Shooting for the summit

Amira Hisham, Tuesday 28 May 2024

Seven Egyptian women are preparing to scale Mount Kilimanjaro in a bid to challenge societal perceptions surrounding age and ability.



A group of seven Egyptian women is preparing to embark on an extraordinary expedition, venturing to conquer the majestic heights of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This awe-inspiring peak stands as the highest summit in Africa and ranks as the fourth-tallest mountain in the world. The eldest among the group has set her sights on ascending this monumental mountain to commemorate her birthday.

Alexandra Kinias told Al-Ahram Weekly that ever since she was a young girl, ascending Mount Kilimanjaro has been her dream. Finally, after the passage of many years, she resolved that the time had come for her to carry out her lifelong ambition as she celebrated her 60th birthday.

During a conversation with Amany Khalil, the first Egyptian mother to successfully complete six of the best-known international running competitions, Kinias broached the subject of Khalil’s next endeavour. Khalil confided that one of her cherished dreams had always been to scale the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro. 

Fuelled by their shared vision, the two women crafted a plan and eagerly shared their aspirations with those around them. Witnessing the allure of their dream, several other women joined their ranks, resulting in a collective of seven determined women embarking on the arduous path towards their shared objective: scaling Mount Kilimanjaro and triumphantly reaching its formidable summit.

Kinias said that all the members of the team, except for herself, who is more into walking and hiking, had participated in international races before. Once the seven women had unanimously agreed to undertake the formidable challenge, they set the date for their expedition, scheduled for mid-August, with each participant responsible for financing her own journey.

According to Kinias, the founder of the Egyptian Women’s Initiative for Women’s Empowerment and one of the most senior members of the “Kiligyptian Women” team, their objective extends beyond merely undertaking a physical feat. The aim is also to challenge societal perceptions surrounding age and ability.

“We want to prove that women can achieve remarkable feats at any stage of life,” Kinias said. While acknowledging that previous Egyptian women have successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, she added that they had generally been considerably younger. 

“The adventure of scaling Mount Kilimanjaro serves as a platform to raise awareness about age-based discrimination, shatter stereotypes associated with aging, and inspire others, particularly women, to pursue their passions irrespective of age. Age should never be an impediment that hinders women from engaging in specific activities, pursuing dreams, or embarking on new adventures,” she said.

“While there is no specific training programme that needs to be carried out before the ascent, it necessitates a high level of physical and mental fitness as well as endurance. Activities such as strength training and long-distance walking are beneficial since the journey entails hours of continuous walking. However, there are no specific exercises to aid in acclimatising to the altitude and reduced oxygen levels,” Kinias noted.

“There are multiple routes leading to the summit, and the team has opted for the 42-km Lemosho route. The climb on this route is expected to take eight days, with seven overnight camps along the way.”

“The challenge of the climb lies not only in the distance covered but also in the rugged terrain and altitude. As the altitude increases, the oxygen in the atmosphere decreases, potentially causing nausea, fatigue, and headaches. Additionally, the climate undergoes a dramatic transformation, transitioning from tropical at the beginning of the ascent to an arctic climate at the summit. This means that within the span of seven days, the weather shifts from tropical rainforests to freezing temperatures and icy conditions,” Kinias added.

She explained that due to these factors, the team had chosen the longer route. The extended duration and distance aid in acclimatising to the altitude and adapting to the reduced oxygen levels, thereby increasing the chances of a successful ascent.

Khalil is an accomplished international marathon runner who has successfully completed numerous prestigious races, including the six major marathons in Tokyo, London, Berlin, New York, Boston, and Chicago. She is the first Egyptian woman to have completed the Ironman race at the age of 50.

Safaa Nazir, Dina Gamaleddin, Nihal Said, and other participants who preferred to withhold their names share the same ambition of conquering Mount Kilimanjaro.

Kinias, an Alexandria resident, is approaching 60 years of age. Her only grandson told her he wants to remember her as “a cool grandmother.” Throughout her life, Kinias has pursued various jobs unrelated to one another. She holds a degree in engineering from Alexandria University and has worked as a mechanical engineer. She also worked as a certified aerobics trainer for 10 years, contributed to the writing of the film Cairo Exit, has published a novel, and subsequently worked as a teacher of creative writing.

She is also a passionate advocate of women’s rights. In 2016, she established the Egyptian Women’s Initiative to support women and promote their empowerment. She believes that everyone has their own metaphorical mountain to climb, and by ascending Mount Kilimanjaro on her 60th birthday, she is challenging stereotypes surrounding age. Her goal is to inspire women to believe that age is just a number and that they possess the capability to achieve what they want at any stage of life. 

Khalil, aged 57, is the mother of two married sons and the proud grandmother of a grandson and granddaughter. She previously worked in banking but left her job to prioritise raising her children and pursuing her passion for sports. She dedicated 15 years of her life to being an aerobics trainer and currently focuses solely on her sporting endeavours.

Besides competing in marathons and triathlons, Khalil has also undertaken a cycling trip round Europe. Her passion for supporting women and spreading happiness to those around her is evident.

The team’s composition is not restricted to women of a particular age. Nazir, in her 30s, is a doctoral student who divides her time between studying and working at a bank where she began her career eight years ago. She has been engaged in exercise, particularly running, since 2018. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she turned her attention to mountain climbing. Nazir believes that “life’s greatest adventure starts with a single step, and with each step, we have the capacity to discover our limits and shape our destinies.”

Forty-three-year-old Said, fondly known as Ninette, married early in life and takes great pride in her young son. Her own personal journey took a challenging turn when she was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. She faced a difficult period of treatment and surgery, struggling with doubts about the outcome. However, her love for her son became a driving force that helped her navigate through such dark moments.

Following her recovery, Said embarked on a journey of self-discovery, seeking peace and renewal through movement. She realised that movement is not solely connected to the body but also to the mind and heart. She found her path to yoga and Pilates, becoming a certified trainer in both disciplines. Said aspires to inspire others, conveying the message that movement can be a powerful remedy.

Gamaleddin, aged 50, is an engineer working for an oil company and the mother of two sons and a daughter. She embarked on her sports journey as a means to break free from her daily routine. With the support of her life partner, she delved into the world of triathlons, even though she initially struggled with swimming. Her partner encouraged her every step of the way, empowering her to train and participate in marathons due to her love for running.

With her 50th birthday approaching, Gamaleddin resolved to embark on something new and extraordinary. She decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, considering it as a personal gift to herself and symbolising her strength, determination, and celebrating reaching this milestone in her life.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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