“My name is Raha Moharrak and I’m the first but hopefully not the last Saudi woman to climb Mt Everest…”
This month Daniel and I were honoured to be able to interview the up and coming climber from Saudi Arabia, Raha Moharrak, who is also a professional athlete, sponsored by Columbia Clothing. As a climber and mountaineer myself, listening to her answers inspired me, and I hope reading this interview will have the same effect on you.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to meet a real athlete who will leave behind a real legacy and I believe that Raha will be just that for women all over the Arabian peninsula and the world.
What is your personal motivation for climbing?
What first got me into climbing was very accidental. I was at that time in my life where I was looking for something new. I wanted to try something different and someone suggested Kilimanjaro, and it went from there. I never expected something so random to end up being this great achievement in my life. What keeps me going is a bunch of different things; it’s my quest to live a full happy life filled with experiences and stories and to live as an example, to leave a legacy for the next generation of young girls in the region and the world in general. I want to leave this world better than I entered into it. Hopefully, that will be my legacy.
Saudi isn’t a country normally associated with female athletes – how difficult was it for you to convince people to support you?
Everything new in Saudi Arabia is most of the time not accepted very easily, so in the beginning it was very difficult to get people to understand why I wanted to do this sport. Then after they saw the passion and the dedication I put in, I got a lot of people on board and I changed a lot of minds towards sports in general for females in Saudi Arabia and in the region. So it took a while but it was definitely worth it because more female athletes have started to come out into the climbing arena and not just climbing, but any kind of sports so I think it’s being more accepted.
How did you feel when Columbia approached you to work with you?
I’ve always been a fan of Columbia and it’s one of those things you dream of as an athlete, to be a sponsored professional. For them to approach me was… well in the beginning I thought there was a little bit of a mistake! I thought they just wanted to do something small but now it’s been over a year and I’m very honoured to be part of the Columbia family. It’s a brand that I’ve used, I trust and it caters to the climbing enthusiast to novice. It has a huge range that covers both a beginner and a pro in terms of hiking, and simply being comfortable in the outdoors, so for me to be part of it was a kind of a mini dream come true.
What did it feel like on summit of Mt Everest?
Although this is one of the most asked questions I get, I still can’t answer it. I still find it difficult to put into words what it felt to stand on that mountain. It was the sense of grandeur and the sense of minuteness in the same moment. I literally stood there and was contemplating whether I should pinch myself like in a cartoon because I really felt that it was unbelievable that I was standing up there and yes I can never really explain that. But I can tell you, I was very tired, very hungry, very stinky and absolutely proud to be able to walk and reach the highest summit in the world.
Your Instagram tagline is “living curiously” can you explain how you apply that to your life?
I believe that curiosity is one of the strongest drivers in life. To be a curious child is very easy but to be a curious adult is difficult. We tend to lose our curiosity and sense of adventure and sense of wanting to try something new as we get older. So I urge everyone to continue and to try to feed this little sense of curiosity because if you’re a curious soul you will never live a boring life. You will always have new hungers, new aspirations and new eyes to see the world differently. A simple as it sounds, it’s actually not very easy to follow the motto of living curiously.
Do you think your faith has had an impact on your climbing?
If you’re a believer, faith has impact on everything, don’t you think? Faith is in everything and like everything in life, I put my faith in God so that whenever there are tough situations I have something to believe in. When there is an avalanche coming my way, I’m hoping and praying to God that I don’t get swept away by it! My faith has always kept me grounded, humble and hopeful. It’s one of those things that I am very proud of in our culture, that we are very strong in our faith.
What are your next climbing goals?
My immediate climbing goal is to take the tick and finish my “7 Summits.” I attempted Denali a few years ago and we were very unfortunate that year and I didn’t get the chance to summit. It was one of those “life or limb” moments and I decided that my life and limbs were worth a little bit more than the summit so I very happily came back down.
I promised myself that if by my next birthday I still wanted to climb it, that I would. My birthday came and I decided to go back and climb Denali again. It’s been a bit of a challenge to find the right sponsors because I’m kind of a walking talking taboo so I can understand when I approach brands and people with my portfolio and tell them, I’ve been on 14 expeditions, can you please sponsor my climb and I get a blank face as a response! Yes I have it in my heart to go back and I believe that I can do it because I actually almost climbed it last time, we were just unlucky with the weather. The final piece in the puzzle is being able to find the right sponsor and go back and hopefully being able to tick it off and end my book on a good note.
What is your favourite Columbia Gear?
The hiking pants. When you are wearing something for so long it needs to be comfortable, it needs to be functional and thankfully the new lines especially of Columbia are also fashionable. I always say that sometimes I have to sacrifice fashion for function. I’m a very fashionable person in my own right and I’m a girly girl and I want to look good and I want to feel good but when I’m climbing most of the time I feel like a little cockroach. Columbia gives you the opportunity to look feminine, and the new pants are very comfortable, very feminine and they function right. They are my favourite part of the Columbia line!
You’re an art director, do you feel like there is a synergy between your work and your climbing?
My biggest project is not necessarily art but it’s creative, it’s finishing my book. I started writing it a few years ago and I’m hoping to finish it this year with my final chapter ending on Denali, Inshallah. Yes there’s definitely a synergy between being creative I think, and being multi-faceted which adds to my story. I climb mountains and I share my story and I think if I wasn’t very creative, I wouldn’t be able to find the means and the right way to depict my story. It would probably be a little bit flat. I’m a creative and adventurous person. Whenever I travel I have my camera with me and I make my little notes.
You are seen all over the Middle East by women as a role model for what they can achieve if they put their minds to it, how does this make you feel and what words of encouragement can you give to those who follow in your footsteps?
It makes me feel heavy sometimes. I think it’s a huge responsibility and I don’t take it lightly. I take it to heart and I carry it with me, not like a burden because I’m honoured to be part of this, I’m honoured to be one of those people. I really do put a lot of consideration into what I do and what I say. I know that I have an opportunity to change the story for Arab women, so I really put in a lot of time. I know a lot of people don’t believe me, but I’m a camera shy person but I still put myself out there and I share my story in the hopes to make a change, that even if it’s for one little girls opinion of herself, then I can say that my job here is done.
Hopefully in 10 years time some girl or boy will come up to me and say “You know, I decided to go to the moon or I won gold because I heard this story about the Saudi girl that climbed Everest.” That to me would be my legacy. What I want to say to them is if a Saudi woman could touch the sky, I won’t accept that your dreams are too far to reach. There is no way that anyone can tell me that Arab women or Saudi women are less than anyone else. I’m a very average person from an average life and upbringing, but I believed that I could and I lived my dream. If I managed then you are capable of reaching yours, I guarantee you. You just need to be brave enough to dream them.
Outdoor UAE would like to wish Raha Moharrak every success with her climbing future and if you want to hear more about her or follow her adventures then you can go to her Facebook page or her Instagram account:
Available at Columbia stores:
Dubai – The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Mirdif City Center and Ibn Battuta Mall
Abu Dhabi – Al Wahda Mall and Dalma Mall
Facebook: Columbia Middle East