insight - Nabs Al-Busaidi
Written by Heba Hashem Photography by JP Downes
Occupation - Adventurer
The first Arab to reach the Magnetic North Pole, the first Omani to climb Antarctica’s highest peak, Mount Vinson, and the first Arab to run across Oman. A few days before embarking on his new Mount Everest climb, ‘Nabs’ spoke with Heba Hashem about his sensational polar encounters.
How did the idea of embarking on a North Pole expedition first occur to you?
However, the idea was in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks, slowly germinating, and eventually I asked a friend who had some experience of expeditions for some advice. He suggested the North Pole instead, as fewer people had done it, so it would be more significant, and I would be the first Arab to walk from Resolute Bay to the magnetic North Pole.
What are the preparations usually involved before setting off on a climbing expedition?
Having said that, a lot of the preparations for walking to the North Pole and climbing Mount Vinson were the same, as they were both in exceptionally cold regions, the equipment was very similar, and we were living in the wild for an extended period of time. There was a lot of endurance training involved, and a lot of preparation in terms of securing funding, sponsor commitments, media coverage, school visits, PR, etc.
But a lot of the things I did were routine and boring: training every day, making lists, packing and repacking equipment, and getting all my personal affairs in order before being absent for several weeks.
How many weeks or months prior to the journey do you start preparing?
I was accepted on the North Pole expedition in August, eight months before the start. I gave up working full time to concentrate on the fundraising and charity work four months before the start, so that was probably the time I really began preparing for the expedition. There were also weekends of technical training to attend in the UK, covering use of the GPS, shotguns, frostbite, polar bears, etc. When it came to climbing Mount Vinson, I did a week of glacier training in the Alps in December 2009, and then in January 2010 I climbed Mount Vinson itself. Although it may seem a very short time to prepare for a major trip, I had previous experience with the North Pole, and I had maintained my fitness. It was not as though I had decided to do it as a complete novice.
In the North Pole you dragged your equipment along with the help of a sledge. However, in your South Pole expedition, you carried it all on your back without any support from dog sledges or ski-doo. What was inside your rucksack and how did you manage?
You have covered great distances walking in harsh climates and almost unbearable conditions. What keeps you going at those moments of extreme discomfort?
During your expeditions, did you come close to any polar bears or Arctic wolves?
What has been the most notable tactic or habit you have observed for preserving the environment, which we can ap-ply practically?in the Middle East?
To prevent this, whenever we went to the toilet we had to bag solids and carry it with us back to base camp, and then it would be flown back to Chile for disposal! In everything we did, it took such little effort to clean up our own little mess, that it is galling to see how careless we are with litter on the streets, especially when thrown from moving cars!
In one of your South Pole diary entries, you mentioned something that your climbing companion, Mark, said: “Mountaineering at altitude is not about fitness, but about mental attitude.” How is that true?
What were the strangest things you witnessed throughout your polar expeditions?
What are your adventure plans for the near future?
Next, I leave for 71 days in Nepal where I will attempt to be the first Omani to climb Mount Everest (April 2010). After that, I am hoping to go on a two-person adventure that will probably last longer than any of my previous expeditions. It will probably be the hardest thing I have done so far, and we may even want to kill each other. There will probably be a lot more laughter, sadness, hardship, and joy, but it won’t be a first for an Arab or even an Omani, as I intend to get married!
You can follow Nabil Al-Busaidi’s journeys – and his Everest quest – through his thrilling diary entries on www.sultanofsnow.wordpress.com
Sultan of snow
Nabs earned the nickname ‘Sultan of Snow’ (‘Der Sultan auf Schnee’) from the German press after competing three times in the British winter Biathlon championships between 2001 and 2004. This nickname is also the title of his blog.
In his Antarctic expedition, Nabs used crampons to help him climb Mount Vinson. Crampons are usually made of hardened steel or lightweight aluminium, and the latter is more popular for alpine ski touring. However, many glacier and mountaineering crampons are not made for vertical ice climbing, which requires specialised ones that provide better support for front pointing. Crampons are fixed onto the bottom of the boots, and are critical for climbing vertical icy slopes.