Moawiyah Saleh Al Shunnar atop Mount Kilimanjaro Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Fifteen-year-old Moawiyah Saleh Al Shunnar is believed to be the youngest Emirati to scale Africa’s highest mountain.

Nicknamed the ‘Roof of Africa’, Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the highest peaks in the world at 5,895 metres and a challenge many seasoned adventurers look forward to.

As somebody who always enjoyed trekking and outdoor activities, it was a dream for Al Shunnar as well, but one which he never expected to have put behind him so early in life.

“I very much enjoy challenging myself and enjoy outdoor activities. I took part in the Duke of Edinburgh awards in my school last year which involved an expedition of two days and one night of hiking, trekking and camping in Oman, in addition to various other skills over 3-6 months. I was awarded the bronze Duke of Edinburgh award,” Al Shunnar said.

Moawiyah recalled his father Saleh Al Shunnar suggesting that he join his group for the Kilimanjaro expedition. “When my father came to me with the idea of the Kilimanjaro trek, I thought it was a great idea and was incredibly excited. Since it was during school holidays and I didn’t know when I would get the chance again, I jumped at the opportunity.”

However, the Grade 11 student at Dubai English Speaking School, knew it wasn’t going to be easy. “Of course I haven’t been on anything of this scale but I have been camping several times and hiking and trekking with friends and family. We made sure to go with a reputable tour company and also took all possible precautions to minimise any risk,” said the teenager, who accompanied a group of 15 that also included his father and was led by noted Arab adventurer Suzanne Houby.

Suzanne, who was the first Arab woman to climb Mount Everest and regularly undertakes Kilimanjaro expeditions besides conducting adventure tours through her firm Rahhalah Adventurers, confirmed that Moawiyah was the youngest Emirati to have climbed the peak.

“I have been in this field for several years now and I don’t know anyone else younger than Moawiyah scaling the peak. I led the group myself and the boy showed admirable resilience to complete the gruelling expedition on which five much older members dropped out midway,” she said.

Al Shunnar left for Kilimanjaro on August 21, 2012 and started the ascent on August 23 with his group. Hiking several thousand metres every day over many hours, they reached the summit on August 29.

However, Al Shunnar didn’t know until he had completed the mission that he was on his way into the record books. “This [the record] didn’t feature in my decision to go on the climb as I wasn’t aware of it prior to going on the climb. However, I must say that I feel incredibly proud to have held the UAE flag on the roof of Africa, let alone to find out that at the age of 15, I was actually the youngest UAE national to have scaled Mount Kilimanjaro — I was thrilled!”

Al Shunnar added: “One of the biggest challenges for me personally was having to increase and keep up my fitness level during the month of Ramadan. I was training almost every day while fasting. Also, getting all the kit together was complicated and time-consuming but luckily everything is available in the UAE. I knew that this was going to be challenging but I had no idea that it would be so much more challenging than I expected. The scenery was beautiful but I was simply too tired to appreciate it. Up to nine hours of climbing per day, the cold, the lack of oxygen, the altitude and the lack of sleep were all huge difficulties that we had to overcome.”

However, the youngster warned budding adventurers to be fully prepared if they planned to undertake a similar challenge. “No doubt, it was an amazing experience which I would highly recommend. But my advice: be ready and be prepared!”