Abu Dhabi: After becoming the youngest Arab to journey across the North Pole last year, Emirati Abdullah Al Ahbabi has added yet another milestone to his record by also becoming the youngest Arab to trek across the South Pole.
Al Ahbabi, 26, set out to the South Pole with a team of five other members from the US, UK, Germany and Sweden late last year in December, with the adventure across the South Pole taking them nine days to complete with 130km of icy ground covered.
“I feel very proud to have accomplished such a feat and I’m happy that I now hold both records for being the youngest Arab to journey to the North and South Pole. My hope is that this can act as a positive message for the young people in the Arab world,” said Al Ahbabi, reflecting on his achievements.
Al Ahbabi said the challenges of being at the South Pole were different than the ones he faced when journeying at the North Pole – primarily in its higher altitude and colder temperatures.
“People might think they’re the same but they are very different. The North Pole sits at sea level, whereas at the South Pole we were 3,500 metres above ground, and so there was a very big altitude difference I had to deal with.
“The first few days were very difficult and I felt the high altitude straight away in my stamina and breathing, doing the simplest tasks or body motions were exhausting,” he added. “The weather is colder as well by about 10 degrees, we were dealing with temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius, and so it was just a matter of making sure that I was properly protected with layers of clothing to avoid getting any frostbite.”
There was always light, it did vary between sunlight and cloudy gloomy days, but as it was the summer season so it never got dark.
And with it being summer season at the South Pole, it meant that there was no night periods in the entirety of the journey.
“There was always light, it did vary between sunlight and cloudy gloomy days, but as it was the summer season so it never got dark.
“Inside my sleeping tent I would wear eye folds when I went to sleep to block out the light, even though I was inside the tent the light would still manage to penetrate through and so it was necessary to put on eye folds,” Al Ahbabi said.
Al Ahbabi said he would listen to music, podcasts, and audio books to get him through the long days which would usually start from 6.30am.
“Our day would begin from 6.30am, we would wake and up and start packing all of our equipment before heading off by around 8am. Our routine was to do 90-minute pushes followed by 10-minute breaks for around nine hours.
“It was important to keep myself preoccupied because it can get very boring and mentally wearing as you just move in a straight line for so many hours while pulling all of your equipment weighing at least 50kg. On one day my headphones actually froze and so I had to trek for nine hours without listening to any music or audio books,” he added.
Al Ahbabi, who also describes himself as a keen environmentalist said that being at the South Pole gave him a greater sense of appreciation for ensuring places like the South Pole remain protected.
“It was a surreal experience to just be there, when it wasn’t windy it would get so quiet and peaceful, and in that moment you feel like you are truly away from the world and civilisation. I was able to reflect and get a big sense of appreciation for places like the South Pole and the need to ensure we’re doing all we can to maintain and protect our environment,” he added.
After reaching the target destination, Al Ahbabi said he planted the UAE flag and started thinking of future adventures.
“I raised the UAE flag when we reached our coordinates of 89 south, and it hit me at that moment of what I had just achieved and how much it took out of me during the past year to complete two expeditions to the North and South Pole.
“I still want to do more, it’s all about taking it to the next level and facing even bigger challenges. I haven’t yet decided on what it will be, all I know is that I want to do something that hasn’t been done before and to bring these records to our region,” he added confidently.