It usually takes an ordinary person two to three months to climb Mount Everest, but Dr. Qaisra Saeed, an interventional cardiologist with RWJBarnabas Health, is far from ordinary.
Knowing she couldn’t be away from her patients that long, Saeed set out to accomplish the feat in just three weeks.
She did just that.
Climbing mountains is nothing new to Saeed, a resident of Short Hills, who works a Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center within the RWJBarnabas Health system.
“I did a climb last year with a company that did climbs at Mount Everest, and based on how I did last year, they thought that I would be able to climb Mount Everest in three weeks, in a shorter period of time. Because of that, I decided to start training and attempt it,” Saeed said.
Where is Mount Everest located?:Country, height, Nims Purja records explained.
“I’ve been climbing mountains for several years,” Saeed said. “In mountain climbing, Everest was always in the back of my mind. It didn’t always feel to be attainable, but it was always in the back of my mind.”
And, thus, the training ― and research ― began.
‘January in Jersey is kind of cold’
Saeed researched training practices, and followed the training from a woman in California, who climbed Mount Everest from the Tibet side of the Himalayas in two weeks.
“I went through her training, her diet, all her training up until the climb, and I just really put it in my mind that I was going to do this,” the doctor said.
To get her body used to functioning at lower oxygen levels, Saeed slept in a hypoxic tent for two months before her trip.
“Most of the companies recommend that people sleep in these tents to acclimate and make it easier to climb faster. And I also did spend time in the sauna, which is supposed to induce heat shock proteins, which also make you more resistant to hypoxia, or low oxygen levels,” Saeed said.
But sleeping in a hypoxic tent was just base camp at the foot of the mountain in Saeed’s training.
“I have a 50-pound backpack I would run with,” Saeed said. “I usually run on the treadmill because I started my training in January. I’d get up at like 5:30 to do my running and 5:30 in the morning in January in Jersey is kind of cold. So, I’d run, I’d go to work, I’d come back. I did Tae Kwon Do. I’ve been doing that for more than 10 years and I think that helped me a lot with a lot of my core training. And, also with a lot of the mental training. I think in things like these types of climbs, and these type of trips, probably it’s 60 percent mental. The physical is very important, but there’s a lot of mental aspects to it, that make it possible to do this.”
Saeed started training in January year, and began her accelerated climb of Everest on April 29, with Pioneer Adventures.
‘I’m going to fall’
Saeed wasn’t alone on her climb. She did the climb with G. Lakpa, a Sherpa she had hired and with whom she climbed an 8,000-meter peak the previous year.
“I felt comfortable with him, so I asked him to do the climb with me. So, it was us two. I had some rescue insurance. During those climbs, you have to be very self-sufficient,” the doctor said. “At some point, you can get help, but at a certain point, no one may be able to help you. You have your Sherpa who can potentially help you, but really, in these types of situations, you have to be very self-sufficient.”
There were some close calls on Saeed’s climb.
“Some of them were climbing down the mountain and we were almost out. We were like half an hour from the end of the ice falls, and I was on the last ladder, because you have to do these ladder crossings, and my crampon got stuck in the ladder, and I was halfway across the crevasse, and I panicked immediately.”
“When you climb on the ladders, you have to be like one person at a time, you can’t go with anybody, because they’re not very stable and this one was like four ladders strapped together with rope. And I was halfway across. We were coming out. I was almost at the end and my crampon gets stuck. I just panicked. I said, “Oh, my God.” So, I made it all the way up and I’m coming out, I’m going to fall in this crevasse right at the end.”
Saeed yelled to her guide Lakpa she was stuck.
“He’s on the other side and he just looks at me. He’s like, ‘Ah, just maybe wiggle your foot, go forward, go back.’ You can’t just pull your foot out because you’re on this ladder that’s unstable, I would just topple over. I kind of had to step forward, wiggle my foot a little bit, I stepped backwards, wiggled my foot a little bit. I did that for a while. And, finally, my foot got free, and I was able to walk the rest of the way off the ladder.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is just my luck.’ I do the whole climb and then right at the end, I have a problem. But that was very scary because I thought, it figures I made this whole climb and now I’m going to have a problem,” Saeed said.
‘I really feel like I can handle anything’
Announcing you’re going to climb Mount Everest is not something you tell your family and friends every day.
“I didn’t tell my Dad until I came down, because he gets too nervous and he might not want me to do it,” Saeed said. “I did tell my Mom and my family, and everybody was, I mean, they were excited for me. I think they were a little nervous. Everybody asked me to be careful. Most people were very supportive because they knew this was something that I wanted to do and I had been training since January so, I was very boring from January to April. I didn’t go out with anybody; I didn’t do anything fun. Anytime I had free time, I was like, ‘OK, I have to run, I have to train.’ All my free time was really spent to train. So, everybody was really supportive of me.”
But Saeed is not stopping with Mount Everest. Her next goal is climbing K2 in Pakistan, the second highest mountain on Earth.
“I haven’t told my Dad that one either yet. Actually, my Dad is from Pakistan, he was from a village called Khall in Dir in Pakistan. He currently lives in Peshawar, and K2 is the second highest peak, so it’s not the tallest, but it’s actually harder than Mount Everest. I like to challenge myself and I feel like this would be a great challenge.”
Most mountaineers consider K2 to be a more difficult climb than Everest.
“It’s supposed to be harder,” Saeed said. “It’s a lot more technical and there’s a lot more climbing. I had to re-put up my pull-up bar, I put up my pull-up bar in the doorway in between my kitchen and laundry room. So, I’ve been working on my pull-ups again.”
Her accomplishment on the mountain has carried over into Saeed’s professional life.
“I truly feel that it’s made me more confident. I really feel like I can handle anything. Anything that gets thrown at me, I feel like, ‘Oh, I climbed Mount Everest, this is nothing. I can totally do this.’ Things are much less daunting, and I feel like I’m in a better position, even to advise my patients on exercise regimen, even inspiring them to follow their own goals in their life. I feel like it’s really benefitted me and enabled me to inspire people, my colleagues, my patients, and advise people in general. Especially exercise and training,” Saeed said.
Brad Wadlow is a staff writer for MyCentralJersey.com.