Conquer the Everest in you, believe in yourself
What draws mountaineers to Mt Everest? How do they prepare for the climb? What are the dangers? How does it feel to be on top of the world? Qatari mou
Fahad Badar was well ensconced in his job as Executive General Manager, International Banking, at the Commercial Bank of Qatar. He had worked hard and excelled in his career. One would have thought he was living his dream. For Fahad, that wasn’t the case. An unfulfilled goal occupied his thoughts – conquering the highest peak in the world. Fahad set about achieving that. On May 22-23 this year, he became the second Qatari to scale Mount Everest after Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulla Al Thani in 2013. The 40-year-old also became the first Arab to scale Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, in one expedition. Following a few months later in August Fahad went on to climb Mont Blanc, the highest in Western Europe and the Matterhorn mountain on the Swiss-Italian border.
Fahad’s journey to Mount Everest was full of challenges, highs and lows. He spoke to Inside Qatar detailing how his grit, gumption and persistence saw him through a gruelling and demanding climb to the top of the world.
What drew you to mountaineering, especially as you hail from a country where there are no mountains?
As a child I used to read a lot. It was one of my biggest hobbies. I used to read about adventures. As I grew up I wanted to be part of an adventure. After I finished school I did a lot of backpacking. I went across Southeast Asia. I’ve been to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Tibet and Nepal. I used to do it the basic way as at that time there were no smartphones, all we had was Lonely Planet. I stayed in $10 per night hotels, not five-star hotels. When I was in Laos I walked a lot in the mountains. This is where I got fascinated by the mountains and the environment there. I love being in nature. When I went to Nepal in 2003 I saw Everest for the first time from a distance. I was hooked. I remember telling myself, “One day I want to climb Mount Everest”. It was a big dream – Mount Everest or nothing else.
At the same time I had to complete my studies – I finished my MBA and was also working hard to grow in my career. I started at the entry level in Commercial Bank in 2000 and then I worked hard to climb the executive ladder. I am now the Executive General Manager of International Banking. But in 2015-16 I felt like I was working very hard and doing well but I needed to follow another dream. I did not tell anyone. I just started training and to climb mountains. The first real mountain I climbed was Kilimanjaro which is the highest in Africa. It was around February 2018. Almost within a year of climbing Kilimanjaro, and other mountains I climbed Mount Everest which is the highest in the world and also Lhotse which is the fourth highest.
Climbing Everest is in itself a big task. But the day after climbing Everest you climbed Lhotse as well. Before you could catch your breath, you set about climbing Lhotse, what pushed you forward to do it?
I always challenge myself. I like to take myself to the extreme and do what others say is impossible. Although Everest is a challenge more people are climbing it. This was what prompted me to also climb Lhotse. I remember when I started my expedition to Everest, the company which facilitated my trip virtually refused to take the fee for Lhotse climb. They said, ‘Everest is difficult and you don’t have much experience, and you are not from a mountaineering country. How will you do both mountains?’ I said I wanted to do it.
How far apart are Everest and Lhotse?
They are close to each other. To climb Lhotse you need to come down 800 metres from Everest and then climb up again. It’s very challenging to do Lhotse that soon after Everest. It breaks you physically, mentally and emotionally. Although the duration is shorter, Lhotse is steep. And there are rock falls. I got hit by a falling rock while coming down but thankfully my leg didn’t get broken. You don’t have rescue helicopters at that altitude. You need people to help you to go down. To get one person down it requires four or five people and they are tired themselves.
Only after I completed my acclimatisation and training for one month did the company agree for me to climb Lhotse, but they also warned me that if I did not succeed to summit Lhotse I would not get a refund. I said I was happy to take the risk.
Even after returning to camp after climbing Everest my guide asked me if I was sure I wanted to climb Lhotse. We slept a few hours before nightfall ahead of the Lhotse climb. I was tired and was deep asleep. My guide tried to wake me up, ‘Fahad, let’s go, I heard in my dream’. I was in my sleeping bag and did not respond. So he thought I had changed my mind about climbing Lhotse and decided to go back to sleep. But within five minutes I became conscious, woke up and shook him awake. ‘Lhotse, Lhotse, I almost screamed at him, we need to do it’.
We got ready with the gear and there was a lady from Morocco, Mariam, who also wanted to climb Lhotse, so we climbed it together. Doing Lhotse was a challenge, but the surprising and happy thing was that I made it back to the base camp after climbing Everest on my legs. Some people had to be carried back as they were tired. I returned injury-free with just a bruise on my leg.
I was the first male Arab to climb Everest and Lhotse. This record puts Qatar on the map of mountaineering in the Arab world. I was also told that I was one of just over 30 people in the world to have climbed both mountains in the same expedition trip.
I was very proud that I raised the flag of Qatar and the flag of Qatar 2022 on the highest peaks in the world. I also raised the flag of Commercial Bank (my employer) and the flag of Qatar Cancer Society with whom I do some volunteering.
After the climb, I felt that since I was in Nepal for two months I should do something good for the country. We have a very big Nepali population in Qatar working to help us to build the country. I am now more interested in volunteering to help with various activities organized by the Nepali community in Qatar.
Do you have a team helping you on your expeditions?
