Jeddah: For Yasmin Gahtani, Saudi Arabia’s first woman rock climbing instructor, scaling is an art.
“It’s all about how your body moves and dances skilfully on the wall,” she told Gulf News.
The Jeddah-based instructor, 39, started teaching a year ago, and is currently training around 100 novice climbers, mostly Saudis, at a 12-metre rock near Briman — the only available location, about 50-minute drive from Jeddah.
She has a certification in rock climbing from the American Mountains Guide Association in Chicago.
“Rock climbing is about self-control and self-strength. It’s about being strong, surviving in harsh conditions and being independent. Trust me when I say that a lot of men cannot do what I do,” she said.
Gahtani feels that rock climbing not only keeps one healthy and fit but also teaches one to stay focused, learn to trust people, and develop problem-solving skills.
Rock climbing is about self-control and self-strength. It’s about being strong ... and being independent. Trust me when I say that a lot of men cannot do what I do.”
- Yasmin Gahtani | Rock climbing instructor
She is also trying to change the perception in the country that rock climbing is “manly, wild and weird”.
Many women have approached Gahtani, interested in learning the craft.
A beginning session focuses on the basics: how to move the body, use and inspection of gear and learning the terminology.
Gahtani hopes that when rock climbing is introduced to the world as a competitive sport in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, at least one of her students will be able to represent Saudi Arabia at the tournament.
Before she discovered the sport, Gahtani was leading a quiet, comfortable life as a computer programmer while also being a single mother to her two twin boys.
Because of her poor hand-eye coordination, she was never interested in conventional sports like football, basketball, or volleyball.
“I had no aim, coordination and on top of all that I was short,” she said.
One day she was on Instagram and happened upon a picture of an expatriate friend of hers rock climbing.
It peaked her interest and she started to research about the sport.
A friend of hers brought her along to a rock-climbing trip and it changed her life.
“I was hanging high above a cliff holding onto dear life. It was the scariest moment in my life, but I fell in love,” she said.
“The body immediately goes into survival mode and my instincts kicked in.”
Since then, Gahtani has travelled to 39 countries and has made numerous climbs around the world in a short span of time.
She said her best climbing experience was in Italy.
“The more you climb, the more you progress. I’m still progressing. There is no limit. Every month, old records are broken and new ones are set,” said Gahtani.
The feisty and free-spirited climber documents her trips on social media to create awareness about the sport in Saudi Arabia.
She really did not expect other women—especially Saudi women—to be interested.
“They saw my posts on social media and started asking me how they could also learn,” she said.
This pushed Gahtani to become a certified trainer and her parents encouraged her to open up a school in Jeddah.
At the moment, Gahtani is undergoing intensive training in order to do difficult climbs in the future.
“These climbs require a lot more flexibility and strength,” she said.
In January, the Saudi General Sports Authority launched a federation for rock climbing.
Saudi Arabia has many untouched cliffs and rocks, especially in the south near Abha, and the north near Al Ula.
Given the opportunity, Gahtani believes professional rock climbers from around the world could come to Saudi Arabia to climb.