Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Raha Moharrak: First Saudi woman to conquer Everest and break taboos

By Kellie Morgan, CNN
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Raha Moharrak, 27, is the first Saudi woman to conquer Everest
  • She is also the youngest Saudi to reach the top of the world
  • Saudi Arabia only officially allowed sport to be played in private girls' schools in May
  • Moharrak's first challenge was convincing her conservative father to agree

Editor's note: Raha Moharrak's triumph was part of an expedition known as "Arabs With Altitude" which has been documented for a series airing on Qatar Television on September 10.

(CNN) -- Climbing the world's highest mountain is challenge enough, but for Raha Moharrak, it also meant breaking a taboo.

The 27-year-old graphic designer is from Saudi Arabia, an ultra-orthodox country which only officially allowed sport to be played in private girls' schools in May.

But Moharrak, who had been raised by her parents to aim for greatness, wanted to test her limits and that also meant challenging her culture.

Mountaineering seemed like the perfect pursuit but getting her father, who still maintained conservative views, to agree was going to be the first hurdle.

"I told him the idea and he was like 'you want to do what? Ah very interesting. Why don't you leave it until you get married?'" Moharrak recalls.

First Saudi woman climbs Mount Everest
Saudi woman makes Everest history
Sherpas, climbers sign Everest treaty

Fuming and determined not to give up on her dream, Moharrak then wrote her father a long email arguing her point and then waited for three agonizing days for his response.

"I was so scared of his reaction," she says. "And after the three days of silence to me he sent me one line -- 'I love you. You are crazy. Go for it.'"

Since then, Moharrak's family has supported her every step of the way.

She began climbing in November 2011 and in the space of a year, conquered eight mountains including Kilimanjaro.

Everest, by the numbers

Then on May 18 this year, she stepped into the history books by becoming the first Saudi woman to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

She was also the youngest Saudi to reach the top of the world and was part of the first Arab team to make the climb.

"When I finally got there I was thinking 75% of people die on the way down, so I was thinking celebrate but not too much because you still have to get down."

Moharrak had trained hard for the expedition and promised herself that if she was at risk of losing fingers and toes to frostbite, she would abandon her attempt. Many doubted she would make it.

"One person actually said 'What is Barbie doing on the mountain?' and I said: 'Don't let the Disney princess hair fool you.'"

Raha Moharrak's triumph on Everest is the latest in a growing number of milestones for women in Saudi Arabia.

She follows the path of America-based Sarah Attar who became the first Saudi woman to compete in an Olympics at the London Games last year and Dubai-born Elham al Qasimi who became the first Arab woman to reach the North Pole in 2010.

"I did not set out to be a poster child for anything," Raha Moharark she says. "I saw a mountain. I wanted to climb it."

Moharrak's only hope is that her achievements will help change the perception that Saudi women have of themselves and cites an email she received from a young fan.

"I think she was 13 or 14 years old ... saying 'I just wanted to tell you that after hearing your story I found the courage to ask my father for a bicycle.' I thought if that young lady had the courage to buy a bicycle today and to ride it, what is she capable of tomorrow?"

For Moharrak, the achievement is not being the first Saudi woman to conquer Everest, but to ensure she is not the last.

READ: Everest climbers, widower recount deadly traffic jam on top of the world

READ: Childhood dream leads climber up Everest -- twice in one week

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:06 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT