Smashing the UK national three-peak challenge

Ever since I was a little girl…

…is NOT where the story of this next grand adventure begins.

In fact, I can think of only one grand adventure of mine (which happened not to be sport or activity related) that originated in my childhood. I’m constantly coming up with new dreams and new ideas for adventures.

This story actually starts here:

I'm not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let's just say it was bleak.

I’m not sure which mountain this was taken on. The backgrounds in our pictures on all three summits are almost identical. Let’s just say it was bleak.

Ever since about four years ago when I first heard of the UK’s national three-peaks challenge, I’ve wanted to give it a go.

I have no idea who thought of this idea or when. I’m not even going to look it up to tell you about it because to me, that part is irrelevant. The national three-peaks challenge is about hiking up the three highest mountains in Scotland, England and Wales in a period of 24 hours.

It’s not an official race. There are no official times. There aren’t marshals or registration forms. There’s no one to announce you’ve accomplished the task. There are no certificates at the end or event T-shirts. There isn’t a specific day to do it, although I hear throngs of people choose to do it on June 21, the longest day of the year.

You just go out and do it.

I’ve been nagging my husband ever since I heard of this being “a thing” that we go and do it ourselves. He had already done it twice. He wasn’t enthusiastic in any way to do it a third time. I couldn’t understand why. My husband is huge on physical activities and challenges. But after four years of nagging and an opportune relatively free summer, he obliged.

He put together a team of five. It’s better to have a few people with you because the challenge involves an incredible amount of driving. Only days before our set date, two of the five pulled out, leaving us with a small team of three: me, my husband, and one of his work colleagues who also, it just so happens, was our third team member on our grand cycle from London to Paris in three days only three years ago.

I knew the national three-peaks challenge would be challenging. It wouldn’t be called a challenge otherwise. (more…)


The pros, cons and responsibilities of popularizing adventure

This morning I woke up to the news of ten people dying when two helicopters collided while filming a French survival reality television program. This horrible accident has me questioning, yet again, the wisdom – or lack thereof – behind popularizing highly risky adventure activities through reality television.

Several weeks ago, British television aired a two-part documentary about a British adventurer trekking the length of the Nile River. While on the trek, the adventurer and his guide, at this stage completely on their own, had to walk through territory they knew was under the control of armed men. They clandestinely filmed an exchange in which they gave the armed men some of their gear in order to secure their passage through the territory. Later, in the same documentary, a journalist and his photographer came across the adventurer and asked to join them for part of their trek. Apparently they were heading in the same direction. They were welcomed by the adventurer, who continued on his way to trek by the side of the Nile, during the daytime, in exposed 50-Celsius heat. The journalist got heat stroke. Due to the nature of this particular trek, the emergency evacuation available to the adventurer was hours away. All that could be done was to set up a makeshift shade for the journalist and try to cool him with the little amount of water the group had. The journalist died. The adventurer appeared incredibly sad. The end of the documentary showed a black screen with the picture of the journalist and a nice “In memory of…” And viewers were expected to then watch the second part of the documentary the following week and cheer the adventurer on for the remainder of his journey.

I felt insulted. A man died, in my mind and from what we were shown, directly as a result of this group engaging in unacceptably risky behavior, and I was expected as a viewer to take this in my stride as being normal and expected. I was supposed to accept that the adventurer continued on his trek, continued to film, and continued to enjoy and revel in his own experiences. I refused to watch the second episode of the documentary the following week. Not that it mattered to anyone.

I believe it is one thing for an individual to engage in risky behavior only at his or her own expense. But that it is a completely different and unacceptable thing to take inexperienced people under one’s wing while engaging in such behaviors. Much worse, I believe, is popularizing this sort of activity in a way that undermines the seriousness of the activities involved. (more…)

Why I Am Gradually Changing the Way I See the World

My husband and I were at a small junction near the north coast of Northern Ireland and had two choices. We could either take the larger, busier road labeled “Coastal Route” or we could turn off onto a small road going up a steep hill. My navigation device showed me that the smaller road would allow us to cycle closer to the sea’s coast. That’s what settled it for us. We took the smaller road.

Immediately we were lurched into a long series of steep, hilly cycling battles. Cycling downhill was almost more challenging than cycling uphill. The downhill gradients were so steep that it felt like the bike might do a somersault and tumble down the rest of the hill. One uphill climb was so steep and so long that I had to stop to catch my breath. Once I was breathing normally again, I discovered it was impossible for me to continue cycling up the hill. When I tried to put both feet on the pedals, I lost balance. I struggled to pull the bike upwards until I found a gradient that would allow me to get back on.

I had cycled on very steep hills before. These reminded me of that time in France, a few months earlier, when my navigation system and me had a little misunderstanding that resulted in a huge detour up a big, steep mountain.

I knew I could do this. I knew I even enjoyed it. There is a very primal sort of satisfaction that I find in putting every single ounce of energy I have into the movement of my legs. It’s an enjoyable pain. That sounds almost masochistic. It’s not.

We cycled up and down, both of us letting out a very loud “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” when we reached the steepest part of a hill, perhaps thus allowing our own voices to push our legs up that last bit. I have no idea how much time passed at first. It could have been five minutes. It could also have been 30 minutes. And then we saw the coast.

I don’t care how many times I have seen coasts. It doesn’t matter how long it has taken me to reach them: weeks, days, or hours. Every single time I reach a coast by the power of my own two legs I am spellbound. It is as if I am seeing it for the very first time. It is an almost childlike sensation of awe. (more…)

The Egypt I Choose to Remember

I grew up in the United States as a child and a young teenager. Even so, Egypt grew in my heart with me. My father constantly told us glorious stories of his youth, growing up in the village, living through the 1952 Revolution (although quite young at the time), and protesting against President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. He told us how Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully and how a person’s religion was almost irrelevant. Before I ever visited Egypt as a youngster, I recall seeing my father, with my five-year-old eyes, watching the news from Egypt very closely in October 1973. I had no comprehension of the war going on between Egypt and Israel at the time. Even so, I have a clear memory in my head of my father weeping with joy in front of the television set on October 6, 1973, when the Egyptian army successfully crossed Israel’s Barlev Line.

The Egypt of my youth was one of wonderful summer holidays. It was an Egypt where sheep roamed freely with people on the streets of Cairo. It was an Egypt of sun, warmth, lots of good food, neighborhood children to play with, walking along the main street of Roksy with its flashy shoe stores and then eating the best shawerma in the whole world, riding on camels in front of the Pyramids, streets with few cars, doting grandparents and uncles and aunts and extended family members who were all also called uncle and aunt…

I finally settled in Cairo in 1986 to start university at the age of 17. It was so exciting for me. (more…)

Nadia’s Ten Tips for Healthy Living

Anybody and everybody is writing about healthy living nowadays. Much of what is out there is common sense and you have to

My husband, a friend of ours, and I cycled from London to Paris this year. Having a short-term goal will motivate you to keep exercising.

My husband, a friend of ours, and I cycled from London to Paris this year. Having a short-term goal will motivate you to keep exercising.

wonder why someone has written a whole book about it. More of what is out there is just a load of crap. Generally, I think too many people have turned healthy living into something that is way too complicated for someone who wants to start on the road towards a healthier lifestyle.

So, since I am an anybody and I have accumulated some personal experience on this topic over the past few years, I thought I would share my own tips on how to live more healthily.

1.    Your goal should be gradually shifting into a lifestyle change and not finding a quick fix solution. One of the first things you need to do is completely remove the word diet from your vocabulary. YOU ARE NOT STARTING YET ANOTHER DIET. Your goal is not to lose a certain amount of weight in a certain amount of time. Your goal should not even be weight loss. Your goal should be to become healthy. This will inevitably result in some weight loss. But stop focusing on your weight and start focusing on changing the way you live.

2.    Lifestyle changes do not happen overnight. (more…)

Two Egyptian Women, the Police, Lots of Bedouin Men, a Convicted Drug Felon, and Asfour the Camel

There are some places in this world that require you to walk long and far and with a certain amount of risk to life and limb in order to reach them. Months and sometimes years of training are needed to achieve the physical strength and the mental willpower necessary to take you to these places. These places are worth seeing.

Our night ascent to the summit of Egypt’s highest peak was grueling at times. We were pushing hard and were not taking breaks. The moon shone bright over our heads. Our headlamps were not required. My breathing became heavier and heavier as we went higher and higher. I began to feel the weight of my backpack that was carrying four-days-worth of clothes and snacks. “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” I thought. “I am not enjoying this. I feel miserable. What is wrong with me?”

We reached the summit in a short three hours. My best friend Arwa slumped down on the floor of the summit hut, shivering. I took her in my arms and rubbed her back to warm her. We ate a quick snack and jumped into our sleeping bags, lying side by side with our two Bedouin guides barely a meter away.

After a very restless sleep – altitude gives me nightmares – I woke up and saw the door to our stone hut was lined by a dim halo of light. I put on my sandals and fleece jacket and opened the door.

