Meet the first Arab woman to scale the seven summits

For Mountaineer Suzane al-Houby, there ain’t no mountain high enough

Tarek Ali Ahmad
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For Mountaineer Suzane al-Houby, there ain’t no mountain high enough.

After completing her ascent to the peak of Alaska’s mount Denali earlier this month, Palestinian born Houby was officially deemed the first Arab woman to scale all seven summits, from Mt. Kilimanjaro to Mt. Everest.


In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Houby - who started her own adventure travel company in Sharjah, UAE - speaks of her motivation, her inspiration and the obstacles she has faced on her way to achieving such a feat.

What does achieving the feat of conquering seven summits mean to you as an Arab woman?

When there are around 50 women worldwide who have achieved this, it becomes quite significant actually. We as women can be strong climbers... as long as we don’t really measure that against men or feel that we need to prove anything besides pushing ourselves to the limits climbing.

I’ve learnt the hard way not to be intimidated and not to keep comparing myself to men. I focus on my strength and technique and that’s it. I hope I see more women in the world in general and in our Arab region in particular who get into this sport and actually other extreme sports. There is no barrier or limitation for why we can’t do this and a lot more.

Finally, scaling the seven summits after three previous attempts on Denali sends a message of perseverance, not giving up on my dream, giving it yet another try and giving it yet all I have got... it means that we can tackle all perceived limitations and just do it... climbers always talk about becoming one with the mountain, about how the realization that we can always push limits becomes a way of life , and how once we reach our highest point we feel such a liberating larger than life feeling of having earned it... because it is always hard work to try to climb a mountain... it never is easy and if it is easy I always say ‘why bother?’ Anyone can do easy but not anyone can do hard and what seems to be impossible.

Seven SUmmits infograph
Seven SUmmits infograph

I feel proud, I feel that I have earned it and I feel inspired by all the people that supported me and send me words of encouragement.

I guess now I cruise along with all positive vibes from within and from my surroundings as well. I have done it, and if I could, then anyone else can as well and actually they can even do bigger things and achieve bigger goals. That’s what I want, I want that maybe some other Arab woman may feel inspired and set a much bigger goal!

What obstacles did you face while trying to achieve your goals? How did you cope up with the physical and mental challenges?

Obstacles can be endless if I wanted to pay attention to them! I had to turn around from mountains due to weather or injuries... I had to accept failure... I had to succumb sometimes when my body failed... others when my mind started playing games on me... But I always trusted my gut and just followed it and that saved me many times than I can recall.

It is not easy nor always fun to sleep in minus 30-degree weather, to try to protect myself against 120 km/hr winds, to sleep warm, to set up a tent in stormy conditions…it is hard to live without bathrooms and showers ....

Sometimes I wonder when I have been climbing for hours and risks are on the rise or when I am out of breath of the ‘why’ but I have always ended up feeling the ‘why’ in the incredible beauty I see up there, in realizing that there are really and genuinely no limits if we put our head and hard work into it!

What motivated you to complete this arduous task?

My climbing has been always motivated by personally wanting to push my limits, connect with the wild and feel the reward after the pain.... I was never motivated by a title and I felt that I owe no one anything to prove... the fact that the title came is excellent - don’t get me wrong - but what I am saying is that this should not be the motivator.

When I started climbing I wasn’t thinking of the 7 summits... it grew on me slowly but surely. I was enjoying challenging myself on different mountains all over the world.... Then after I climbed Everest, I am like why not! I have already climbed few of the seven summits between my other climbs and I am like let me take it one step at a time and see where this will take me.

Suzane al-Houby (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Suzane al-Houby (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

How elaborate were your preparations for the climbs?

There are mental and pure physical preparations for any climb. It depends on the mountain but usually my fitness is all about cardio, strength and endurance. These three components are balanced in my training schedule. I keep pushing my boundaries or my personal records in any of these to enhance performance and keep a log.

To give you an example, it varies between running and going up the stairs with a heavy backpack as well as strength training (weight lifting/ intervals). Sometimes I have to be pulling a sledge (tire) behind me on sands, others I have to be climbing indoor walls. But it is a commitment for sure. I also research the mountain a lot and make sure that I know the risks more than the bright side only! I even read literature that is usually dark and tragic about the mountain to remind myself what I am getting myself into and also to learn more and be prepared.

When I went to climb Everest, I went with this mentality: Nothing I will read or watch will prepare me for the horrors I might see up there or the pain I might feel up there or the extreme physical and mental exhaustion I might feel up there.... therefore, I was ready!

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