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15 July 2024

UAE climber creates history: First Arab woman to scale 7 summits

By Ajanta Paul

Suzanne Al Houby, a Palestinian-born and UAE-based mother of two, has become the first Arab woman to conquer the daunting seven summits of the world.

She achieved the feat by reaching the summit of Denali, which is the highest mountain peak in North America, at an elevation of 6190 metres ((20,310 feet) above sea level.

Expressing her joy after scaling Denali, Al Hobby told Emirates 24|7: "I feel ecstatic as I have earned it finally. I just couldn't give up on this dream and I kept trying until I finally made it!”

Earning it the hard way

Her persistence and hard work kept her going even after three failed attempts, meaning she had to brave the harshest conditions over three climbing seasons in three years.

During her first attempt, the 46-year-old veteran mountaineer could only reach upto 16,000 feet, descending only when weather did not permit them to move ahead.

On her second attempt, the weather played spoil sport again and made it impossible for them to continue.

Talking about her third attempt Al Houby said: "Each time as I got closer, dangers grew bigger and I had to quit on my attempt. While I was attempting Denali for the third time, I had to abandon my climb and quickly turn back to save my life after a frost bite injury.

The Sharjah resident says, “I have been climbing for 15 years and just when I thought I was close to achieving this feat, Denali stood as an obstacle."

Triumph at last

On June 1, 2016, she reached the heights from where no one could ever take her down. Al Houby became the first Arab woman to complete climbing the highest peak on each of the seven continents - the seven summits.

It was not as easy as it sounds - for 21 days she had to battle fierce wind, harsh weather and gauge every treacherous step.

Recalling the audacious climb Al Hobby said, "I have been living on ice, trying to climb this mountain for 21 days, sleeping in a tent that I have to set up almost every night depending on my move higher up the mountain.

"I had to keep myself alive and survive temperatures that go down to minus 30 degrees. And it was not just the temperature, I had to survive not being knocked down by winds blowing at a speed of 100km per hour.

“While trying to dodge all that I was carrying loads of supplies of my climbing gear, food, fuel and camping gear on my back and sledge that sometimes almost weighed as much as I do."

As she was getting closer to achieving her goal, oxygen got scarce at that altitude and subsequently her breathing got heavier.

The resilient climber was not giving up this time and was willing to push herself beyond the limits as long as the mountain was giving her the weather window to climb.

Al Houby, who runs an adventure travel business in the UAE, said, "I took one step at a time. On the day of the final climb I woke up and the wind was calmer. I was sleeping at 17,000 feet already.

She reflects on the day she made it to the summit, "I began my final hard climb trying to reach the summit. One careful step after the other. And after hours of dangerous climbing I stood on the summit of Denali, proud and tall, and became the first Arab and Palestinian woman to finish the 7 summits quest!”

There are around 350 climbers in the world who have finished the seven summits and only around 50 of them are women.

“Now one of them is an Arab woman as well. I am privileged and honored with this achievement. “

After reaching the top, she unraveled a banner bearing the flags of Arab countries.

A lifelong mountaineer, Al Houby is no stranger to the record books. In 2003, she became the first Arab woman to reach Everest Base Camp, later conquering it on May 21, 2011. She is also the first Arab woman to scale Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, and the first Palestinian woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

Her biggest climbs yet

  • Kilimanjaro summit - 10 times - highest mountain in Africa - (19,339 feet)
  • Everest summit in 2011 - (29,035 feet) – Asia
  • Elbrus summit - highest mountain in Europe – 3 times - (18,510 feet)
  • Mont Blanc - highest mountain in Western Europe - (15,780 feet)
  • Aconcagua summit - highest mountain in South America - 22,834 feet
  • Vinson –  highest mountain in Antarctica - (16,067 feet)
  • Cartstensz summit - highest mountain in Australasia - (16,023 feet)

More than a mountaineer

Suzanne Al Houby is also the CEO of Rahhalah Explorers and lives in the UAE with her 22-year old and 19-year old daughters.

Rahhalah Explorers claims to be the first professional adventure outfitter in the region and offers a variety of adventure travel itineraries.

Al Houby had also led the first Arab and Palestinian young man and woman amputees to Kilimanjaro summit in a project called Climb of Hope. She led Yasmeen Al Najar and Mutasem Karsh (from Boreen Nablus and Gaza respectively) to climb the highest mountain in Africa to raise funds for the first cancer childrens' hospital in Palestine, Huda Al Masri Center in Beit Jala.

She had led the first Arab Woman team to the summit of Toubkal in Morroco in a project called Reaching New heights to raise funds for empowering women in refugee camps in Lebanon. The project was under the patronage of Princess Haya of Jordan. The climb was symbolic for Arab women reaching the highest point in Arabia.