Although Dr Sahar Jumean was one of the first Jordanian women to hike Mera Peak in Nepal, at an elevation of around 6,500 metres, she downplays the gender hype. For her, the achievement isn’t greater because she is a woman. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t take anything extra. It’s mind over matter,” she says.
Many of our readers know Dr Sahar Jumean as our consulting paediatric dentist. Yet if you’ve seen her outside her white coat, you’ll probably run into her in activewear and colourful trainers. “I’m always in training,” she jokes.
Sahar is a seasoned climber, having trekked high peaks in Africa and South America for fundraising initiatives, but she found something particularly fascinating about Nepal.
“Everest base camp is overused and everyone is going to it; I have reached altitudes higher than that, so I wanted more of a challenge,” says the mother of three. It is said that Nepal is nirvana for mountain lovers. “Seven of the world’s highest peaks are situated within Nepal,” says Sahar, her eyes wide with wonder as if she is still (literally) on top of the world.
Sahar’s active lifestyle is evident – her wardrobe combines casual trendiness with athleisure style that can be described as sporty and simple but attractive. On her family room staircase wall hangs a collage of pictures depicting her outdoor adventures in and outside of Jordan.
The glowing spokeswoman of wellness runs an average 40 kilometres a week, weight trains about five days a week and is an active kickboxer. “But no matter how much you run at the gym or weightlift, you have to learn to walk slowly,” she says about training for mountaineering expeditions. “And to walk continuously with a backpack of five kilos, plus or minus. The backpack is part of your body because you wake up and then have up to nine hours to trek after breakfast.”
Five kilos of what, exactly? Up to two litres of water, a waterproof and windproof jacket and gloves, plus any snacks that you might need. Other necessities include a headlamp for the dark and close-fitting sunglasses to prevent snow blindness. This refers to the sun burning your cornea if you don’t wear sunglasses at altitude.
If you think that climbing a mountain is dangerous, difficult and pushes you to the limits of your physical and mental abilities, you’re spot on.
“The altitude, rough terrains, the difference in air pressure, chilling temperatures and winds that blow as fast as a speeding car…everything was different than any of the other mountains I have been on,” Sahar says about Mera Peak. She talks about coping with frequent changes in weather conditions, being away from family, going beyond her comfort zone, and trekking among a group that will know you in ways unimaginable off the mountain. “There’s a certain bond that is only okay on the mountain, which only people who have been on the mountain can understand,” she explains.
Sahar got sick with altitude sickness her last night at Mera Peak, suffering from a blasting headache and shortness of breath. “I took my meds and drank my water, but it wouldn’t go away,” she recalls.
Even as a strong, confident mountaineer, Sahar is no stranger to moments of weakness. “I wanted to quit so many times,” she admits. “The wind-chill is crazy, at -13°C with winds blowing at 25 to 30 kilometres per hour, making it feel like -25°C. It’s dark, you see nothing, you’re hunched over and you have hours still ahead of you.”
Sahar shows us a video clip of her standing tall but her voice cracking; she’s crying. It’s a reminder that, no matter one’s physical or mental prowess, the mountain always makes you humble. But then, “the second the sun comes up,” Sahar livens up, “you see things in front of you. You feel alive again. It’s still tiring, but you did it.”
What kept her going? “It was the inspirational words from friends, ranging from a little mountain goat to, ‘If anyone can do this, it’s you’,” recalls Sahar. She remembers team leader Mostafa Salameh’s words ringing in her ears. “You will suffer, you will feel miserable,” said Salameh, “but it’s temporary.” She also garnered strength from an unexpected source far away – her spouse: “Every time I wanted to quit this mountain, I would remember Mudieb’s encouraging words before I left. He said, ‘You go climb that mountain!’”
Is the struggle and agony worth it, though? Sahar’s smile convinces us without a doubt, “The view from the top is worth every tear, every shortness in breath and every exhausted step.”
“Just do it!”
Although these climbing expeditions are no easy feat and come with risks, Sahar is convinced that anyone can do it. She saw a local nine-year-old summit down the peak who was planning to do Everest. Even an 80-year-old Japanese mountaineer reached the top of Mount Everest. “Yet a lot of people say ‘I can’t’ for whatever reason,” laments Sahar. “But it’s doable! And the personal challenge is very rewarding,” she adds.
Sahar says we all have potential beyond whatever we are doing now. “Don’t limit yourself. If you think you can do more, do it. You can always say, I have tried this, it’s not for me, but it’s true that the only failure is not trying.”
40 and beyond: no regrets
While many of us struggle with New Year’s resolutions or mourn missed opportunities at the turn of each birthday, this is not so for Sahar. When she turned 30 a decade ago, she committed to doing something different every year. She never used to run, so she started running, completing her first 10 kilometre run.
“What they say – that it’s about the journey, not the destination – is so true,” Sahar reiterates. “For me, training for a half-marathon was fun. Training for summiting Kilimanjaro was fun – it’s not about those few minutes you are on the mountaintop. It’s the months of preparation that gives me the high.”
Having recently celebrated her 40th birthday with an adventurous tour to the Northern Lights city of Tromsø in Norway, Sahar shrugs off the frenzy of getting older. “Age is really just a number,” she says positively.
“If you were to write a list of what you want at 20 and then again at 40, I don’t think your lists would match up. You change and the way you think changes,” she says. The beauty of being on the mountain is that you go back to a time of no responsibilities, nothing to worry about, Sahar adds, referring to her work, house, kids, spouse, friends, everything. “You have calmness and serenity and a mature outlook.” At 40, Sahar is mellower and more accepting of so many things. “I didn’t think like this when I was 20,” she admits. “Everything was a big issue, everything was a big drama. The things I wanted at 20 aren’t the same as at 40.”
So what’s Sahar’s next adventure? “I don’t know whether I have climbed my last mountain,” she laughs. “I never say never.” She does have a big life adventure planned – Sahar won’t disclose it now, but reveals that it’s off the mountain and something closer to home.
The height of teamwork
On the mountain, it’s about team effort: “You have a friend who can get you your water bottle, you have someone who makes sure you are okay,” describes Sahar. “When you know you are in good hands, when you have a team that has your back, when you have a family back home that assures you everything and everyone is well taken care of, that’s it.”
Sahar’s advice to her kids
When Sahar was on top of Kilimanjaro, she held up a sign addressing her kids Samir, Nadine and Ayla that read, “Dare to Dream and Live Out Your Own Adventures”. Here’s what else she’s passing on to them:
You can do whatever you want if you set your mind to it. There are no limits to what we can achieve
Happiness is inside you already and is not based on material things. Nepal was captivating for me. I saw people who had nothing but were content
Expose yourself to new cultures to understand how a Buddhist thinks or how a Hindu prays
Climbing for a cause
Sahar Sahar climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa (2014) as part of the Lowest to Highest for Cancer (LH4Cancer) Africa fundraising initiative, bringing in almost JD90,000 of the JD1 million raised collectively to support the King Hussein Cancer Centre’s expansion. In 2015, she joined another Jordanian team (C4CGaza) to trek Mount Huayna Potosí in Bolivia and Machu Picchu in Peru for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Sahar’s teammates on the Mera Peak October 2016 trek included:
Mostafa Salameh (team leader)
Israa Abu Soufeh
Farah Abu Baker
Maria Sprawka Halaseh