Nelly Attar reached the top of the world’s second highest mountain K2 on July 22 and raised the flag of Lebanon as she became the first Arab woman in history to conquer the savage mountain-1659689540779
Nelly Attar reached the top of the world’s second highest mountain K2 on July 22 and raised the flag of Lebanon as she became the first Arab woman in history to conquer the savage mountain. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: Nelly Attar reached the top of the world’s second highest mountain, K2, around 3:30 am Pakistan time on July 22, and raised the flag of Lebanon. With that triumph, she became the first Arab woman in history to summit the savage mountain.

“It was very early, completely dark when we reached the top. I just couldn’t believe that this is it. We are at the K2 summit. I cried for about 20 minutes. Crying and laughing. I was really, really happy to be at the summit” said Nelly Attar in an interview with Gulf News.

Nelly Attar is a Lebanese national, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, who also spends a lot of time of the year in the UAE. But which of these places does she call home? Instead of picking one country, she says: “Mountains are my home. Where I feel happy where I feel like there’s a purpose for me, that’s my home.”

Nelly was among the first few mountaineers who reached the summit of K2 on July 22 - a glorious day for the mountaineering community when a record number of women climbers reached the top of the 8,611-meter-high mountain in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region. K2 is known as the ‘Savage Mountain’ for its difficult terrain and treacherous climbing conditions.

‘Proud and honoured’

“I’m really proud and honoured to put my country’s flag up there. But even more happy that many people successfully and safely climbed K2 this year, especially Arab and Pakistani women” said the 32-year-old climber. At least five Arab climbers successfully summited K2 this year, including Oman’s Nadhira Alharthy, who happens to be a close friend of Nelly and climbed the world’s highest Mount Everest together. Other Arab climbers were Saeed Al Maamari from UAE, Fahad Badar and Asma Al Thani from Qatar. They summited the K2 in separate groups.

Nelly Attar climbed Mount Everest in 2019 and has scaled at least 17 other peaks around the world. But K2 was “one of the toughest,” she says. “K2, you certainly live up to your reputation,” reads the caption on her Instagram page after the summit. She had deep gratitude for her coach Michael McCastle, sponsors Bateel, Seek Discomfort, and Peacefull and her team Madison Mountaineering, especially Aang Phurba, Ming Dorgie, and Terray. “We made history together!” she says.

Nelly’s first climb

There is always the first climb that makes humans fall deeply in love with the mighty mountains. For Nelly, that peak was Mount Kenya, the second-highest in Africa. “It was my first ever climb and adventure trip with my father when I was 17 years old” she shared. The experience did not go as planned as they didn’t have the right gear due to which Nelly’s dad got hypothermia, a condition when the body loses heat faster due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. They ended up not reaching the summit, but the trip and the journey with her father inspired her to pursue mountaineering in the future. “It was the first time I spent a couple of days on a mountain and that left me changed. I felt so enriched, so alive. And I just knew it. I want to do more of this in the future. This is my reality now,” she said talking to Gulf News.

Lebanese climber Nelly Attar is the first Arab woman to summit K2-1659689542790
Lebanese climber Nelly Attar is the first Arab woman to summit K2. Image Credit: Supplied

‘Family is my biggest motivation and support’

The Arab mountaineer says her strength to climb mountains comes from her family. “My family has been super supportive. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. They believed in my dreams and my goals. My father, may he rest in peace, instilled in me a love for mountains. He used to take me on hikes when I was a kid. And my mom is the reason why I love experimenting and taking risks and have this immense passion for outdoor sports. They both have been such big pillars in my journey.”

Nelly - the mountaineer, entrepreneur, health professional

Nelly has dabbled in many adventures in her life. She began her career as a mental health professional and worked as a therapist and life coach for four years in Saudi Arabia. But she realized she was creating a more powerful impact through sports and decided to focus on emerging sports for women.

In 2017, she became the owner of Saudi Arabia’s first dance studio ‘Move’ for women to empower females through physical activity and spread the joy of dance. “The experience was fantastic. Challenging but also very rewarding. Just like a climb. There were a lot of uncertainties that I had to navigate through. But the community response was amazing. It was one of the best experiences in my life” she says. In 2019, she won the award for female fitness influencer of the year across the GCC. Nelly is now a thriving entrepreneur, trainer and athlete. She completed her master’s in Psychology in the UK and is currently pursuing a mini MBA degree.

Inspiring people to live their dreams

Nelly believes her adventures would inspire people to go out to live their dreams to challenge their potential. She particularly aims to inspire women in Arab countries to push past their limits. “Live your dreams. Follow your passion, and your purpose. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Don’t let society tell you what you should do and shouldn’t. Live that life outside of your comfort zone. That’s where the most beautiful things happen.”

Most incredible journey

What inspired her to begin the challenging journey of becoming a mountaineer is her love for sports. “I have this love for challenging myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Always taking the bar a little higher and seeing how far I can go whether it is running, triathlons, dance, climbing.”

Nelly has had a lot of incredible adventures but the most memorable is exploring the prehistoric Son Doong cave, the world’s largest cave in Vietnam. “That cave is an entirely different world. It has its own weather, its own environment. I saw insects and animals that I’ve never seen in my life.”

Nelly’s Pakistan experience

K2 summit and the natural beauty in Pakistan left a lasting impression on her as a lover of wilderness. Her focus was K2 but Nelly says she was “pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful Pakistan is” and how green and gorgeous Islamabad is. She said she felt safe during her travel and found the people welcoming, especially the locals in Skardu. They were “so friendly, so welcoming, so happy to have tourists and foreigners. I loved the food, energy and music,” she added. “I felt like I was at home at the K2 base camp” in Pakistan.