Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 June 2024

Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

  • Adventurer tackles Mount Toubkal in Morocco

DHAHRAN: Sondos Jaan embarked on the journey to the highest peak in the Arab world on June 20.

It is the latest episode in Jaan’s love for mountain adventures, but to understand the fascination it is important to take a look back at her childhood.

She told Arab News: “I am from Madinah. I was born in a city where I could see a mountain from my bedroom window, and as I walked the streets I would see mountains.”

A picture of Sondos Jaan aged about 5 on the top of a mountain with her father. (Supplied)

Those peaks were an important part of her early childhood. There are pictures of Jaan aged about 5 on the top of mountains. She said: “I call these pictures ‘Sondos between two mountains,’ the real mountain carved in nature, and my father.”

During family camping trips, she would sneak away the moment her family was not paying attention in order to climb a mountain.


• For her latest adventure, Sondos Jaan is climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters.

• The climb has two routes: The first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

She added: “I would hear my father calling me, telling me to stay put and to wait for him. My dear father would come to me and we would then climb together, step by step, him telling me where to place my feet until we reached the summit, and then we would descend together, just the two of us.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her father was the first adventurer she knew. He was always prepared, she says, and “his car was always ready for a trip.”

She said: “He would tell me stories when he returned from hunting trips, whether on land or at sea. I would imagine the stories as if he were the hero in one of the animated films I watched. Sometimes he would take me with him, and I felt like I was part of the story.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her love for adventure was instilled in her by her father from a very early age. And it seems mountain climbing is in her DNA.

Jaan said: “My father is my primary mountain-climbing coach, and I certainly inherited the spirit of adventure and love for travel, experiences, and camping from him.

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

“He taught me swimming, horse riding, hunting, fishing, and the basics of camping.”

For her latest adventure, Jaan and a friend are climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters. The climb has two routes: the first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

A file photo of Sondos Jaan when she was about five years old. (Supplied)

They started the climb early, continuing for about nine to 11 hours, followed by an overnight stay at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level.

She believes that elements of nature are instilled within each of us and it is our duty — and a privilege — to find and channel those elements.

She said that climbing to Everest Base Camp was the hardest trek she has yet attempted. It was a two-week journey and she added that she was not able to sleep, eat well or breathe properly due to oxygen deficiency in the two days leading up to arrival at the base camp. However, those were not the main factors behind it being her most difficult climb.

She said: “The (main) reason was simply managing expectations. I was emotional after walking all that time and reaching what was supposed to be the summit for that trip, only to realize it wasn’t even the summit.

“It was the main camp where climbers camp for two months every year before attempting to reach the Everest summit, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the oxygen deficiency, training, and waiting for the right time to climb the summit.”

The experience taught her a valuable lesson, and she added: “I remember descending and as soon as we settled in one of the tea houses, I cried.

“They asked me why. I said I wanted pizza, crying real tears. The owners of the house tried hard to make pizza for me. I ate one slice and gave the rest to their dog. I reflected on my feelings and asked myself, ‘Why did I act that way?’ And the simple answer was, we didn’t reach the summit, we just saw it up close.”

She considers the thrill of the journey, and not only the destination, to be one worth embracing. She now believes that the feeling of almost giving up happens during every climb; she sees it as a healthy sign.

She added: “It is a reminder that I am human. It is also a reminder that I am capable of doing things that might seem impossible, not because I have superhuman strength, but because I am a human capable of overcoming challenges. This gives me the motivation to complete the climb.”

She believes her latest adventure also serves a greater purpose. Seeing Saudi women participate in various fields, especially sports, helps encourage her to keep striving for the highest heights.

She hopes that young girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about, and that her experiences will help to push them to their limits to break stereotypes and barriers along the way.

She is to continue her climb, whether it be a mountain to conquer, or toward the goals of her gender.

For those starting out, she advised: “(You must) start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase the difficulty level. Ensure you have the right gear and training: it’s important to be physically and mentally prepared.

“Join a community or group of climbers for support and motivation. Most importantly, believe in yourself and enjoy the journey.”


Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

Updated 4 sec ago

Saudi electric car consumer base growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

  • Consumer base is growing as Kingdom aims to become a hub for the technology

RIYADH: Hamed Al-Rafidain, who works in HR, drives a fuel-guzzling 4 X 4, as many in Saudi Arabia do — but his other car is electric.

Al-Rafidain, 39, is part of a small but growing electric vehicle consumer base in the Kingdom, which aims to become a hub for the technology.

“What drove me to buy electric was financial considerations,” said Rafidain, who spends up to SR2,000 ($530) a month on fuel for his off-road vehicle. “Maintenance costs are also lower compared to a conventional vehicle, with no oil changes.”

