Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky / A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers

- Pink Floyd

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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

Jun 13, 2019

Dreams Come True on Everest for Arab Women

Like the storms that forced climbers to rush the summit in a brief weather window, controversy surrounded Mt.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Everest this season, catalyzed by media reports of dangerous “traffic jams” on the peak. Amid declamations of overcrowding, inexperience, and incompetence, four women from Arab countries—the “Dream of Everest” team—quietly notched historical summits.

We’ve been following The Dream of Everest summit attempt for the past few weeks. You can read and watch all the dispatches here.

The Dream of Everest team, L-R: Shahab, Azzam, Attar, and Alharthy. Photos by Elias Saikaly.

Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar of Lebanon, Nadhirah Alharthy of Oman, and Mona Shahab of Saudi Arabia climbed to the top of the world’s tallest mountain on the morning of May 23rd. Azzam became the first Lebanese woman to complete the Seven summits, with Attar following her as the second Lebanese woman to summit Mt. Everest. Alharthy became the first Omani woman to conquer Everest, and Shahab became the second Saudi woman to do so. Their accomplishment is evidence that despite the growing controversy of Everest expeditions, summiting the world’s tallest mountain can be much more than a bucket-list objective for wealthy hobbyists. By reaching the top of the world, Azzam, Attar, Alharthy, and Shahab sent a message of determination and ambition to Arab women.

The now-infamous summit queue. Photo by Nirmal Purja via Project Possible.

Overcrowding on Everest is due in part to the increasing number of summit-seekers; this year the Nepalese government issued a record 381 permits. Because all climbers must be accompanied by a sherpa, over 800 people pressed towards the summit this season. In addition to indiscriminate permitting, poor weather and inexperience may have contributed to traffic jams and fatalities. Elia Saikaly, the Dream of Everest team coordinator, cited bargain expedition companies as another face of the problem. “Where we really need to be looking is at the experience level (and lack thereof) of some climbers and the choices made by those individuals in terms of their logistic providers,” he said in an Instagram post. “We climbers all know which local company carries the burden of the highest loss of life. They happen to offer very cheap pricing which is enticing for some.” Arguably, some climbers have skimped on safety to check off a high-profile precipice. Economizing on Everest, according to Saikaly, allows hopefuls to “cut corners” at the imperilment of others on the mountain.

But those who bemoan the corrosion of the Everest experience can look to the Dream of Everest team as exemplars of the immutable symbolism of reaching the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. To accomplish their goal, the Dream of Everest women overcame gendered prejudices. They sent shock-waves through the Arab world, as evidenced by a statement by Omani Ahmed Al Musalmi, CEO of Sahar International Bank, that “Nadhirah’s win has gone a long way in demonstrating that women can achieve any goal that they are passionately determined to achieve”. Oman, along with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, rank among the bottom 20 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. The dreamers from these countries, at the roof of the world, have the invaluable potential to empower Arab women by example. Everest is still a mountain where dreams come true.

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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