What makes us humans? Some would say it’s our ability to experience feelings other creatures simply cannot fathom; others would say it’s the human race’s ability to constantly challenge itself and overcome its past limits. Whatever side you choose, there’s no denying that humans are capable of doing extraordinary things, and conquering obstacles otherwise deemed impossible not so long ago. When it comes to conquering the unknown and defying ordinary human limits, climbing Mount Everest has got to be up there as a task far from a walk in the park. The mountain may look gorgeous from afar, but up close it’s quite deadly and many have lost their lives in the attempt to summit it. Omar Samra was the first and only Egyptian to succeed in that feat, and since then no other Egyptian has taken it on. Twelve years and some change later, another Egyptian aims to enter the history books and become the second Egyptian to climb Mount Everest.
Dubai-based Sherief Elabd wasn’t really much of a climber five years ago; in fact, for him, spending quality time meant slim to no effort, and his life was mainly centred around his job. “I used to do nothing in life but work, attend work-related conferences, and study nothing but professional certifications related to my work. A chill day for me was an exquisite dinner after a long day of work,” Sherief says. But that all changed when he decided to change his routine to opt for balance in his life, and as a result he turned his life around. “I changed jobs and started being diligent about my gym training, yet unstructured,” he says. He started working out more rigorously, joining a running club and doing his first ever 5 km run in early 2016, but it was a certain ad that even turned things further around for him. “I saw an ad about a hiking trip to Nepal during Eid El-Adha holiday, and made my mind to go and explore! That was the game changer for me, and the main turning point that paved the way to everything thereafter,” Sherief adds. The experience blew his mind and he ended up having the time of his life after just five days of hiking. It didn’t take much for him to realize he wanted more of the same. “The following weekend, I signed up with a hiking group in Dubai that goes to the mountainside in Ras Al Khaimah on a weekly basis,” he adds.
For six months, he never missed a weekend without going on a hike or two, and with each one his confidence built up and he started thinking about his next adventure – Mount Toubkal in Morocco – and he did it the hard way. “We took an unconventional route that’s longer and tougher than the normal one,” he adds. It wasn’t an easy ride for his endurance levels back then weren’t at peak condition, but before he even left the country he knew where he wanted to go next. His next adventure was to the Everest Base Camp with Omar Samra, and he dedicated every second he could to get better and stronger. “All my annual leave days and public holidays were just booked for the mountains,” Sherief shares.
After Everest Base Camp, the adventures kept on coming; there was the Rwenzori Mountain Range in Uganda and the Alps attempting to climb Mont Blanc, wrapping up quite an eventful 2017. Yet, his goals for the following year were a bit different. “My target for 2018 was to focus on mountain climbing rather than hiking," Sherief shares. "I have leveraged every single possible public and national holiday as well as my annual leaves for that purpose." The process entailed some saving as well, but he was doing what he loved and he needed to buy gear and equipment for his travels. Plus, his work-adventure balance was improving with every expedition, which is what he had really wanted.
It was after climbing Mount Aconcagua in Argentina that the notion of doing Everest started actually becoming a goal, and that was no easy task to prepare for. “I began to be more diligent and religious about my training, especially after I joined the Desert Trail Runners (DTR), a trail (mountain) running group in UAE. Obviously, this was another main driver of getting to the next level of my training, and I started seeing the rewards of it on my mountain climbing performance,” Sherief says. His preparation was going well, and his performance was only getting better; it was time to make a decision. “It was a night on April 2018 when I had my dinner with my climbing partner and we discussed doing Mount Everest! It filled our minds and we agreed we will do what it takes to be from amongst those attempting it in 2019,” he adds.
“Preparation included both mountain expeditions as well as weekly routine training. For the first, we decided to go on Lenin Peak in Kyrgyzstan, doing technical mountaineering training in Alaska, and a winter expedition in the Himalayas by the 2019 new year, attempting two 6,000 m mountains,” Sherief says. More training, climbing, and ultra-trail races ensued, and it was all with the ultimate goal of Everest in sight. “It’s your mental toughness that keeps you moving when you are drained from your energy,” Sherief adds. “What started as a dinner conversation a year ago is now a few days away, and I am full of excitement, yet nervous about the experience.”
In just a few days, Sherief Elabd is going to take on one of the most gruelling challenges ever known to man, and he’s not doing it alone. He is part of a group that has the biggest number of Arabs ever trying to climb Everest, including his climbing partner, Saudi-based Lebanese national Nelly Attar. Sherief insists Everest is far from his last challenge, though it’s his biggest yet. We can’t wait for him to be the second Egyptian to ever climb Everest, and what’s to come is certainly all the more exciting. You can follow Sherief’s journey on through his Instagram account.
Photos Courtesy of Sherief Elabd.