For a little over $53,300, he bought a BYD mostly for short trips within the capital. Driving outside Riyadh was a “gamble, especially since the infrastructure is still underdeveloped,” Rafidain said.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the PIF, owns 60 percent of electric car maker Lucid and South Korea’s Hyundai plans a factory in the Kingdom. The Saudi brand CEER, launched in 2022, expects to start production in 2025. Eventually Saudi Arabia aims to produce 300,000 electric cars a year.

Meanwhile Chinese giant BYD is expected to dominate the Saudi market, since its global rival Tesla has no dealerships in the Kingdom.
Electric car sales tripled last year to nearly 800 and salesman Hassan Mohammed expects more this year. “More than one car brand has opened its doors in the Kingdom and now offers after-sales service, which has encouraged consumers,” he said.

Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

Updated 15 min 25 sec ago

Saudi leaders offer condolences to Kuwait after passing of Sheikh Jaber Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent letters of condolences to Kuwait’s Emir Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah over the death of Sheikh Jaber Duaij Al-Ibrahim Al-Sabah, the Saudi Press Agency said Wednesday.

The Crown Prince also sent a separate letter to Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah.

Sheikh Jaber died at the age of 71 and will be buried after Thursday’s Maghrib (Sunset) prayer, Kuwait’s news agency said.

Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

Updated 53 min 52 sec ago

Looking sharp: Prickly pear cactus takes over Baha

BAHA: In the heart of Saudi Arabia’s Baha region, a humble cactus is sparking an agricultural revolution. The prickly pear, known locally as Al-Barshumi, has blossomed from a niche crop into a burgeoning industry.

Once confined to private farms, prickly pear cultivation has spurred scientific research and yielded an array of food, medical and cosmetic products.

The fruit’s triumph is evident in the vibrant tapestry of green, yellow and red hues that now adorn Baha’s mountains, terraces, valleys and plains — a spectacle amplified by the region’s regular rainfall.

Fahd Al-Zahrani, director general of the Baha branch of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, spoke about the government’s commitment to this agricultural renaissance.

“We have established a dedicated production line and oil press benefiting all regional farmers,” he said.

He also hinted at plans for a more comprehensive production line and the creation of an integrated prickly pear city, developed in partnership with the region’s Prickly Pear Association.

The initiative’s architect, Faeq Al-Ghamdi, recounted its humble beginnings. He said that what started as 80 tangled seedlings on a single farm had flourished into a network of 26 cooperating farms, collectively producing 40-70 tonnes annually.

By 2021, the farms had more than 400 seedlings of premium varieties, including “Gimoncaryo” and “Marez.” This growth has enabled a diversification beyond simple fruit production, with the range of innovative products, including prickly pear juice, ice cream and soap.

Al-Ghamdi’s original farm now has 3,000 seedlings, including imported varieties, with an annual yield of 3-5 tonnes.

“In just four years, we’ve developed 20 products, with some already registered and others in various stages of registration and research,” he said, adding that more innovations, including a perfume extract, were in the pipeline.

The project, known as the Al-Sarah Al-Barshumi Initiative, has also spawned seven scientific studies aimed at sustainable development of the prickly pear plant.

Al-Ghamdi’s vision extends beyond cultivation toward establishing Baha as a regional leader in prickly pear production, achieving domestic self-sufficiency and tapping into export markets. The project is working to double the current acreage dedicated to cultivation, establishing model agricultural cities, creating a specialized processing industry and marketing 30 prickly pear products.

“The cultivation process begins with what we call pads or stems,” he said. “These parts are carefully separated from the mother plant and we then expose these cuttings to sunlight for a period of seven to 10 days due to the high fluid content of the pads, allowing them to dry and prepare for planting. Once cured, we carefully select the planting formation.”

Beyond its economic impact, the prickly pear boom promises significant health benefits, according to Dr. Nadia Al-Zahrani, a nutrition specialist at Al-Baha University.

“Prickly pears come in a spectrum of colors, ranging from green to red, with the red variety being notably the sweetest,” she said.

Noting their rich content of fiber, vitamins E, C, and K, and various minerals she said: “These components contribute to weight management and blood sugar and lipid levels regulation.”

Al-Zahrani said another use of the prickly pear fruit was in skin care.

“The rich vitamin and mineral content of the cactus play a crucial role in enhancing skin appearance and health,” she said.

A number of farmers in the region are cultivating prickly pears, capitalizing on the area’s unique environmental assets, leveraging the region’s fertile soil and abundant water resources.

They have embraced modern cultivation techniques and begun introducing new varieties of fruits and trees, many of which were previously unknown in the region.

Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

Updated 58 min 28 sec ago

Like father, like son: 10-year-old walks 150 km to Abha

  • Sultan Al-Bariqi’s trek promotes tourism in Asir, health benefits of walking

MAKKAH: In a remarkable feat of grit, Sultan Al-Bariqi, a 10-year-old Saudi, has become the country’s youngest person to complete a 150-km journey on foot from Al-Namas to Abha in southern Saudi Arabia.

Accompanied by his father, who is also an adventure enthusiast, Sultan finished the five-day trek last Thursday.

Sultan’s father, Mohammed Al-Bariqi, told Arab News that the walk aimed to promote tourism in Asir, showcasing the region’s cool climate, dense vegetation and towering mountains.

The route offers visitors the chance to experience lush green landscapes and enjoy the natural environment. 

“We chose Al-Namas as our starting point, passing through Balasmar, Billahmer, Tanomah, and Shaar en route to Abha,” he said. He highlighted the region’s significance as a hub for domestic tourism, attracting thousands of visitors annually. 

“July typically sees high temperatures, but Asir enjoys a moderate, cool climate perfect for hiking and exploration,” he said.

Despite initial concerns about Sultan’s age, Al-Bariqi was impressed by his son’s enthusiasm for walking and experiencing nature first-hand.

Sultan, he added, was inquisitive about every stop throughout the five-day journey; the trip was filled with excitement for the young adventurer. He reported that the trip sparked joy in Sultan, keeping him motivated and eager from beginning to end.

The journey was also filled with encouragement from passersby, who offered drinks and motivational words. Sultan maintained high spirits and fitness throughout the trek, fueled by light meals and energy-boosting fruits, Al-Bariqi said.

With Abha as its final stop, the trek not only marked a spirited achievement for the young boy, but also highlighted environmental consciousness and long-distance walking’s therapeutic benefits.

Al-Bariqi, 52, is no stranger to long-distance walks, having previously journeyed from Asir to Makkah for Hajj in 16 days and to Madinah in 27 days.

He advocates walking as a holistic health practice, urging people to reduce dependency on cars and travel by foot, which he believes offers a comprehensive regimen for health and wellness. He also finds genuine pleasure in walking to explore tourist areas. 

The younger Al-Bariqi, initially apprehensive, found the experience life-changing. “I was afraid I could not complete the first stage, but my father’s encouragement motivated me,” he said.

The 10-year-old now aspires to make long-distance walking a regular part of his life and is encouraging his peers to embrace physical activity. 

He highlighted the universal importance of exercise, saying that it was not exclusive to any particular youth group. He also advocated for community-wide support and encouragement to foster a healthier, more active society.

Sultan eagerly anticipates recounting his adventure to schoolmates post-holiday, aiming to share the many benefits he discovered during his journey.

Development of Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Park gets underway

Updated 52 min 57 sec ago

Development of Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz Park gets underway

  • Project spanning 4.3 million sq. meters set to take 3 years to complete
  • Green space will feature 24 children’s areas, 2m trees

RIYADH: A three-year project to develop King Abdulaziz Park in the nation’s capital is underway following the completion of a design competition, the Royal Commission for Riyadh City announced on Wednesday.

The winning design was one of several presented by four international companies and once completed will cover about 4.3 million sq. meters. It comprises six distinct green spaces, the most prominent being the central Botanic Garden spanning 200,000 sq. meters and featuring more than 200 species of local plants.

Part of the Green Riyadh initiative, the new park will be built in the north of the city, close to King Khalid International Airport, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University and a train station.

A key element of the design is the Munsiyah Tributary, a branch of the Al-Sulai valley, which runs for 11 km through the park. The design also includes sustainable commercial buildings and a 2 km pathway overlooking them.

More than 2 million trees and shrubs will be used to provide shade throughout the park, each of them served by an irrigation system using recycled water. 

Khaled Al-Bakr, CEO of the Quality of Life Program. (Supplied)

As well as terraces, squares, open theaters for events and festivals, restaurants, the design includes 24 children’s areas and 30 sports zones.

Khaled Al-Bakr, CEO of the Quality of Life Program, said parks and other green spaces were vital to a good quality of life for the residents of any city.

“King Abdulaziz Park, King Salman Park and King Abdullah International Parks are among the major park projects in the city of Riyadh, which will enhance the humanization of the city of Riyadh and provide vast spaces for residents and visitors,” he told Arab News. 

“Parks enable sports activities and provide recreational places for individuals and families, in addition to their environmental and climatic benefits.”

The parks development project, supported by the government, was helping to change the face of the city and achieve the goals of the Green Riyadh and Vision 2030 initiatives, he said.

Several other green spaces, including Al-Urubah, Al Munsiyah, Al Qadisiyah, and Al-Rimmal parks, and planting along main roads like King Salman Road and King Khalid Road are already underway.

An irrigation network spanning 1,350 km has also been developed to service the new parks.