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Al Thani: Two-month journey to Everest was like ‘jail, with a good view’

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By Mai Akkad

After two months of hard climbing, sleeping on icy floors and missing the birth of his third child, Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani became the first Qatari to reach the top of Mt. Everest on May 22, 2013.

Getting to that point took conquering the “huge mountain inside me saying I can’t do it,” Al Thani, who is now safely back in Qatar, said to journalists on Monday.

“Standing on the highest point on earth was like my gold medal in the Olympics…I wasn’t competing against my fellow friends, I was competing against myself,” said the 30-year-old, who goes by Moe.

“It was the best moment in my life raising the Qatari flag on that mountain,” he added.

Overcoming skeptics

Al Thani’s mission to conquer the highest mountain in the world began five years ago, after he a tour guide teased him for a passing comment about climbing Mt. Everest.

“He started laughing,” Al Thani said. “He told me there is no way. You are a 25-year old guy whose jumping all over the river rafters…There is no way you can climb this mountain.”

Channeling the skepticism constructively, Al Thani began to educate himself about mountaineering and within a five-year span, summited many of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Kilimanjaro in 2010, Mont Blanc in 2011, Mount Vinson, Mount Elbrus and Mount Kosciuszko in 2012 and Mount Aconcagua in 2013.

What made Mt. Everest particularly special to Al Thani was the humanitarian aspect, because the expedition aimed to raise $1 million for Reach Out to Asia’s education projects in Nepal. Al Thani is a brand ambassador for ROTA.

“A lot of people depended on me. If I was going to quit, I was going to quit on the hundreds and thousand of kids who were going to benefit from this climb,” he said.

During the journey, Al Thani was part of a group called “Arabs with Altitude,” which included his friends Raed Zidan, who became the first Palestinian man to summit Everest; Masoud Mohammad; Raha Muharrak, the first Saudi Arabian woman and youngest Arab to summit Mt. Everest; and videographer Elia Saikaly.

‘Jail’ with a view

Despite the team’s solid preparation for the journey, Al-Thani recalls how hard the mental element of the challenge was.

“Being there for two months…it is like you are in a jail, except that it has a good view,” he said, smiling. “The mental aspect was very hard on us as a team. We miss our families. We miss our children. Our friends. You miss a good bed, you are sleeping on icy floors. You miss water. The water you get there, sometimes it has rocks and stuff and you drink it…”

As soon as Al Thani finished his journey, he bought a phone so that he “looks more civilized.”

“When I came back, I had no idea on what was happening in the world, my friends were talking about what happened in Arab Idol and what has been happening in Syria and I had no idea,” Al Thani said.

However, this temporary ignorance was soon swished away when he was finally reunited with his wife, two boys and baby girl, who was born while he was on his Everest voyage.

“I am very lucky to have a very supporting family that supports whatever I do…They would rather if I don’t climb because they are worried if I do dangerous stuff, however they support me in what I love doing, which is to climb mountains.”

Al Thani will be resuming his training soon to prepare for his next goal of scaling the seventh highest summit to Mount McKinley or Denali, which is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of (6,194 m) above sea level, by next May.

“The Arabs with Altitude,” journey to Mt. Everest will be aired sometime next month on Qatar TV.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo by Vinod Pattazhi

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