WSB is thrilled to feature Nelly Attar as WSB Inspiring Woman again. Nelly is the founder of Move Studio and is passionate about helping people move and get fit. This time, Nelly tell us all about her journey to prepare for and successfully summit Mount Everest.
Tell us about your inspiration to become a mountaineer?
It gradually developed from local day hiking trips to a weeklong hiking trip overseas, to eventually month long (and beyond) mountaineering expeditions overseas. What kept me going is the experiences I passed through during each trip, the lessons I learnt, the potential I discovered in myself and all the wonderful people I met along the way. Just like any other sport that I regularly practise, mountaineering gives me great purpose and a big reason to work hard every day.
What inspired you to attempt Mount Everest?
Well, it was an idea I had for quite a while. When I started climbing, I thought maybe if I am crazy enough, one day I will attempt something like Everest. Mount Everest has been on my mind for quite a while. Obviously, it’s the highest mountain peak in the world, so what’s more appealing than that. But then it started turning into a dream so I started thinking that if I do this mountain or that mountain and can challenge myself this far, I would love to try something like Mount Everest. So, in the beginning, it was a dream because I wanted to see how far I was able to push myself, what my physical capabilities consist of, what I am able to do mentally, emotionally, physically. And then that dream kept growing over the years and turned into a goal just last year when my training partner Shareef suggested Nelly, let’s set the goal for next year rather than a dream for someday. That was possibly the best conversation we could ever have as that conversation changed our entire year. We ended up deciding to do Everest the following day. We started reaching out to companies, we paid the deposit, it all started happening from there. What really impressed me about Everest was the challenge, the challenge that comes from the climb – the physical, the mental, the emotional challenge of committing to something this big, of being able to train for something this big and then going on a mountain where there is no guarantee that you are going to be able to climb it, no guarantee that you are going to be able to come back. And the person who really pushed me to do it was my friend Shareef.
How did you prepare?
I would prepare for hours every week. My training was for between 14 – 30 hours a week, building up over the weeks as we got closer to Everest. I had two coaches in the States which helped me come up with my programme, which would consist of a lot of fasted running (20-30 kms), uphill training (indoors on the stairs machine, on a treadmill, hiking with a heavy backpack on my back with the volume increasing every week) as well as loads of strength training for my core and my legs. The training also consisted of training my body to extreme temperatures so I did a lot of travel in cold climates and climbing lots of mountains in extreme temperatures. The training also included practising with my equipment, practising many of the practicalities and little details that would be critical in the climb. This included toilets, toiletry kits, food while hiking etc. You have to think of everything as these little things can add up and cause a problem if you are not prepared.
What was the journey to prepare like? Did you get enough support? Did you need training outside the Kingdom?
I think the journey to prepare for Everest was the best part of climbing Everest. So much happened in a year from growth to learning to meeting people both internationally and locally who helped me prepare for Everest. I believe preparing for Everest is training for life. And it’s amazing, this is what I strive for on a bigger scale. I want to encourage as many people as possible to get active and Everest helped me do that. When I trained, girls and boys of all ages would join me in my training (2 people to 30 people at a time). It was amazing to see that through my training for Everest, so many people would get active, unlock their potential. Lot of them went on to run marathons or climb mountains. It was amazing to see that my dream has allowed people to get out there.
The journey was quite hard, there was a lot I had to get creative with in terms of training resources as I was training in Saudi Arabia. We have limited resources for mountaineering in Saudi as we don’t have the landscape that would resemble something like Everest. Also, as a woman training outdoors, there was a lot I needed to be mindful of. But having said that all these things combined made the journey even more meaningful. It gave me so much more drive, so much more reason to work through the challenges and if I could do these things in Saudi, I knew I could definitely do this on Everest.
Yes, I got amazing support. 100%. My people, my community, my colleagues, my family, even strangers that heard of my journey gave me so much support. They made me feel the journey is ‘ours’. My success was theirs and this is what kept me going on the mountain. I would also like to express my gratitude to Fitness, Nestle Arabia they were a great supporter of my journey. They really liked my journey and wanted to be a part of it.
Some of my training was outside the Kingdom. You need prior mountaineering experience to climb Everest. You need to be proficient with the technical skills that you would need to tackle Everest. Yes, I had to travel a lot and climb a lot of 6000-metre peaks to gain decent experience for Everest.
Did you climb other Mountains in preparation?
I have climbed 14 peaks before climbing Mount Everest, 5 of which were 6000-metre peaks and 2 of which are almost 7000-metre peaks.
Tell us about the Everest experience? Did you have a group and guides with you? How did they support you? What equipment did you need?
