Jebel Shams is believed to be the first point in Oman to greet the sunlight, and the last to bid its rays farewell. This majestic mountain that earned its namesake as the Sun Mountain boasts a staggering height of 3005 meters, or almost 10,000 ft. From the base of the rocky mountain at Wadi Nakhar, where the colors of the wide-spanning canyon shift throughout the day, and up until its arid summit, a group of five women from Kuwait alongside Kuwaiti guide and mountaineer, Ali Husain, decided to embark on the trip of a lifetime.
They explored hundreds of millions of years of geology, discovering esoteric paths only defined by faint markers, plenty of happy goats and rare eagle sightings along the way. Worlds from bygone eras blended with the new. From the ancient ruins of a Persian village, ingeniously constructed into the side of the mountain, to a modern day village inhabited by olive-skinned women with large piercing green eyes, dressed in colorful garb and selling excavated marble from nearby stone, and accessories made out of goat’s hair. This team from Kuwait even endured a vicious storm that surprised them as they camped in the bare outdoors on their second night, their sleeping bags serving as their only source of shelter. These remarkable women from Kuwait included Sabika Al Ayyar, Manal Al Mattar, Dalal Al-Sane, Heba Behbehani and Bfit Kuwait’s training supervisor Filipa Vicente.
Consider Sabika Al Ayyar as the instigator of this entire trip. If it weren’t for Sabika’s decision to train at the women’s gym, Bfit Kuwait, before her first trip to Oman, owner and founder of Bfit Kuwait Dalal Al Qatami would never have found out about the endless adventures Oman has to offer, let alone assist Sabika with the help of expert trainer Filipa Vicente.
After returning from her first Oman adventure, Sabika craved more. She credits group leader and guide Ali Husain for her hunger for adventure and doing something completely different to what she knows. She explained, “His passion for discovery is contagious and he is able to lead in the most humble of ways. Ali even has a knack for grouping people together and analyzing every single person’s strength and what they would contribute to any given journey. I was so intrigued by the photos I saw on his Instagram account, all I knew then is that I needed to see these places with my very own eyes and experience something completely different.” She recounts her first two trips with utter amazement, from steep cliff walking and cave exploring, and when the opportunity came to actually climb the mighty Jebel Shams, Sabika’s trainer Filipa wanted in. What started with an innocent desire to discover nature by one gym-goer quickly evolved into a group expedition sponsored by Bfit and led by Ali Husain in what Sabika considers as “[her] new-found addiction for adventure.”
In order for the group of women to effectively prepare for the arduous challenge ahead, Dalal Al Qatami met with her team of expert trainers at Bfit in order to organize an appropriate workout regimen. This is where the personalized service at Bfit truly comes into play, as Dalal took it upon herself to create a space that allowed for such a rare opportunity to take place. Located at Injazat Towier in Kuwait City, Bfit offers a bespoke personal training facility equipped with all of the modern amenities available in Kuwait. All of their personal training services are tailored around each and every member’s needs, and the multinational staff is highly trained in various facets of health and fitness to make the approach at Bfit holistic at its core. After all, it is this precise style of service that Dalal sought at other gyms but failed to find, hence her desire to open a fitness center where a social connection and a sense of trust is built between the gym members and the trainers. She added, “I always wanted to built a community focused on getting active and bettering themselves as a collective group. The trip to Jebel Shams presented as the most ideal team building activity and I am so glad that I was able to assist these amazing ladies in any way possible.” She even served as the main point of contact in Kuwait for Ali, where he would periodically update Dalal about the group’s progress between Base 1 and Base 2 during their journey.
Filipa, who initially trained Sabika and went on to train and accompany the team to Oman’s highest mountain, was elated by the opportunity provided by Bfit Kuwait. She recounts that the preparation period lasted for about three months in total, covering a variety of endurance exercises such as walking and running, strength exercises to prepare the ladies for the challenging climb ahead and even Yoga. Even though Filipa was used to challenges, and loves outdoor activities like cycling, trekking and even hiking, she knew that the Oman trip was going to be different. Dalal Al-Sane, Manal Al Mattar and Heba Behbehani also underwent an intense training session every Saturday morning with Filipa. This complimentary session from Bfit was designed to ensure that the ladies were ready for the climb. For Manal, Jebel Shams came as the perfect chance for her to test her new sense of self, as she joined Bfit to regain her fitness level, which she had lost overtime. She added, “I immediately took the challenge without second thoughts. I had this drive inside me, I was weak at that point, and I wanted something to defy those weaknesses and challenge myself. We started the boot camp training back in January, aside from our personal training programs. I was dedicated, focused towards my goal and followed the plan.”
For Heba Behbehani, she knew that the mental challenge would be even more daunting than any physical pain. She said, “We prepared physically, then we were confronted by things we never expected that completely opened us up to new experiences. So I decided to go with it, and see what would be thrown at us with an open mind.”
