“I did not set out to be a poster child for anything. I saw a mountain. I wanted to climb it.” Raha Moharrak
For many of us dream to climb the world’s highest mountain Everest is really hard to achieve, but for Raha Moharrak, it was extremely important to realize this difficult dream as it also involved breaking a taboo. Raha is a 32-year-old graphic designer hailing from Saudi Arabia, a country having quite an orthodox society where only a few sports were allowed to be played in private girls’ schools. But Raha Moharrak, having been raised by her modern thinking parents aimed for greatness and wanted to test her limits. This, of course, meant challenging the culture of her country.
Raha loved mountaineering since she was a young girl. She wanted to pursue her passion for mountaineering but getting the nod from her father Hassan Moharrak 2013, who in the beginning had conservative views, was her biggest challenge. “I told him the idea and he was like ‘you want to do what? Ah very interesting. Why don’t you leave it until you get married?'” Raha says. Angry and still determined to follow her heart, Raha wrote her father a long email proving her point and waited for three days for his response. “I was so scared of his reaction,” she says. “And after the three days of silence to me he sent me one line — ‘I love you. You are crazy. Go for it.'”
Ever since Raha Moharrak’s family has been supporting her throughout her journey. Raha finally started climbing mountains in November 2011. Within a year, she conquered eight mountains including Kilimanjaro.
On May 18, 2013, Raha Moharrak created history by becoming the first Saudi woman to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.
“I wanted something different; I wanted something that challenged me and that pushed me further. Then this idea of climbing Mount Everest came to my mind. It stuck in my head for days. Someone told me I couldn’t do it, and that really annoyed me.” Raha Moharrak
Raha became the youngest Saudi to reach the top of the world and was part of the first Arab team to make the climb.
“When I finally got there I was thinking 75% of people die on the way down, so I was thinking to celebrate but not too much because you still have to get down.” She underwent rigorous training for the expedition and promised herself that if she was at risk of losing fingers and toes to frostbite, she would give up her attempt. Many were suspicious that she would make it. “One person actually said ‘What is Barbie doing on the mountain?‘ and Raha gave him a brilliant answer! She said: ‘Don’t let the Disney princess hair fool you.’
Raha Moharrak’s triumph on Everest is leading to a growing number of milestones for women in Saudi Arabia.
She gets inspiration from America-based Sarah Attar who became the first Saudi woman to compete in an Olympics at the London Games in 2012 and Dubai-born Elham al Qasimi who became the first Arab woman to reach the North Pole in 2010. “I did not set out to be a poster child for anything,” Raha Moharark says. “I saw a mountain. I wanted to climb it.”
Raha’s genuinely hopes that her achievements will actually help change the perception that Saudi women have of themselves. She remembers an email she received from a young fan. “I think she was 13 or 14 years old … saying ‘I just wanted to tell you that after hearing your story I found the courage to ask my father for a bicycle.’ I thought if that young lady had the courage to buy a bicycle today and to ride it, what is she capable of tomorrow?”
For Raha, the achievement is not being the first Saudi woman to conquer Everest, but to ensure she is not the last!
“It doesn’t have to be a mountain you have to be climbing. I hope to change people’s opinion about Saudi in general and Saudi women and Saudi women’s opinion about themselves. I really hope they can step out of their comfort zone and just dream: try to push your limits.” Raha Moharrak
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