Ever felt like the mountains are calling you? Well Faten Mattar had a calling from Mount Kilimanjaro, and now she’s spreading its message with passion. Here, she shares her story of climbing Kili, from initial idea, to how it’s affected her long after the summit has been reached!
Faten Ebrahim Mattar is a graduate of Industrial Relations from McGill University, a pearl merchant by day and a socializer by night. Chasing sunrises and sunsets is one of her favourite things to do on the little island of Bahrain, as well as finding beautiful, raw nature spots.
At the end of 2017 Faten, along with 15 girlfriends, decided to make the hike to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. Here I speak to Faten about why she chose to do this, how she prepared, and how the experience was for her.
So Faten, what was it that made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?
In January 2016 I trekked the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, and I wanted a bigger challenge. A friend mentioned it, and seeing as I love Africa and being in nature, I thought why not?! I’d never trekked a summit and Kilimanjaro is meant to be one of the easier ones. It seemed like a good place to start!
How did you prepare to climb the mountain?
Mentally, I do believe I have a strong mind, and I’m positive, so all along I knew I was going to do it.Physical training was varied and began back in October with your 3-week Bootcamp (which was a combination of strength, resistance and cardio work). I didn’t stick to one particular program. There was a Mountain Guide Program that we followed as well. Bahrain is so flat, so we did a couple of stair climbs to get try and get used to going up! We did weighted walks once a week from October onwards. The training is super manageable.
Most of my preparation was mental. I knew I had to be determined, but I had the right mind-set and I knew there was no way I wasn’t going to do it. I spoke to friends who had done the climb before, so I knew roughly what to expect, and that helped.
What did you pack?
Honestly, I was more worried about that than anything else! We were a group of 16 girls, and girls always overdo it with what they need. We did our research and asked people who had experience. There’s a lot to consider, even things as simple as water bottles. These freeze in low temperatures so bringing an insulator really helped. I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t ask.
When it comes to essentials, there were a couple of things I wished I’d had but I didn’t. One thing was a solar light. You think your phone can do everything, but when you’re in your tent in the dark and trying to change and sort your stuff out, it’s so much easier with a light you can put on the floor and not worry about it.
I went feeling very comfortable with my sleeping bag. I thought there was no way I’d feel cold, but my toes were freezing every night. So another essential that I wish I’d had was a silk liner for my sleeping bag. A silk liner is so small and easy to pack that I won’t go without one again!
Because we were a big group, everything else we needed we could share from each other. Everyone donates things to each other when you need them. This is where a group really comes into play. There was an unspoken rule between us that no-one was going to go back, no matter what.
The two things you need – an amazing group, and a super strong mind.
Everyone worries about showers. I’d never not showered for that long! But when you’re on the mountain, it doesn’t matter. There is something about being free of pollution, in nature, where your priorities change. All the issues you think are important are actually super silly. You come back feeling that life is bigger than what you originally expected. You appreciate the small stuff. We’re really resilient and adaptable as human beings.
Other than that, clothing layers are important for summit night, but really you don’t need much. We took snacks, like protein bars and snickers. One of the girls brought a lot of snacks. She brought enough food for all of us! One night she pulled out squeezy cheese and crackers and shared it with the group. Everyone went crazy. That was so good for morale. It’s surprising what you get excited about when you’re up a mountain. It’s important to have that group spirit.
Also, we couldn’t have done without our mini speakers. We shared the responsibility of choosing playlists, but it was great to have a little party as we were walking along. The whole atmosphere of the group was so relaxed and positive. It made the entire experience amazing.
What was the most challenging part of the experience for you?
Definitely the summit night. Whether it was the terrain, the lack of sleep or the altitude, I’m not sure. But I underestimated that night. It has been so manageable up to that point. It was a lot more challenging. We had no sleep. We started around midnight. It was so cold. Every single person I asked who had done it before said they wished they had worn more clothes. So I just made sure I left my tent that night with my duffle bag empty; I was literally a ball rolling up the mountain. And actually, I got hot at some points!
It felt like doom day and everyone was so serious at first. But we had our small speakers, so I turned on the music and it got better!
Was going back down hard?
No – going down you slide down! Literally, it’s like skiing, but harder. They want to get you to a lower altitude as soon as possible. It only took a day to get back down, and it took seven days to go up.
And what about the altitude?
The guide said, anything you feel, don’t share it, because it can be psychological. So, if we had a headache we would tell the guide, but we wouldn’t get the group down with how we were feeling. Altitude induced headaches were normal. You can take tablets, but the guides wanted us to acclimatise naturally. I felt comfortable enough not to take any medication.
What was your favourite part?
The scenery and the group. Everything about it was amazing. Honestly, the way it changes you after, the effect it has on your life, is amazing.
On the third day I was so impressed by nature, and how loving our group was, how amazing our bond was. It was so beautiful how the guide made everything fall into place. I felt blessed. My heart was expanding more than I thought possible. In that moment, the whole situation really resonated with me. I want everyone to feel this way. This is the message from the mountain – the feeling is unparalleled. When something is meant to be, things fall into place.
And of course, the summit night – you’re super super tired, and that is the biggest challenge. It’s a mental reminder when you feel stressed or you’re ready to quit. It happened to all of us on summit night. You think, is it worth it? Then you realise it is. It will help you for the rest of your life. Once you reach the summit, you forget the challenges you went through. The sense of achievement and how you pushed yourself to get there will be a metaphor for the rest of your life.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro?
You can do it! We had all sorts of people in our group. And we all did it. It was just mentally challenging more than anything. Everyone has their own struggles, but we can all do it. It’s scary, but after doing it, I know that everyone can do it. This is the message I’m trying to spread – it’s not as scary as you think when you hear it’s one of the seven summits of the world! Go with the right group, positive vibes only, and it will be amazing.
Fancy climbing Africa’s tallest peak? Faten’s trip was organized by 3 parties; a super duo behind the Journey Adventures who kicked off their company with this group of 16 girls from the Gulf, as well as Fajer Mufeez and Fatima Al Mahmood.
A Saudi based company called the Oriental Traveller, @alra7alalshargi, and the fleet of Tanzanian guides , led by the amazing Nassoro Njaritta from Afro Trail, were instrumental in the success of the trip.
If you think you’re not quite ready, physically or mentally, for a challenge of this nature, but you want to be, then contact Honey Lawson here to get a tailored training and nutrition plan to ensure you can reach your goal.