Everest: the Earth’s highest summit and one of the greatest achievements one could have listed on their portfolio. But the road to victory is paved with sweat, struggle, and a whole other ugly side no one dares to speak of.
Last month, and 12 months after Omar Samra was named the first Egyptian summiteer to make it to the top of Everest, another fellow native raised the Egyptian flag as high. Sherief Elabd made it to the summit on the 23rd of May, 2019. He was among 14 successful summiteers out of 16 Arabs who attempted this year. Other than Elabd entering the Egyptian pride family, what grabbed our attention was that this season was the 2nd deadliest after the earthquake season back in 2015.
That made us wonder about a whole other side of mountaineering; let’s stray away from calling it the “ugly” side, but instead call it a painful one. The vigorous activity is an extremely enjoyable one; fueled with all the adrenaline and sense of achievement. However, it’s no easy task for sure, and this is why we wanted to shed light on the sweat and tears that make post climb standing ovations a lot more worthy. We talked to Sherief about how he started, leading a balanced life of doing what you’re passionate about while having a full-time job, and what happened on Everest’s slopes.
“I’ve never been a mountain boy nor an athletic in nature until late 2016”, the Dubai-based mountaineer told us. That was all until he went back to spend the Eid vacation with his family in Cairo. Back then, Sherief was contemplating about going hiking in the mountains in Nepal, and that was where his obsession took off. “Before that date, I never knew what hiking a mountain is like, or what climbing Mount Everest takes to achieve! I always want to explore, plan and do new sports, and mountain climbing became a game changer for me.”
Sherief’s passion grew towards mountain running, also known as trail running, that soon became a year-long activity. Having an engineering background, Sherief works as a Director of Industry Strategy and Innovation at an international software company. With that kind of full-time job, one that requires a lot of travel, it was quite challenging for Sherief to pursue his dreams. However, nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. “My life has been religiously on “train, work, train” throughout the week for the last two years,” he said while telling us about his Everest preparations.
The idea of Everest all came as Sherief was having dinner with his climbing partner, Nelly Attar, in April 2018. At the time, they were planning for two other expeditions to the Carstenz Pyramids and Antarctica. Since it was basically the same cost as Everest’s, the two thought to themselves that they would rather go for the ultimate challenge, the highest point on the face of the planet. “The idea filled up our heads, and we agreed we would do what it takes to be from amongst those attempting it in 2019”, Sherief continued.
Everest doesn’t just require physical toughness, there are far more mental challenges to it. However, Sherief’s biggest challenge on higher summits was the thin, dry air at altitude, and consequential dehydration. But since mountain climbing had become as addictive as trail running, he made sure to go prepared.
Diligence and time management were key factors of his preparation. “I consumed every single day of my annual leave, plus making the best use out of public and religious holidays to just do one thing, climbing,” Elabd explained. He went on climbing expeditions in winter to test his mind and body under extreme conditions. In the year before Everest, Sherief has proudly gone on three mountain trips to Alaska, Kyrgyzstan, and the Himalayas in Nepal.
Preparation didn’t stop there; in fact, Sherief followed an intense weekly training routine. He went trail running, doing between 3-4 ultra mountain running races per year, with distances from 50-100 km. “I run about 100 km per week, plus four gym sessions,” Sherief told us. “This isn’t to say that’s long and tough; you have to run in order to be Everest ready! No, that’s what I personally do to combine my passion for trail running and my addiction to mountain climbing. Doing trail running on technical terrain helps dramatically in mountain climbing,” he explained.
Fast-forward to the day of the summit, Sherief told us all about the unfortunate events he came across. “Tragic scenes started just 20 minutes from the start, as we were passing by lifeless bodies and rescued people being carried down the mountain,” he went on. People lost their lives for several reasons, including snow blindness, acute mountain sickness (AMS), and edema.
As the summiteers got closer to the peak, the death toll got even worse, with more lifeless bodies found fixed to the safety line. According to Sherief, this was a result of overcrowding the mountain with climbers. “It’s a pity to see some expedition group or adventure company accepting whoever is willing to pay the bill of climbing the mountain without qualification of their climbing resume,” Sherief said. “This has been increasingly risking those climbers’ lives, as well as others. You pay, you go!”
Other than the incompetence of some climbers that slow down the rest, the Nepalese government, unfortunately, issues a permit to anyone who applies for the expedition. To solve such a serious matter, a cap needs to be fixed to set maximum traffic on the mighty mountain.
Everest, and other mountains, have changed Elabd drastically. It has changed the way he looks at everything back down on sea level. Be it his social life, his relationships with colleagues, his career, upcoming races; climbing has made Sherief contemplate every aspect of his life.
The Everest experience, particularly, has proven three things to Sherief. Firstly, time management can truly pay off. He was able to maintain a healthy balance between the social, business, and sporting sides of his life. Another thing he learned was that with the right tools and proper planning, you can dream big and achieve your dreams.
Last but not least, according to Elabd, “When you do something that people consider inspirational, you have to also reflect on it and aim to give back to your community.” He then added, “That’s been my main target since I started doing ultimate level challenges.”
At the end of the day, what Sherief and other summiteers attempted to do is truly magnificent and remarkable. You guys should be really proud of yourselves and what you’ve achieved so far. You’re teaching others to dream big, and that anything is doable, and that alone is incredibly inspiring. As for those who lost their lives on the way to the top, you won something that is far more important, the world’s respect and admiration. May your souls never run out of adventure up there.
By Nadine Arab