Bouchra Baibanou is the first Moroccan woman mountaineer to summit the seven highest mountain peaks on every continent. In this inspiring TEDx talk, Bouchra is not only sharing her outstanding achievements, but she is inviting all of us to dare to dream, and dream big.
Below is the full text of Bouchra’s talk titled “What Did Mountains Teach Me” at TEDxCasablanca conference. This event occurred on December 1, 2018.
Bouchra Baibanou – TRANSCRIPT
Tomorrow, I will be going to Antarctica to achieve my dream.
Do you know where Antarctica is? It’s the seventh continent, located in the South Pole. It’s the coldest continent in the world; the temperature there reached -144 °F. And the highest recorded wind velocity there, exceeds 186 mi/h.
It is a frozen continent. No one lives there except for scientists who go there to do scientific research, and adventurers who want to achieve special challenges. Like what I’m going to do tomorrow.
I’ll climb the highest summit there, the Vinson Massif, which is the last summit left in my Seven Summits Project. A challenge to climb the highest summit in each continent. By climbing this summit, I’ll achieve my goal of completing the Seven Summits and I’ll be the first Moroccan doing that, hopefully.
I’m scared from this journey. But I’m also excited. I’m scared because we always fear the unknown, because it always pushes us out of our comfort zone. And excited because I want to know this new world, and to explore it. These are the reasons that make me energetic and enthusiastic.
I still remember 2011, when I finished climbing a group of Moroccan summits. I decided to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest summit in Africa, which is about 19,000 ft. And there, I knew about the seven summits project.
I knew that it’ll be hard and the Everest summit will be in this project. Also, it’ll be expensive. Although of that I dared to dream, and said: “Why not? I’ll try and see where I’ll reach.”
Well, I started learning how to climb mountains in Mont Blanc. So I started this project and there, I became confident. Those mountains were just like a great school that taught me many lessons.
In Kilimanjaro I learned to dare and dream. In Elbrus, Europe, I learned how to be patient. I learned that there is no failure when I went to Aconcagua, in South America. At first, I didn’t succeed but I didn’t give up, worked hard and then returned, and I did it.
In Denali, the highest summit in North America, I learned to challenge myself. I learned to face the unknown, when I visited Puncak Jaya tribes to climb Carstensz summit in Oceania. I don’t deny that in some points I was almost to lose my confidence. I was almost to give up my dream, I cried a lot.
But with patience, will, and insistence, I continued. There were financial challenges also, since I had to find someone to invest in me, and it was really very hard thing. This taught me how to market my idea. I learned how to find financiers and how to convince them.
Of course, no one can succeed by herself only. Always there was many people who helped and supported me, till I succeed. My family, my main supporter. My husband supported me and accompanied me to Kilimanjaro and the base camp in Everest. My family helped me also. I was leaving my daughter with them and I’m assured on her.
For sure, my daughter was unsatisfied as I traveled and left her alone. In the beginning, she cried, and that affected me, she was my weakest point. I felt that I was a selfish person by leaving her alone for a long period.
But to succeed we’ve to make some sacrifices. When returned, I’ve compensated her with love and tenderness. And now she is proud of her mother, actually her mother is her model.
Everest was one of the summits I wasn’t focusing on it itself, since I was progressing step by step. I considered every summit a practice for Everest. When I felt that I was close from climbing it, I began preparing hardly. I did some practices in Himalaya, then I climbed summits higher than 23,000 ft.
I went to the Alps, Scotland and Spain. I did also intensive preparations; I exercised 3 to 4 hours daily. Physical strength isn’t the only matter, the mental strength is also important. I was meditating, doing yoga and improving myself. I knew that climbing Everest was really hard and some people died trying to climb it.
But that didn’t scare me. Because we die when we’ve to die. So we need to live our lives to the fullest. Everest journey took two months, April and May, 2017. The first month was to adapt, since we were climbing ascending and descending till our body adapt with heights, and to the lack of oxygen and pressure.
At first, when I was crossing Khumbu Glacier slope, which is one of the most dangerous slopes, I was so scared. Then, I used to do that as I crossed it many times. Also I used to hear the sound of the avalanches, run and leave my tent to watch them. It’s really strange how we could adapt with the difficulties. To do that we’ve only to be brave and strong enough to face them.