This was why I did it, I suddenly remembered. Below me lay a wide expanse of clouds and mountain range, shining under the rising sun.

Getting to this point was not easy. (more…)

My love-hate relationship with exercising

Almost every single time I start thinking about beginning my semi-daily exercise routine I feel dread. But I’ve never once regretted

Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy

Hiking in the Cinque Terre, Italy

exercising once I’m done.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when I start exercising or when I go to the gym, I feel like giving up in the middle of it all. Sometimes I do the easier exercises rather than the more difficult ones. Sometimes in gym class I’ll be so tired that I do things at half the pace as everyone else. And a couple of times I’ve started an activity and I’ve just completely given up after a few minutes. But that’s only happened when I’ve chosen to do something I’m completely unprepared to do.

My journey with exercise has been just that: a long and arduous journey. It’s taken me years to understand my body, its limitations, how far I can push it, and when I just need to rest. It’s taken me years to get myself into a mindset of exercising as regularly as I can, no matter where I am, and no matter what facilities are available to me. The one thing that has convinced me most to keep pushing forward is that I want to be fit enough to enjoy my life and to do fun and exciting things. (more…)

A New Adventure and New Fear: To Mont Blanc I Go

June 27: Why, oh why, oh why?

It’s that time of the year again. I’m preparing for another adventure; this time to Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.

“Why?” you ask. Since you are asking me only a few days before I set off, I really have no satisfying answer for you. I’ve been asking myself that same question. Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?

Mont Blanc is a mountain that involves ropes and ice axes, crevasses that people fall into and falling rocks that cause people to slip and fall.

Why, Nadia? Why, oh why, oh why?


Kilimanjaro: Day 6 – To the base of the mountain

Directly from my diary:

We woke up at 6am. Breakfast was at 6:30 and we were to leave at 7:30 am. We actually left around 7:45 am.

This was our last day on the mountain and we had several hours of downhill

Porters heading down Kilimanjaro

Porters heading down Kilimanjaro

 hiking to reach the bottom.

I was suddenly and for the first time the strongest of the group. Both Renate and Amy had feet problems, mostly because their hard boots had injured their feet. Amy gave her bag to Alphonce. Peter wanted to take mine but I refused, offering to take his instead. I was in high spirits and feeling strong.

I spent my time down the mountain texting friends, taking pictures of the fauna and flora I was too tired to take pictures of on the way up, and meeting new people.

We passed the German group and they passed us several times.

I had met the Irish group earlier that morning at breakfast and asked them how they all did. They all enthusiastically confirmed a successful summit. Later after returning to the base of the mountain I checked the registration log and found that they all had indeed reached Uhuru Peak.

The first time we passed the Germans I warm-heartedly asked them how they did and got a mixed “mmmm” reaction with some making the so-so sign with their hands. I agreed the hike was miserable but congratulated them, not sure how many actually succeeded.

Much later I walked with two of them near the end of the path and was told that out of a total of fifteen, eleven had reached Gilman’s Point and only five reached Uhuru. The ten all had altitude problems. It turned out that their group doctor, a specialist in altitude, had told them not to take Diamox unless they felt sick, and were told to stop when they felt better.

The group were colleagues in an IT company that does development projects in Tanzania. Part of their pre-trip regime was hiking 2800 meter mountains. Another was spending time in a special center where one can exercise in a room that simulates high altitude by taking away the oxygen from the room. Amy and I theorized about the reasons behind their high failure rate. Not taking Diamox could have been a problem. Another might have been group morale. I wonder if the group pushed too hard in the beginning of the summit hike so that some people just couldn’t keep up. That might have resulted in the first few dropping out, which might have started lowering group morale, resulting in a large number turning back after Gilman’s Point.

In our group, the slowest (me) was in front and the strongest (Renate) behind. This meant that we were moving at my pace. And each time Amy and my morale started to go down Renate would call from behind: “You’re doing it girls! You’ve almost made it! You’re doing a great job!” And Amy and I would push on.

At the summit Renate came to me to shake my hand and congratulated me for making it. I shook my head to her hand shake and hugged her instead, crying a bit on her shoulder. She kept telling me what a great job I had done and that nw I knew I could do anything. I replied in a very whiny voice, “But it was so hard!”, to which she replied, “Yup. But you still did it! You can do anything you put your mind to!” I owe that woman something serious.

Back to the way down:

I also spoke with a couple of Canadians who would be going to Egypt after Tanzania and gave them advice on tons of stuff to do while there. The man apparently found summiting very difficult, he told me. He said he was the guy sitting down every five minutes. He summited at 7:45 am, 15 minutes after us. He was probably at the summit as we left. I have absolutely no idea who was up there with us. I only remember a couple of Japanese guys taking each others’ pictures. The others are a blur. There were many other people there at the same time. Probably 15 to 20. Who they were, what they looked like is not a question I can answer.

