Ali Saleh Alshunnar recently beat his brother’s record as youngest Emirati to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, at only 15 years old. Standing at 5,895 metres above sea level, Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world.
Ali beat his brother Moawiya’s record by a five-month age difference, completing the challenge only a month after turning 15 years old; Moawiya was 15 and a half years old when he summited the mountain in 2012.
A grade 10 student at Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) in Dubai, Ali has always taken an interest in a variety of sports and high endurance activities such as tennis, football, basketball, horse riding, and Tang Soo Do (a Korean martial art), in which he is a black belt.
Commenting on his decision to climb the mammoth mountain, Ali said: “In the UAE, we always challenge ourselves and strive for the best—a quality that has been passed down to us by our biggest role models, the nation’s leadership.”
Ali, who wanted to embark on the remarkable journey at age 14 but was unable to travel at the time, finally began the ascent on 14th August, 2016 with a group of three other climbers, including his father. They hiked several thousand metres each day for many hours, and camped in tents for six nights. They reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, on 19th August, 2016.
He continued: “Although the climate started out as very pleasant at the base of the mountain, it soon became extremely cold and we were faced with low levels of oxygen, which made the last few days particularly difficult and tiring, and caused a loss of appetite.”
Ali also explained that although the feeling of joy and elation when reaching the top is incredibly memorable, the journey itself holds the most memories—ones of struggle, of the pride felt when holding the UAE flag atop the mountain, and of an overall life-changing experience.
“Though it becomes hard to sleep at such extreme altitudes, I learnt that the only way to overcome this and other challenges was to control and conquer my mind. We are all capable of doing so much more than we ever think possible, and the end result is always worth it.”
While Ali highly recommends the trip, especially to likeminded teenagers, he stresses the need to be mentally and physically fit and ready before attempting the trek. Taking safety into consideration is vital, so potential hikers should research expert group leaders and organisers before starting this once-in-a-life-time expedition.