Moharrak said her family members were initially shocked when she showed interest in mountain climbing but gradually warmed up to the idea. (Saudi Gazette)
Raha Moharrak has yet to turn 30 but she can already make a claim few her age can. She has become the first Saudi woman to climb six mountain summits.
Moharrak recently spoke to Al-Riyadh daily about her rigorous training in deserted areas of Jeddah that helped her prepare for her mountaineering challenges and her current training to climb the seventh summit.
Born in Jeddah, she is a graphic designer by profession and runs a designing studio in the city. Four years ago, Moharrak was going through a difficult phase in her life, something that would eventually prompt her to climb Kilimanjaro, her first summit.
“After completing my undergraduate studies, I wanted to do something new with my life that changes the way I look at the world. My family kept asking me to leave the United Arab Emirates and return to the Kingdom but I was not ready to go back,” she recalled.
One day while she was hanging out with friends, she overheard someone talk about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa. The word “climbing” immediately attracted Moharrak’s attention and she knew that this was the change she had been looking for.
“Something came over me and made me feel that I just knew that I wanted to climb this mountain,” she said.
Letter to her father
When she broke the news to her father, he became furious and refused to even consider the idea. She knew he would not listen to her over the phone, so she decided to write him a letter. In it, she explained to him how climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would boost her morale and self-confidence. For three days, she waited patiently for a reply. To her surprise, her father reluctantly agreed and she was off to climb her first mountain.
Moharrak paid a specialized tourism company to help make the necessary arrangements so she could climb the mountain. She described the challenge as very difficult because of the extreme weather she had to endure. But she fell in love with mountain climbing and she decided to train hard to go through the challenge again.
Because there are no mountain climbing centers in the Kingdom, Moharrak educated herself about mountain climbing off the Internet, bought climbing tools, and started walking long distances every day in the desert areas of Jeddah. She only stopped when she achieved her goal and was able to walk six hours a day carrying a backpack.
After this rigorous training, she was invited by Princess Rima Bint Bandar to join 14 other Saudi women and climb Mount Everest base camp as a cancer awareness drive. She recalls that experience as one of the most memorable in her life.
After climbing Mount Everest base camp, she returned to Saudi Arabia and trained hard for a full year during which she climbed the highest mountain in Africa, Russia, South America and Antarctica along with two extinct volcanoes in Mexico.
Family and society
Moharrak said her family members were initially shocked when she showed interest in mountain climbing but gradually warmed up to the idea. Today, they respect her decision.
As for society, she says most people who know her family are against the idea of allowing a young woman to travel alone and take up such an adventure
“I understand why some people do not support me even though there is nothing wrong with a woman climbing a mountain. I respect their opinion and freedom to express their views. I still remember how many people tried to discourage me from embarking on this adventure. They kept telling me I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything because I am a Saudi woman. But I have proved them wrong.”
This article first appeared in the Saudi Gazette on Apr. 22, 2016.