By doing that, we’ll discover how many resources we actually have, how we can pass our own limits, and the society limits as well.
When I was there, I was trying to live the moment. I was trying to enjoy the wonderful natural scenes. There, I felt really grateful. The hard conditions push us to appreciate the value of what we always have, like water, food, and oxygen.
Due to my long period spent in the Everest base camp, I met a group of climbers from around the globe. I got benefits from their experiences and I lived special moments with them. This taught me how to coexist and appreciate others, away from their nationalities, or their religions, or the prejudgments.
After one month from the practices, we were still waiting. Waiting is hard, especially in the hard conditions. But always we’ve to remember our goal.
When the weather became appropriate, I began walking alongside with my guide who is always in that region. We climbed till we reached the fourth camp, 26,000 ft high. The death area starts there, oxygen there is a third of the normal, human body starts deteriorating very fast. So it’s not good to stay there a long time since you’ll not feel comfortable even in your sleep.
We wouldn’t sleep there, as we had to go towards the summit that night. But the wind was so heavy. And another problem arose: my guide’s oxygen device suddenly broke down. So we had to sleep in the fourth camp, 26,000 ft high.
My guide asked me to share my oxygen with him. We used to share food and water. But oxygen? We didn’t think in that.
Although, I didn’t say no because sharing is one of my most important values. So we shared the oxygen. As you know, neuronal cells die if there was lack in the oxygen. So when I woke up in the morning I wondered if I was able to think. And I did some mental calculations, “What 2 times 2 is?” When I answered 4, I said thank God, I can think so far.
The next day, we continued our way at 9:30 pm. Before we had started, I said in myself: “There must be a reason.” Yesterday, the wind was heavy and no one reached the summit. Fortunately, I didn’t reach it as well.
And here the importance of the spiritual power appears, since I was totally surrendered to my God. And I said “Anything I get from God is good.” And we got benefit when we didn’t go that night. The next day, we continued our way at 9:30 pm.
My lamp turned off, when I just started walking at night. But I didn’t give up, I continued. My glasses, which I was wearing to protect my eyes, freezed due to the cold weather, since the temperature was -22 °F. And the wind was also heavy. I took off my glasses and kept climbing.
I passed by dead bodies, but I passed them and continued. I was thinking about nothing, I was just focusing on my goal. And feeling nothing. Even my feels freezed. After 10 hours climbing, 10 hours walking, walking and suffering, I reached it, the world’s highest summit.
It was an amazing view. From there, I saw Tibet plateau and Khumbu valley. I was above the clouds and the fog, so much fog that I couldn’t collect. I was above the summits, I felt myself really tiny in front of my God creation. I felt very thankful because my God gave me the strength and the ability to get there.
And I felt really free. After 20 minutes from being there, I realized that I hadn’t finished yet, I had to descend. 80% of the accidents happens during descending, because people were really excited to arrive. And when they arrive, discover that they’d drained all of their strength or oxygen.
When I started descending, and as I told you I took off my glasses, my eyes were affected by ultraviolet rays. I couldn’t see well, my vision was foggy. So I wondered if I could return or not. When I reached the fourth camp, I discovered that my fingertips had freezed. I got a frozen bite.
For sure, success isn’t easy. To succeed we’ve to sacrifice and suffer. Tomorrow I’ll go to the Vinson Massif. Certainly, it is not as high as Everest. But it’s hard because it is located in Antarctica. As I said before, weather conditions are really harsh.
Tomorrow, I’ll go to Chile, from there I’ll start. Then I’ll go towards Punta Arenas, Chile’s farthest point. And from there, we’ll fly to Antarctica, to reach Union Glacier. Then I’ll aboard another plane from Twin Otter type, to go to the base camp in Vinson. And from there we’ll start walking for about 10 days, reach the summit, and return back.
So the hardest thing in this summit is in its weather conditions. There is also technical factors. But like any other summit, however, it’s hard and we should prepare for it. And like any other summit, there are difficulties, challenges and lessons to learn.
So, as you know, tomorrow I will fulfill my dream. And what about you, what about your dreams?
Thank you. Well done!