When QF student Tamader Al Subaaey saw the famous African mountain from a distance as a child, she dreamt of one day reaching its peak. In February, that day arrived.
Around midnight on February 8 this year, Tamader Al Subaaey woke up knowing that, in a matter of hours, she was going to reach the peak of the highest single free-standing mountain in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
For the previous six days, the Grade 12 student at Qatar Academy Doha – part of Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education – had been hiking through grueling terrain toward the spectacular summit. At that point, she was already lacking sleep, sore all over her body, exhausted, and, at an altitude of 4,605 meters, very cold.
She and her group were trekking against the wind, up steep steps, with dirt blowing all around them. Her fingers and face were frozen, icy winds made her whole body feel numb, and, at one point, even the water in her bottle froze, so she became dehydrated and weak. She knew that if she was going to successfully complete her journey, she needed to disconnect from her body to distract herself from the pain and discomfort.
“During my hike, every step became a battle of my mind, and the only way I was going to make it was if my mind was in the right place,” she explains. “That's when I started going deep within myself while connecting to nature to find the power within me to push through.”
Finding that power was not easy, especially as she witnessed other hikers collapse from the lack of oxygen and be carried down. “I always just put one foot in front of the other and tried to enjoy the journey, as it was filled with beautiful landscapes and views,” says Tamader.
Every step up that mountain felt like a step toward victory.
“Every step up that mountain felt like a step toward victory. I learned how to push through hours of pain and distract my mind to focus on the beautiful things around me, rather than fixating on the negatives.”
The sight of the moonlight shining against the summit ahead of her was one of the many beautiful sights that distracted Tamader from the pain and gave her the strength to keep moving. Her destination within the scope of her vision, she pushed herself to the limit and, at exactly 6:41am, accomplished something very few people can claim.
“Up there, the view was unreal,” says the youngest Qatari ever to gaze at the world from the top of Kilimanjaro. “The sun and moon were joined together in the sky, and I got to watch the moon slowly disappear as the sun shone brighter and brighter.”
How it all began…
As a child, Tamader visited Tanzania with her family. She saw Mount Kilimanjaro from afar and was mesmerized by the view. From that moment, it was her dream to eventually climb it.
The trip to Tanzania was just one of many adventures that she shared with her family. Her father loved adventure and always took his family to new and interesting places. “Because of my family, I’ve always had this drive for big adventures since I was young,” she says. “I had this goal to climb the seven summits – I even have pictures of them all over my bedroom. Starting out with Kilimanjaro is an amazing way to begin the decade.”
I have always found a part of myself in nature. That’s where I feel most happy and most at peace.
When on these trips with her family, Tamader preferred to do things involving nature, like hiking and sight-seeing. “I have always found a part of myself in nature,” says Tamader. “That’s where I feel most happy and most at peace. I even have this idea that when I grow older, I’d move into a cabin in the middle of the forest or something!”
Tamader’s love of nature made Kilimanjaro a fitting first climb. Climbers journey through five different climate zones and ecological regions: the lower slopes, the forest, the moorland, the highland desert, and the summit. This means there are many natural wonders to experience within a short period of time.
“I’ve always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro,” Tamader says. “It’s such a beautiful mountain. I’ve spoken to many mountaineers whose first ever climb was Kilimanjaro, and they told me that you overcome a lot of challenges with yourself.
“They said that as soon as you climb it, something inside you will unlock. You will truly find yourself, because you’re going to be stuck with yourself for a long time. It’s only you and your mind up there.”
The journey before the journey
You don’t just climb a mountain – especially not a mountain like Kilimanjaro. According to a 2006 report by Kilimanjaro National Park, only 45 percent of those who set off to climb it actually succeed. Aware of the possibility of failure, Tamader did the best she could to prepare for the journey to come. At the same time, she had never climbed a mountain before.
As a beginner, she knew she had to get proper training if she was ever going to make this climb. She became a member of Doha-based gym Altitude Elite and did high-intensity aerobic training five times a week for six months before the trip. On rest days, she ran for 4-5km to keep her body used to constant activity. “It was very strict training, but I knew that I had to do as much training as I could in order to have fun on the mountain,” she says. “The training was hard at first, but every day, it became easier.”
Tamader also changed her eating habits. She became a vegetarian so that she would feel lighter during training, and noticed a difference in her endurance levels within a few weeks of the transformation. Before, she could climb 60 floors but feel burnt out afterwards. After adjusting her diet, she was able to climb 100 floors.
I’m the kind of person that will keep pushing no matter what. Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In spite of all of this preparation, people around her were skeptical. “They would tell me ‘you’re only 18 years old; are you sure you’re able to do this?’,” she recalls. “I always told them that I would 100 percent be able to do it.”
“I knew I was going to have moments of doubt, but I am a very adaptable person. I’m the kind of person that will keep pushing no matter what. Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When was I ever going to be able to do this again?”
Tamader journeyed to Africa with a travel company named Rahhalah, and the person who led the trip was none other than Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulla Al Thani, the first Qatari to ever climb the seven summits.
He had been a constant source of inspiration for Tamader throughout both the training period and the climb. “He became a figure that I aspire to be,” she says. “He taught me how to dream bigger, and I never could have done it without him.”
There are six routes to the top of the mountain, but Tamader and her travel group chose the Machame Route for its beautiful scenery. It was a seven-day climb, with 6-7 hours of uphill hiking every day.
Even by the end of the first day, Tamader was already experiencing muscle pain, but she didn’t let that stop her. The following days became easier, according to Tamader, because the beautiful landscape was able to distract her from the tiredness and pain.
“While hiking through the beautiful trees and landscapes, I felt connected to nature and connected to the mountain,” she says. “It is very important to respect the mountain and take it step by step to acclimatize properly. This trek enabled me to pace and take in the environment around me and appreciate nature.”
If there’s one thing that I learned, it’s that you can overcome even the most gruelling physical conditions with nothing but your mind.
The seventh day was summit day, which required Tamader to hike for a total of 14 hours through extreme conditions. “It was by far the hardest day of my life. But when I finally reached my goal, I felt a great sense of achievement.”
The last day was the descent down the mountain. Knowing that the following day, she would be going back to her regular routine after such a life-changing experience, Tamader felt a deep sense of melancholy as she journeyed down the same path, laden with memories.
Inspired by the mountain
Climbing the mountain has left a deep impression on Tamader, and she says she will carry its lessons with her for the rest of her life.
“If there’s one thing that I learned, it’s that you can overcome even the most grueling physical conditions with nothing but your mind,” she said. “If you reach that level of composure and willingness to succeed, you can accomplish anything. This is something I can apply to every challenge that comes my way in the future.”
Her passion and spirit has inspired people around her. Many of them now want to take up mountaineering, especially young Qatari women.
“Many of my friends now want to start exploring what they can do,” she says. “It has opened a door of opportunities to people in my country, as few, if any, Qataris my age are interested in mountaineering, especially young Qatari women.”
Being the youngest Qatari to summit Kilimanjaro is an accomplishment Tamader is very proud of, but she has more goals and adventures in mind. She plans to continue challenging herself in order to represent her community and inspire others to achieve extraordinary things, and is already exploring other mountains to climb – with her ultimate aspiration being to conquer all seven summits.