From the North West to the North Pole

Posted by Joanna Rowbottom on 07/03/2017

Misba Khan from Greater Manchester has been chosen to represent Great Britain on an expedition to ski to the North Pole. We met with Misba to find out more about the expedition and how she got involved.

First steps to outdoor adventures

When my children were younger, I would be packing their DofE stuff up, I always found it really exciting. I never had the opportunity to explore the outdoors when l was young. I was so pleased that my kids had these amazing opportunities, and I would always encourage them to be grateful, because I didn’t have opportunities like this when I was younger. I would send them encouraging quotes when they went away on their trips.
 
I used to go to the gym and I started to feel like I wanted to do something else. I wanted to be outdoors. I wanted to see more of Britain, see the countryside, and visit new places around the UK. Someone mentioned the Manchester Ramblers, so I went along and tried that.
 
It was great, I loved getting outdoors; I went to places I hadn’t been before and saw sheep grazing, red squirrels scurrying. I started to enjoy the rugged mountainsides, high summits, the open ridges and lakeside walks. 
 
I started to get more confident and wanted to take it further afield, a trip was organised to go to Helvellynn, but it was cancelled. Not one to be deterred I got in touch with our group leader and asked if he would take me there. He’s a fell runner and knows the Lake District very well, I arranged to meet him outside Glenridding hotel at 7am the following weekend. So I laced up my boots, threw on my rucksack and we set off, and that’s the start of my love of mountains!

WATCH: Helvellyn via Striding Edge on BMC TV

As a second generation British Pakistani, Islam is an important part of life; how does this work when you’re on expedition?

I was concerned about this initially, I didn’t know how I could pray and go out on long expeditions, but at the same time being close to nature is a powerful way for Muslims to nurture spirituality. I was unsure how I would fit in the prayers that Muslims perform into my day when out walking. Muslims need to be in a state of purity and undertake an ablution (a ritual washing) if needed before the prayer, the prayer also has to be performed in a clean place.
 
I learnt from Islamic scholars how to maintain a ritual purity for longer and that it was possible to perform ablution using natural elements of the earth if water was not available. Having read about the prophet Muhammad, I discovered that he would find solace and meditate on a mountain, so praying on an incline was not going to problematic for me. The other challenge of finding the south east, the direction in which the prayer is performed, was much simpler to resolve by the use of a compass. 
 
When I first started walking I was pleasantly surprised that my fellow walkers were very supportive and accommodated my need to pray. Having overcome my initial fears and now looking back after many years I realise that performing the prayer whilst trekking was much easier than I thought. I have found the outdoors an inspiring space in which to pray. 

The Women’s Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition 2018

So far I have been to the Atlas Mountains, Kilimanjaro, and Mt Damavand. I have to work and save up money and annual leave to go on trips abroad, so it’s a slow process, but I love visiting new countries and undertaking new challenges. I came across an online advert looking for women from across Europe and the Middle East to form an international team and ski the last 100km to the North Pole in 2018.
 
The team is made up of 12 women, six from Europe and six from the Arabian Peninsula. We will be skiing 100km to the North Pole in April 2018. Felicity Aston MBE is leading the team; in 2012 Felicity was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the first woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone, a 59-day journey in which she skied 1744km. The purpose of the expedition is to foster greater dialogue and understanding between women from Western and Arabian cultures. In addition, the expedition will work to inspire all women to reach beyond the expectation of others and to fulfil their own ultimate life ambitions.

WATCH: Damavand: An Iranian dream on BMC TV

“An expedition like this was not to be missed!”

Seeing 12 women working together was very inspiring to me and I was excited at the prospect of being a part of the expedition. I wanted to immerse myself in an unfamiliar environment; this expedition would physically and mentally challenge me, it was also an exhilarating way to see the North Pole. We all are from different countries working together as a team to achieve one goal. The expedition is going to help build my confidence and develop in the areas I’m not as good at.
 
As well as fitting training into my regular routine, we attend training meets as a team. One of these trips was to Iceland, once we had all gathered at the airport, we drove to a small village outside Reykjavik. We spent the first week in lectures and training sessions. Felicity covered cold weather injures, training and fitness, mental preparation and nutrition. We worked on some group activities such as stove lighting demonstrations and outdoor practice, putting up tents, and navigation trails.
 
During the second week we did a mini expedition on the glacier in preparation for the conditions we might face on the expedition. We were living in tents and camping, we moved everyday pulling our sledges for 6/7 hours and setting up camp in a new place each night, sleeping in temperatures -18 degrees.
 
It was great to meet the others on the expedition, I am truly inspired by the other team members and the opportunity to train together and get to know each other is great. We will have to work together on the expedition and relay on each other both for physical support and mental support, so building these relationships and trust is really important.

What would you say to other women who might want to get outdoors more?

I would say don’t put age as a barrier, at 48 I’m the oldest on the expedition. Stretch out your abilities only then can you reach your full potential, you never know where it might take you. Get outdoors as a family or find yourself a local group and get outdoors with them, groups are welcoming and friendly, as well as having lots of knowledge and experience in getting outdoors. There are many health rewards, as well as increasing physical activity it also improves mental wellbeing.
 
One of my favourite Quotes by Ibn Battuta is “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”

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