On the way down, we took pictures of a chameleon, the Colobus monkeys, trees, flowers, and a grasshopper. I really was enjoying my new-found health. Heck, I was descending without the trekking poles even! AND I only peed once the whole trek down when we stopped at Mandara.

At around 3pm we reached the base of the mountain. I felt so happy and proud. Amy and I registered in the book and I started flipping through this year’s log to see if any Egyptian women had been up. none. Only one Egyptian named John Mado had gone up the same route earlier that year.

Peter promised he’d check the computer databases to find out if any Egyptian women ever summited. We were later to hear that at least four Egyptian women had indeed summited to Uhuru Peak in the past two years.

The log showed at 3:15pm that 63 people had descended from Marangu route the same day (August 16). Among them, 41 had successfully reached Uhuru Peak, with Amy, Renate, and I among them.

Renate signed the log book and we went to have lunch. Renate and Amy both

Alphonce sweeps me off my feet as we celebrate a successful summit

Alphonce sweeps me off my feet as we celebrate a successful summit

 had gear they could give away to the porters and cooks. it was spread out on a sheet. And then the celebrations began. There was singing and dancing and passing out of certificates. The guys got their tips divided out by Peter. Peter also chose who would choose different clothing items. He himself got Amy’s hiking boots (his were worn with holes in them) and the chief cook, assistant cook, dishwasher and others were also chosen, each coming and shaking our hands at the end. And it was off to the hotel where we had hot water issues but eventually we all showered and were as good as new if not for the aches and pains and crust under the nose from the frozen snot of summit night.

Kilimanjaro: Day 5 – Down to Horombo

Directly from my diary:

I had an uncomfortable nap. I woke up at 1pm, having slept only for 45 minutes, and sat in my warm sleeping bag writing my diary. I eventually got up, washed, prayed (sitting as always), and dressed for lunch.

Lunch, as usual, was perfect. We had to hurry because a group that had just arrived needed our room so we quickly packed and left.

Both Peter and Alphonce offered to carry my day pack but I told them I was feeling stronger and would carry it till I felt tired. I did feel tired about an hour later and Alphonce took it from me.

Although long, the walk was easy compared to what we had just done and we were all cheerful. We discussed some of the things  we’d heard about other groups.

An Israeli father and son team were shuttled down from Kibo the night before, we had heard. The father had gone blind, probably an effect of altitude sickness.

A mother and daughter team from Wisconsin we had met ended with the daughter only summiting. Apparently the mother, who looked like she was in her late 50s, saw the trail of lights going up the mountain, clearly showing how steep the mountain was and decided not to go.

We wondered about all the others. We laughed about Alphonce pulling Amy down the mountain and at ourselves for being such spoiled brats asking Alphonce and Peter to do almost everything for us. We were in a good mood.

Amy also gave her day pack to Peter and it eventually ended up being carried by one of the men who served us at meals.

Renate was as always our power woman.

We reached Horombo just before sunset (around 6:30pm). It was beautiful and felt like home. We registered and were given the same hut we stayed in on our way up. We were overjoyed. We washed, changed, toileted and had dinner.

As he had done throughout the hike, Peter put his little contraption on each

Peter's gadget

Peter's gadget

 of our index fingers to check pulse and oxygen saturation. This was always a fun time of the day – done always after breakfast and dinner. The numbers on the contraption never stood still. They would continuously go up and down and Peter would always wait to see a number he liked before writing it down on his sheet. Amy’s fingers took a long time to register anything. Both Amy and Renate especially had good heart rates (they are both athletes). I usually had a high heart rate but very good oxygen saturation. This night my heart rate was particularly high at about 110 beats per minute, which was understandable because I was so sick all day and we exerted a lot of effort. But Peter wouldn’t have it. He refused to register any of my numbers and said we’d try again after the others. When we tried again the numbers were still the same so Peter reluctantly wrote them down. We had fun teasing him.

That night we were supposed to give Peter the tips for the staff. We were confused by the guidelines we were given so Renate spoke with Peter and figured it all out. We’d each pay $345 and Peter would divide the total among everyone. We decided we’d give him the money in the morning. We went to the bathroom then to our hut, slid into our sleeping bags and had the first restful sleep any of us had since we started. None of us got up once for the bathroom! We were all finally acclimatized, comfortable, tired and happy. We woke up early next morning.