Then, the time for the actual journey came, and Ali delivered the team with an unabashed and completely down to earth experience. An avid adventurer, hiker and mountaineer, Ali has been actively pursuing the outdoors since the young age of 17. After living beween Colorado and Alaska in the US for ten years and also completing his studies, he returned to the region to work in the oil industry with a want to continue his passion for wild and untamed adventure. Moving around the region every 3 years, he began rediscovering the Middle East, particularly the naturally adventure-rich nation of Oman, in a completely new light. Upon visiting Oman a few times during his time in Abu Dhabi, he distinctly knew where his next move would be. He said, “As Arabs, we look toward the West for outdoors adventures. The reality is that the Arab world, specifically Oman, offers a wealth of hidden jewels and opportunity for raw and undiscovered adventures in nature. We have the Rocky Mountains and the Alps right here in Oman and Yemen. Jebel Shams also overlooks the majestic Wadi Nakhar, also known as Oman’s very own Grand Canyon.” A worthy point of note here is that Ali doesn’t work with tour operators, nor does he actively lead tours in Oman for commercial gain. He leads the treks and climbs to share his passion for adventure, and to also educate the region about the wealth of experiences that the Middle East has to offer.
When Ali found out that he would be taking a group of five women from Kuwait for a climb to Jebel Shams, he wasn’t worried about their preconceived notions of what an outdoor adventure would be like, he was simply concerned for their safety. He remarked, “It was an eye opening opportunity, to see a group of ambitious women take on such a trip in such a short time. Jebel Shams is no easy feat. Consider the magnificent Burj Khalifa, and multiply that by three and half times. The trail is completely organic, with very few developed tracks. Sometimes, you even have to ‘figure’ out your way around Jebel Shams. A part of the Hajjar mountain range, Ali has been up to the several summits of Jebel Shams, and recounts every experience as entirely different from the one before it. “When I first decided to climb this mountain back in 2008, there were no markers. Today, you will never be alone on this mountain as many European and other Western mountaineers flock to this location for its raw and untapped beauty. This last time with the girls, however, we faced a storm on our second night, and even though nobody slept, we just tried to stay inside our sleeping bags in order to stay warm!”
When hiking with Ali, expect to literally get back to the basics of life. Basic amenities will mean sleeping in and outside of tents and sometimes not even finding the right shelter to find rest. You’ll live on the land, meet the locals and go through a very humbling experience. Manal considers Ali as an inspiration. She said, “I call him the ‘Explorer’ of my life to come, he was the ‘chief in command’ of the whole trip. He inspired me to be what I know I could be. His actions certainly inspired us to dream more, learn more, and become more, he was a true leader.” Heba loved that the team actually experienced a scary storm together, stating that the entire experience brought them closer together. She added, “When the storm came and passed after we reached the summit, we all sat huddled together in a group and started sharing. I opened up to these people in a way like I never thought I would.”
Experiencing the summit at Jebel Shams was life changing for every team member. However, Dalal shocked the adventurers by later revealing that she considered quitting the rest of the climb approximately 1 km away from the summit. She described to us that she felt dizzy from the altitude and was in physical pain. She said, “In those quiet minutes I thought about the struggles of all the people I love and respect; I told myself, if they can do it, I could do it. Because of them, and for them, I mustered the energy to make it to the summit. The beautiful and humbling experience had me speechless.” Manal, also bewildered, described the experience as overwhelming, happy, confusing, emotional and even stressful. “I was fighting my own self, will I make it or not?” One thing that remained consistent throughout the entire trip, however, is that the entire team supported one another from beginning to end. Whenever anyone would waver, they would see Sabika jokingly dispel their fear with laughter and Ali would playfully remind them that a yummy feast awaits them to celebrate their feat. After the summit, and the unexpected storm, the team left Jebel Shams victors with a newfound sense of inner power.
They finally returned to Kuwait enlightened, refreshed and mesmerized by their own capabilities. Heba recounts that she never thought she would commit to anything like this, while Sabika knows deep down that she will return soon to Oman, in search of its beautiful hidden gems and bountiful adventures. Dalal pondered her might and said, “I am but a speck in the universe; nothing is as big as it seems.” Manal found a new outlook on life, and shared with us her revelation, “Unfortunately, as human beings, we tend to limit ourselves with what we can, and what we can’t do, at any point in our lives. We tend to let things around us control us as setbacks. But having gone through this lifetime experience, I have reached a point where I am certain that I can do whatever it takes to accomplish a dream, a challenge, or a goal, with willpower, dedication and courage.” Manal, along with her companions, became reacquainted with their inner selves, learning and discovering that they could do the unexpected.
Living on the bare necessities is an experience that they all shared and the physical, mental and more importantly spiritual challenge that they collectively conquered is a memory that they will cherish forever. For Ali, he promised that hiking, and encountering the mighty Jebel Shams will form the start of an addiction for discovery and adventure. As far as the ladies from Bfit Kuwait are concerned, Mr. Husain delivered on this promise, as they are officially hooked and eager to plan their next adventure.