Reaching the top, between tears and joy

Fundraising for charity is not always fun and games. Mariam Haneef describes her emotional roller coaster while endeavouring to reach the top of Mt Ben Nevis

A friend told me that climbing a mountain is like childbirth, excruciating pain throughout, but once it’s over you realise you can do it again!

The idea of climbing mountains occurred to me during my gap year when I saw an advert about volunteering in Tanzania and climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Later, a seasoned mountaineer advised me to climb the smaller peaks around Britain before attempting Mt Killi.

When I heard about climbing Ben Nevis as a fundraising venture for Ahlulbayt Foundation, I jumped at it. With so much terror in the world, it is now more important than ever to help the foundation spread the message of the Ahlulbayt(as), show the true face of Islam and continue their charitable work around the world.

And so, in a group of twelve Muslim sisters, I embarked on a 12-hour coach ride to Scotland to climb Ben Nevis. Sleep deprived and anxious, we drove to the foot of the mountain. With unfamiliar hiking gear and bulging rucksacks, we started on what looked like a beautiful walk in the countryside, with stately green hills and sheep grazing idly by.

Soon the path started to twist. Stones became larger and sharper and we were soon out of breath. It became clear that if I wanted to have any chance of reaching the top, it was better not to look up rather, focus on my feet and the feet of the person in front of me. My mental strength would have to surpass my physical strength. We had to push each other to push ourselves. Looking back at how far we had already come was an energy boost. Focusing on the feet of the person in front became a useful distraction, hypnotising our limbs into a constant rhythm of going up an endless flight of stairs. During breaks, we ate morsels of high-energy food and drank sips of water. The last thing you want is to have to go to the toilet where there isn’t one!

To keep focus, I sang all the songs and read all the supplications I knew and memorised every detail of our guide’s shoes! And so we quite literally followed our feet into a storm. Gentle raindrops became daggers stabbing our cheeks. The wind took our breath away. The storm continued relentlessly. Now, all I could see through half opened eyes looked more like a graveyard scene from a Harry Potter movie. Logic recommended I turn around. Why should I keep going? I felt like I had challenged myself enough. After all, what could I possibly see from the summit under these conditions? Then I thought of the people who donated generously, prayed for me and were excited for me. I thought I had to do it for them. And so I went on, one step in front of the other.

I told myself: This step is for what I went through leaving Iran after 16 years. This step is for the troubles I had finding a 6th form. This step is for working hard for my A-levels, another for the stress of applying to university, for getting into medical school, paying my tuition fees, for excellent exam results and for my family. I recapped all my life experiences and found something to motivate each new step.

I thought I was climbing to teach the mountain about me, as a symbol of what I have achieved so far but the mountain taught me! I saw the glory of God in his soft and beautiful creation as well as his rigorous and terrifying majesty. I learnt the extent of the strength of my spirit to keep me going.

Twice I thought erroneously that I had reached the summit, gaining new strength and getting emotional, thinking it was now all over, only to realise I still had more to go. I thought of Hajar and the hills of Safa and Marwa. Surely I could not have had it worse than she did. After all, there was no infant depending on me. We went on, one step at a time and then we were there! We had arrived at the summit at last, a tall platform with four man-made steps. The steps mocked me. After five hours of climbing, now I had to climb four steps to declare myself a victor? I did it anyway, and there we were. God made us work for this satisfaction and it was worth it. SubhanAllah! We raised the flag of Imam Husayn(a)  over the roof of Britain, took a few hasty pictures and began our way down.

Descending with weak legs, using a completely different group of muscles that now felt incredibly foreign, with fingers and toes soaked, freezing temperatures, a wind that still made it hard to breathe, rain that prevented us from seeing more than a few feet ahead, surrounded in a depressing scene of grey rocks, grey people and grey skies, it was difficult not to just sit down and cry!

We surrendered our weight to our walking poles and looked for new reasons to encourage ourselves. The first patch of dull vegetation was glorious to look at, then, as the fog lifted and we saw hills we hurried even more. When the wind stopped howling we hastened, hardly taking breaks. We eagerly looked forward and never looked back. At the base of the mountain, we were met with applause from the Ben Nevis guiding team.

I thought I was climbing to teach the mountain about me, as a symbol of what I have achieved so far but the mountain taught me! I saw the glory of God in his soft and beautiful creation as well as his rigorous and terrifying majesty. I learnt the extent of the strength of my spirit to keep me going.

Whether you end up in a storm, reach the summit or not, you are bound to push yourself beyond what you know and come back a stronger person mentally and physically but incredibly sore from head to toe! I understand my friend’s analogy better now. I would climb Ben Nevis again and laugh at myself every time I felt to turn back. Mount Kilimanjaro is still my dream. But there is no rush. It isn’t going anywhere!

Maryam Haneef is a member of ABSoc and a medical student.       M Haneef

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