Mountain climbing is best done in teams, I worked with a multinational teams during my climb up Mount Everest. My guide was from Ecuador and we had Nepali sherpas helping us. No one can climb Mount Everest without Nepali sherpas. This year we had many people from the Arab world, including the first Omani lady, first Lebanese lady and first Jordanian lady to climb Mount Everest. We also had climbers from Saudi Arabia and Syria.
What were the reactions after you climbed Mount Everest?
More than the mainstream media, the coverage on the social media was overwhelming. The appreciation from the local and expat community made me happy. Many people would look at me and say, ‘Oh Fahad you are the Everest man’. When I am training in the gym someone would say, ‘You are the Everest hero’. I had a lot of youngsters coming to me and saying ‘We look up to you’. Even Qataris aged about 60 or 70 years who did not know me came up to me and said, ‘Well done my child’.
Before you set about to climb Everest, you climbed Kilimanjaro. What was the inspiration?
Kilimanjaro is one of the most beautiful climbs. At that time it was difficult, but looking back it seems very easy. It was my first experience of living in tents, experiencing sub-freezing temperatures, walking for nine or 10 hours and dealing with the altitude. But in order to climb Everest I knew I needed to climb other mountains. I climbed Kilimanjaro first and then Mount Elbrus in Southern Russia, the highest mountain in Europe. In December last year I tried to climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in South America. I didn’t reach the summit due to altitude sickness. Although I failed to reach the top, the experience made me stronger and more determined to climb Mount Everest. I learned from the failure and worked doubly hard to prepare for Mount Everest.
How hard was the journey towards the summit?
From base camp you go to camp 4, it’s the highest camp in the world at 8000 meters and you are always on oxygen and always tired. It is called the death zone. Once we got there we were told that we could not climb to the summit because the wind was too bad. If it is too windy you will freeze to death. We were asked to wait and at one point even told that we may not be able to go at all. At that moment I felt down as I had worked very hard and put in so much effort. The next 24 hours’ wait was very tiring. On the second day, we were not sure when or if we will get told that the weather is fine or to be given the green light to go. Then we got it. I was so happy when they told us we could go. I needed two good days to do Everest and Lhotse. But Everest was my primary target. I was willing to sacrifice Lhotse. I was lucky that I got to climb both Everest and Lhotse too. They say that on the mountains is all God’s willing. Up there we had people of different nationalities and all of us were praying that we would be allowed to reach the summit. And up there no matter what you do, the mountain is bigger than you.
For the Nepalis, the mountain is God. Once we reached the base camp after coming down, my Sherpa started praying to the mountain. I also started praying to thank Allah that I returned safely, because no matter how prepared you are, in the mountains you are nothing. You are not stronger than the mountain. You can die at any moment, the risks are high.
What was the reaction of your family and wife?
When I came back my daughter was shocked as I had lost a lot of weight. At the airport she looked at me and was scared to even come towards me. And then someone convinced her it was her ‘Baba’. My father told me, ‘Fahad had I known how dangerous it was, I wouldn’t have allowed you to do it’.
My wife understood the risks entailed but she was comfortable with it as she saw how serious I was, how I had planned my climb and the effort I was putting into it. I did it with the best company and the best guide as I did not want to take any chances.
Someone asked me a question when I came back ‘Fahad, were you scared?’ I honestly say I was not scared. What I was afraid of the most was failure. Going there and even on the summit night I was focused, I just wanted to go. And after reaching the summit I just wanted to get back down.
What is the ideal age for a person to climb Everest?
It depends on your experience, fitness level and, to a certain extent, age. I would not recommend Mount Everest for people over 55 because of the risk factor. If you are doing a mountain that is technically difficult then you should have the right experience, skills and a smart guide. There are always small mountains for all age groups. You can also hike in the mountains. I recommend hiking for all ages. It is very good for your health.
So you are the first Arab male to summit both Everest and Lhotse, I guess you have achieved your dream now, will there be other expeditions?
Doing Everest and Lhotse is not the end for me. It was a dream to do Everest and a lifetime achievement to do both Everest and Lhotse. I have plans for other expeditions. At the end of the year I am planning to go to Antarctica to climb Mount Vinson, the highest mountain in the South Pole. Also, I will be doing ‘Ski the Last Degree’ in which you ski the last 110 km to the South Pole. It involves cross country skiing whilst pulling a sled of supplies for about eight days. It will then take seven days to climb Vinson, so I will be in the South Pole for about three weeks. I will be carrying the Qatari flag to the top of Mt Vinson which is the highest point at the South Pole. My proudest moments and the happiest ones are when I am carrying the flag of Qatar on my expeditions.
In the future do you see more Qataris taking up mountaineering and adventure sports? And how are you involved in promoting mountaineering?
I will try my best to promote mountaineering as a sport, but people have to take it seriously. I am trying to explain to people where to go and what to do. For example the nearest place to go is Oman which has small mountains. I also tell people about the physical training in Qatar. We don’t have mountains here, but we have the Torch Hotel where you can do stair climbs. Also, we have a wall climbing place inside the Aspire Park. I think mountaineering will become popular as more and more people take it up.
What is your message to the youth of Qatar?
Always dream big. Never underestimate yourself. Sometimes people underestimate themselves and hold back from doing amazing things. If you had asked me a few years ago whether I could do Everest, I would have said it was very difficult. But if you have the belief that you could do it, then you will do it.
I am sure every one of us can climb Everest. There is a saying that everyone has an Everest in his life. Maybe it’s not the mountain, but a challenge in your life. So look at Everest and conquer it.