In countries where mountaineering falls outside the viewed traditional gender roles of women and more into the masculine roles, these women are all superheroes. It’s not just about the climb itself, and it’s not just about the moment when you reach the top and look at the world from above; for these women, it’s all part of a bigger challenge: the pressure of wanting to defy the norms and emerge from the consensus of conforming to traditional values and labels of what women's lives should look like. There’s no mountain high enough to dictate what women should and should not be, and this list of female mountain climbers is proof of just that. The Arab World is only starting to transition from the traditional mindset of gender roles and what women are supposed to be; women of the Middle East are now achieving what was once thought to be impossible for a female to do, let alone an Arab woman. In the area of adventure, limitations have no place, and these women are climbing mountains and breaking taboos about women of the Middle East.
SUZANNA AL HOUBYSuzanna Al Houby is a Palestinian woman who has set the bar so high for every female climber to follow. She was the first Arab woman to climb Everest back in 2011, and she went on to conquer the Seven Summits of the world – the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Al Houby became the first Arab woman to climb many other mountains, too, like Mont Blanc, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Vinson, Denali, Carstensz Pyramid, and many others. Defying all the norms, Suzanna Al Houby decided to quit her corporate 9-5 job to devote her life to climbing mountains, breaking records, and paving the way for Arab women climbers to follow.
After successfully climbing the highest mountain in the world – Mount Everest, Al Houby became an icon and a role model for Arab women in the region, delivering a message of empowerment and encouragement to achieve their goals. With a childhood spent camping, backpacking, and hiking, she had a passion for the outdoors and the right attitude to achieve her lifetime dreams. She’s always been a traveler and explorer who grew up to set records and work hard till she became the founder and a kickass CEO of Rahhalah, a company specialized in adventure travel.
RAHA MOHARRAKRaha Moharrak is the first Saudi woman to break boundaries and conquer Everest. Before achieving the Everest Dream, Moharrak climbed Kilimanjaro, Vinson, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Kala Pattar, Pico de Orizaba, and Iztaccihuatl. Always driven by curiosity and a sense of adventure, she took off to train as a climber and first conquered the highest Argentinian summit of Aconcagua. Then, in 2013, Raha Moharrak made history by being the first Saudi and youngest Arab woman to conquer Mount Everest. Since then, she’s managed to top the world’s seven highest summits. Her drive for such a feat was people telling her that she couldn’t do it, so she took those words and started from there, with the sole purpose of proving them wrong. No one gets to define who you are except you, and Raha Moharrak's achievements prove just that. Attempting the “impossible” and proving to herself that she can, she got to the top of the world. And what better way to prove to people that they're wrong than by shouting it from the top of the world?
FATIMA DERYANOn the list of firsts, Fatima Deryan was the first Lebanese woman to get to the top of Mount Everest, reaching the top and waving the Lebanese flag in May 2019 as part of an iconic expedition that saw a record number of Arabs from different countries taking on the mighty mountain at the same time. With the goal of proving that nothing is off limits for Middle Eastern women, Fatima Deryan now only has Vinson Massif in Antarctica left to conquer to fulfill her quest of completing the Seven Summits.
JOYCE AZZAMOnly one day after Fatima Deryan summited Everest and managed to be the first Lebanese woman to top the highest peak of the world, Joyce Azzam followed suit. She may not have been the first Lebanese woman atop Everest, but she got the title of the first Lebanese woman to complete the Grand Slam of mountain climbers, conquering the Seven Summits of the world and officially earning the title on May 23rd. Aside from being a successful architect, she climbed 26 mountains throughout her life, and she was the first Lebanese woman to summit Mt. Denali. After she discovered her love for hiking, she built her mountain climbing dreams and, 26 peaks later, she’s still going after her dream. Joyce Azzam combined her two passions, having a PhD in landscape and environment, mixing up architecture and her mountaineering for a career she’s passionate about and an adventurous life that gets her to the top of the world.
DOLORES AL SHELLEHThe first-ever Jordanian woman to make history and summit the world’s tallest peak did so with the purpose of raising awareness about gender inequality. She began making her statement by being the first Arab woman to climb Mount Manaslu in Nepal in the Himalayas – the world’s eighth highest mountain that's also regarded as the world’s fourth most dangerous for climbers because of the high risk of avalanches. But that was only a step in her mountain climbing record as she went on to become the first Jordanian woman to conquer the world’s highest unforgiving peak, Mount Everest, choosing one of the tougher routes to the top. Her goal was to inspire women to achieve new heights, empowering women everywhere by speaking to women in villages along the way. At only 29 years of age, Dolores Al Shelleh smashed records by becoming the first Arab woman to reach the Everest summit via the Northeast Ridge, Tibet. Her conquering list includes Mera Peak, Kilimanjaro, and Elbrus. Achieving all that at only 29, we’re sure we’re going to be hearing her name a lot along with new world records.
MONA SHAHABFor Mona Shahab, becoming the second Saudi woman to climb Everest was more than just a milestone and achieving an adventure of a lifetime; she climbs for a purpose. For her first real climbing challenge, Kilimanjaro in 2012, she merged her passion and her work as a child clinical psychologist by attaching a cause: fundraising for the first early cancer detection centre in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. There have since been many causes: cancer, the refugee crisis, and finally, the cause associated with Mount Everest, which was rather different than all the others. With unconditional support from her local community, Shahab went on to climb Everest for a healthy community and healthy lives. Her message was calling out to every Saudi to break barriers and be healthy – yet there was another personal message attached to the climb. Her friend and climbing partner Marwa Fayed passed away a few years ago before they were able to take on Everest together, so she chose to conquer this feat in her name and in her memory. Shahab carried Marwa's axe up to the top of the world on May 23rd, 2019, as part of an iconic expedition of Arabs of taking on Everest. She vowed to build on Marwa's charitable work – Marwa Fayed's Toy Run, which runs on the premise that every child has the right to play.
NELLY ATTARThe founder of Saudi Arabia’s first female-only dance studio, Lebanese climber Nelly Attar set off to climb Mount Everest earlier this year. After a shift from a full-time career in psychology, she became a part-time adventurer and part-time fitness trainer, pursuing her passion in fitness and sports. She became the second Lebanese woman to raise the Lebanese flag on the world' highest peak in May 2019, successfully setting an example and becoming a symbol of thriving women in the Middle East.
NADHIRAH ALHARTHYAnother superwoman in the Everest Dream Team, Nadhirah Alharthy became the first Omani woman to get to the top of Mount Everest on May 23rd of 2019. Overcoming gender prejudice to accomplish her goal, set records, and get her country’s flag to the top of the world, Alharthy's win sent a shockwave across her country. In 2018, she had conquered Nepal’s Ama Dablam as training for Everest, having already led teams up Kilimanjaro, which was her first experience with altitude – only scratching the surface and realizing her ultimate life dream, setting her eyes on the world’s white peak.
SARAH GHALYMixing together her two passions in life, wildlife and mountains, you'll either find Sarah Ghaly volunteering in a sanctuary, climbing a mountain, or working hard to finance more adventures. She started her mountain climbing journey with Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She finds peace and serenity in nature, and she's always chasing that feeling. Since discovering her passion, Sarah's managed to climb Mount Elbrus twice, Mount Toubkal once, and Everest Base Camp twice.