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‘My Ultimate Escape is Scaling Mountains’

Mariam Ali an Emirates
Mariam Ali an Emirates cabin crew, during a hike of Mount Elbrus in Russia. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

From zip-lining to skiing, surfing and nature walks, everyone has that high-powered excursion that sets off an adrenalin surge.

For Mariam Ali, trekking treacherous terrains, enduring frigid mountain weather and crossing complicated glaciers to summit high-altitude areas is the ultimate delight.

Being a cabin crew of Emirates airline affords her the privilege of travelling to different destinations. She gets to explore the geography of the countries she visits, her main fascination being mountains.

Mariam plans her hikes during her annual leave so that work does not get in the way of her adventure — while capitalising on discounted travel rates.

So far, she has climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and Elbrus in Russia. Last month, she cleared Stok Kangri, a 6,153-metre elevation in Ladakh, India.

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“I hike mountains to push my limits and to measure my tenacity. Mountain climbing also allows me to be in communion with nature, to disconnect from the hustles of social life and to enjoy a simple, stress-free moment,” Mariam says.

‘‘Sometimes I ask myself, ‘why am I doing this?’ But summiting is a fitting reward that erodes all trekking frustrations,’’ she says.

Her most memorable treks are Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest free-standing mountain in Africa, and its European counterpart, Mt Elbrus in Russia.

“Mt Kilimanjaro took us eight days and seven nights to summit,” she says, adding that this mountain does not have any technical difficulty “unlike other mountains I’ve hiked.”

Mariam Ali an Emirates

Mariam Ali an Emirates cabin crew, during a hike of Mount Elbrus in Russia. PHOTOS | COURTESY

“For an inexperienced climber though, hiking the last 100 metres to Uhuru Peak is equivalent to a 45 minute walk,” she notes.

Acclimatisation, she says, is the first and most important item in the mountaineering rule book.

“When you reach your camping site for the night, climb for between 200 and 250 metres. This helps your body to adjust to the thin air, low temperatures and high humidity levels,” she explains. Headaches, nausea, shortness of breathe, constipation and extreme exhaustion are common complications, especially among first-time climbers — due to poor acclimatisation.

Mariam’s only regret is her unsuccessful attempt to climb Mt Elbrus in 2017, its dreadfully jagged terrain and torrid weather of snowy conditions and frost bites to thank.

“On the night we were hoping to summit, the weather was so hostile, with winds of up to 45km/hr, blizzard and knee-deep snow. Our guide advised against any further ascent. I was heartbroken, but we had to retreat for our safety,” Mariam says.

Mt Elbrus’ legendary notoriety scares even the most hard-core of adventurers. It may have beaten her, but Mariam vows to go back to for another trial.

In a mountaineer’s ensemble, proper clothing, a water bottle, walking poles, a head torch and a sleeping bag are the most vital items. A pair of sunglasses, sunscreen and moisturising cream are critical too. To keep oneself warm, layers of clothing are a must-have.

“A waterproof down jacket and a windcheater gear are vital because the mountain weather changes so drastically. Having a base layer such as tights or a long shirt under your trekking pants is an added advantage,” she explains.

For a successful hike, she says, one must keep strict adherence to climbing guides’ instructions, eat well and drink plenty of water, preferably four to five litres a day.

“Also invest in a good sleeping bag, to keep at bay snow, rain and extreme temperatures of up to —28° Celsius,’’ she adds.

A complete kit costs a tidy sum, she notes, adding that one is, however, worth every penny spent.

Mariam Ali, a member of the Emirates cabin

Mariam Ali, a member of the Emirates cabin crew, during a hike of Mount Elbrus in Russia. PHOTO COURTESY

“While women would buy expensive designer accessories, I would rather invest in an item that makes my hiking experience comfortable, safe and memorable,” she says. For snacks, high-energy bars of mixed nuts are recommended. According to Mariam, the final onslaught to the peak of a mountain is routinely made at night, a time when it’s pitch dark, making lighting handy.

“Summiting is a conquest that everyone relishes after being on the trail for several days and nights. You enjoy the magnificence, sometimes cry a little, and capture the moment in photos,” Mariam adds.

But even as exhilarating as the experience is, the stay at the summit is only momentary, usually lasting between five and 10 minutes, owing to the brutal cold, and also for safety reasons.

“It is standard practice to start the decent just before sunrise, especially for snow-capped mountains. Once the sun is up, the ice starts to melt, which could lead to perilous skids,” she says.

Having been to multiple mountains tops, Mariam says the real delight is about the whole journey rather the few moments spent at the summit.

“Going through the various stages of the ascent from thickets to rainforest, across moorland, up the rocks and in snow makes it more exciting. Socialising with members of the climbing party is also fun,” she adds.

Her dream? To hike the Seven Summits of the world by the time she is 40 years. That is Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Vinson, Elbrus and Puncak Jaya.

“It is the dream of every mountain climber to go to Mt Everest. I’ve only been to Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit, just to get the taste of Nepal and its relaxing weather,’’ Mariam says, noting that this ‘‘mind-blowing expedition’’ costs each climber somewhere north of Sh6.5 million.

‘‘Mt Everest limits the number of tickets for each tour operator. There is also a lot of emphasis on safety. This is the only mountain where you have to carry oxygen,’’ she says.

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