We went with an American mountaineering company, who were very experienced and well established. We had 3 western guides including the company’s owner, we had about 10-15 Nepali guides, all excellent. They helped us train on the mountain, helped us get higher up, helped us emotionally, physically and made us from a group of people into a team through their constant encouragement and values. You spend 2 months on the mountain with this group who didn’t know each other so it was important we felt like a team, like family. They prepared food, melted water for us to drink, set up tents and took care of most of the logistics. Without them, most of us wouldn’t have been able to summit Everest. They were there every single step of the way, first to ensure we were safe and then if we were able to, ensuring we kept going forward and onwards.
Lots of equipment, I think I had a 7 or 8-page gear list including sunblock, down jackets, thermals, mittens, gloves, beanies, ski goggles, waterproofing and windproofing gloves, mountaineering boots, proper socks, crampons, food, headlight, portable chargers. You need to also take spares because if you run out of equipment, you can’t get spares on the mountain.
What did the moment you successfully summitted Mount Everest feel like?
The minute I started walking towards the summit, I started sobbing so much. I generally cry whenever I summit or reach the finish line of a big race, just because I am so relieved, so happy and proud. All the emotions come rushing to me, Nelly you have done it, you believed you could do it and you have. I am so grateful for all the people who helped me do it. But I have never sobbed as I cried on Everest, I literally cried for 10 minutes, non-stop.
It’s really hard to describe, it felt like a cocktail of emotions – so proud, so relieved, so happy I made it and I felt so strong. I was also nervous as there were many dead bodies on the summit. I was also nervous coming down due to the traffic as we were going down and many people were still summiting the same way. Most accidents happen on the descent. I was very cold (-40 degrees) and I was scared I would get frostbite. There was discomfort mixed with fear mixed with happiness and relief mixed with just being so overwhelmed for being on top of the world. I can’t quite describe it.
You may not believe it but as soon after I reached the summit and began the descent, I felt a bit of a void. I was thinking, what’s next? I just fulfilled my massive dream of fulfilling Everest and now what do I do next.
What milestones did you set? Are you amongst the first Arab women to summit Everest?
While I set a few milestones, I think being the first person from Riyadh to summit Mount Everest is the most meaningful to me. That’s where I can support the community, create an impact. I am hoping to inspire people in Riyadh to train, to take on mountaineering, take on extreme sports, to get outdoors. The sports and fitness landscape in Riyadh is starting to emerge, more and more people are getting outdoors. So, I really hope that if they see someone from Riyadh, doing this successfully, they also get motivated to put in the hard work and achieve their dreams.
I am also one of the first from Saudi Arabia, the first from Riyadh and one of the first Lebanese females to summit Mount Everest, one of the first 10 Arab females who climbed Mount Everest.
Did you support any charities with your efforts?
I fundraised to enrol as many children in the Early Learning Centres at Basmeh and Zeitooneh. Basmeh and Zeitooneh are a non-profit in Lebanon. They work with a lot of refugees, equipping them with basic rights, integrating them into society through work and education. One of the biggest challenges they face is funds to be able to educate children. So we fundraised for 28 children to be enrolled in Early Learning Centres next year, mostly refugees and some underprivileged children. We also fundraised to Clean Up Everest, donating 800$ for the cause.
What’s next for Nelly Attar? Any more mountains in your future?
Stay tuned as I have yet to decide. Of course, there are going to be loads of mountains and adventures in the future. Everest is the biggest climb but it’s not the biggest challenge out there. There are many other challenges out there that I would love to tackle in the future. For now, I have a lot of work-related goals I want to achieve in the next six months. In November, I have 3 international marathons. In December, hopefully, another climb. Some sports-related challenges in my immediate future, which should build up to bigger things soon.
Can you share some advice for other ladies who may like to summit Mount Everest?
My advice for any women who wants to climb Everest is to start small. The idea of climbing Mount Everest can be very lucrative, very exciting but it’s a very dangerous mountain and not something one can do without the proper experience, proper expertise and you never know, once you get into the mountaineering world, this may be something you don’t want to do. You may be interested in more technical or steeper climbs in lower altitudes as compared to something like Everest which is not very technical, yet very high in altitude. So I would say, gain as much experience as possible, train as much as possible, don’t rush it. Take as much time as you need. It took me 3-4 years to develop that dream into reality and I still think I could have gained more experience, prior to climbing Mount Everest. Train, start small, take one step today that can help you get to the goal, whether it is making a phone call or donning your sneakers and getting out of the house. Then see how it unfolds
Where can people go to see footage of your journey?
They can go to my Instagram@NellyAttar. There will be a website soon (www.nellyattar.com). I am also working on a documentary of my climb (To dream of Everest) which will be released before the end of the year.