Sibling rivalry just reached new heights – quite literally – as Dubai teen Seif Saleh Alshunnar beat his brother’s record as the youngest Emirati to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, at just 14.
Standing at 5,895 metres above the sea level, Kilimanjaro is the highest free standing mountain in the world. Reaching the peak on June 27, Seif’s impressive feat means he now has bragging rights over his two older brothers. Both had previously held the title in turn, with Moawiyah Saleh Alshunnar reaching the summit aged 15-and-a-half, and Ali Saleh Alshunnar at age 15 years and 1 month.
Speaking to Khaleej Times back in Dubai, Seif said the reaction from his brothers on his return was surprisingly good.
“You know what, it was all just a lot of friendly sibling rivalry. They had both climbed before and they helped me throughout my training. So deep down, they were always rooting for me.”
Seif, a Grade 9 student at Jumeira Baccalaureate School (JBS) in Dubai, said he wanted to embark on the remarkable journey to beat his brothers’ records. So much so he pushed his father to take him in early summer.
Setting off on the expedition with his father earlier this month, Seif hiked several thousand metres each day for hours. Sleep, which was limited, came by way of small tents, and as for food, it was basic.
“Plain bread and rice was a daily fixture, along with power foods like dates, protein bars and electrolyte tablets.”
As the youngest climber in his group, Seif reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, on June 27. But that was the most gruelling part, he said.
“On the summit day, we woke at 12 midnight. It was bitterly cold, dark and we trekked to the top for several hours. This was certainly a life-changing experience and conjured up a mix of feelings and emotions from pain and exhaustion to joy and elation.”
Staying at the peak for only a short time, he described the feeling as “overwhelmingly satisfying”.
Thankfully, Seif said he didn’t experience the usual altitude sickness that most climbers do, but like most, he didn’t shower for a full week.
“It was the weather that dictated that. It was so cold. A cold I haven’t felt before. Rather than pulling off layer after layer and exposing myself to the bitter temperatures, I just stayed in the same clothes.”
Speaking about the mountain itself, he said it’s amazing how many different environments (weather and fauna) one encounters on the route: From a very pleasant climate and forest environment at the base of the mountain, to extremely cold, ice-covered terrain with low levels of oxygen. “This of course made the last few days particularly difficult and tiring.”
Coinciding his climb with the Year of Zayed, Seif said it was the perfect way to honour the UAE’s Founding Father and it was a joy holding the UAE flag at the highest point in Africa.
He also dedicated his climb to the Little Wings Foundation; a foundation run by a renowned paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, who actually treated Seif as a child.