Tima Deryan made headlines when she became the youngest Arab and first Lebanese woman to climb Mount Everest when she was just 26 years old.
This ambitious young woman gave up her corporate career when she realised her passion for mountain climbing and made it her mission to conquer some of the world’s highest peaks. Since creating her social media platform “Mountain Gipsy” she has developed a community of over 10,000 people who follow her journey around the world. As she travelled from country to country, Tima realised there was something else she was passionate about: inspiring and empowering women to achieve their dreams. She has since started to work as a motivational speaker and works with organisations around the world and particularly in the Middle East to create awareness and positive change across various topics such as leadership, team building, environment, and youth and women empowerment.
When the explosion in Beirut happened in August Tima couldn’t just stand back and watch the events unfold. She was on the first flight to Lebanon, not just to check on her family but also to help those in need. And she’s been there ever since. Working with local organisations to support women and children who have been badly affected by the blast. In a year when her schedule mountain summits have all been cancelled, Tima has found a new way to find success; throughout helping others. We find out more about her current work and the path of her journey so far.
This year has been a strange year for all – how have you spend your time during the lockdown?
I had the lockdown of a lifetime! When the UAE went into lockdown, I was spending some time in Ras Al Khaimah training for my next expedition. After realising that it would no longer happen, I decided to continue training as if it was still going ahead. During the first two months, I was very active, I tried to follow a schedule, which included getting certified as a Professional Life Coach, training, cooking, researching, reading, and practising yoga. Just like everyone else, I had my highs and lows while following the schedule during the tough times. I managed to stick to it through most of the lockdown! After two months I decided to fly to Beirut to visit family. I spent around 6 weeks in Beirut, making sure I still followed the routine I set myself. I flew back to the UAE when airlines resumed operations. Two weeks later, the Beirut blast happened, and I flew back to Lebanon to volunteer as part of the on-ground relief services.
Could you tell us a little about the work you have been doing to help support those affected by the explosion in Beirut?
I joined Borderless NGO, an organisation that supports the same causes I do: empowering women, inspiring youth, and safeguarding children. I joined their relief efforts and supported in rebuilding family homes and working on psycho-social support with children.
After spending a week on the ground, I realized how much this meant to me; being there and making an impact. So, I decided to stay and continue supporting through Borderless NGO. Today, I’m managing the project at the Karantina site. I oversee the children’s wellbeing circle in the morning, the women upskilling circle at noon, and I lead one-on-one life coaching sessions with women in the afternoon.
How has the tragic situation in Beirut affected you personally and what would you like to do moving forward to help those affected?
On a personal level, I felt anxious when I first saw the explosion on social media. It was very hard to articulate what happened, given that the country and the people have been going through a lot of challenges for a long time. From the protests back in October 2019 to the currency crash and drastic inflation, the explosion left me and every other Lebanese person in anger and disbelief. It was tough to see the tragic destruction after the explosion and I immediately wanted to be on the ground, supporting those affected. A week after the explosion, I managed to fly back to Beirut and have been volunteering ever since. I have decided to stay until the end of the year as the explosion has uncovered so many other issues faced that need to be addressed.
We love some of the work that you have been doing to inspire other women to climb – what is your motivation behind this?
Through my journey, I have learned so much from climbing mountains, travelling the world, connecting with people, breaking cultural barriers, and refusing to conform to social norms. Offering an example to other women and specifically Arab women, of what can be achieved is what motivates me to inspire them to set goals and to “climb” anything in life including career ladders, personal challenges, family restrictions, societal limitations, and anything that requires rising up! What motivates me, even more, is the daily progress I witness through my life coaching work with women who get inspired by my journey and take on obstacles to achieve their goals. We all have a shared responsibility encourage others and I take that responsibility to heart.
Take us back to the beginning of your career – what inspired you to become a mountain climber?
I have always been into sports and I have been attracted to anything that felt extreme to me. It started with fitness and bungee jumping to getting my licenses in scuba-diving and skydiving. Each sport offered something that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t until I climbed my first mountain that something inside of me ignited: “this is it” – it is what I want to do for as long as I live. Since then, I’ve climbed 19 high mountains around the world and became an outdoor enthusiast and an adventurer.
What were some of the challenges you faced at the beginning and how did you overcome them?
At the beginning of my mountaineering journey, I was working with an international company, so leaving work frequently to climb mountains was not an option. I had to decide between the mountains that made me sparkle vs. my career and financial stability. It came down to what really makes me happy, and mountains contributed to my overall wellbeing compared to work. I decided to quit my job and start my own venture; Mountain Gipsy, to have the flexibility I needed.
Another challenge was explaining to my family that I would be gone for long periods, in a remote area, in a different part of the world, to climb a high mountain. It sounded very alien to them, and they had a lot of fears knowing that I can be disconnected and unreachable. After a few mountains, it became natural to them seeing me take off for a month to climb a mountain.
As for society, I had to deal with a lot of doubters and sceptic questions such as: “are you sure of what you are doing?”, “do you think you are taking your life seriously?”, “do you believe you can sustain such a life?”, “will you be able to build a family in the future?” and the list goes on. To this day I do not entertain these questions unless I believe my answer will bring an actual change or a new perspective to the other person.
What goes through your mind when you are about to reach a summit?
“Just a few more steps” is literally the only thing that goes through my mind before reaching any summit. The summit is one of the most dangerous zones on a mountain and you need to be fully present in the moment and maintain your absolute focus.
What message would you share with women who are afraid to achieve their dreams?
To every woman struggling with achieving her dream or to anyone afraid to set a dream, my advice is to put yourself first: “moving forward, what kind of a future do I see for myself?”. Once there a vision and a little clarity of the aspired future, she can then start focusing on setting short-term goals to achieve her dream. While building on her inherent talents and strengths, she needs to block out all the noise and negativity around her, which may include family’s fears, friends’ opinions, and society’s expectations. By doing that she’ll be able to create her own world, her own thoughts, her own standards and most importantly, she will know what’s truly the right thing for her to do. If she manages to create that space of her own, every obstacle and challenge along the journey to her dream will become much easier to deal with.
Tell us a little about your fitness and training regime.
Being fit is the core of my mountain climbing passion. I have done a lot of tests and errors to understand how my body functions in a different environment. When I do not have an expedition planned, I focus on training at a low intensity for longer hours to keep a strong base and improve endurance gradually. Before a planned expedition, I increase the intensity of my training so that my body can perform sustainably. This balance between low and high-intensity training based on heart rate helps me to go longer, faster and with less effort, and ultimately helps me in the mountains. Sometimes, I take a break and chill because that is healthy too!
Tell us about a moment when you faced a challenge or setback and how did you overcome it?
While climbing Everest, after my 2nd rotation, which is more than halfway into the expedition, I fell very ill and started developing bronchitis. I felt weak, anxious and constrained, especially after the basecamp doctor told me there was a chance my expedition would have to be cancelled. I had to start a course of antibiotics and for such medication to be effective; I needed to be at a lower altitude. I left basecamp 5,360m and went to a village called Pheriche at 4,300m. I stayed at a mountain hut with two elderly Nepalese couples for ten days. During the first three days, I was feeling sick, lonely, and nervous. I’d wake up every day to the same routine, to silence with only the Buddhist chants in the background and mules’ bells ringing outside and I would tell myself that I will feel better, I will rise above this, it might not all be in my control, but I can still do small things to contain it and change it. I committed to being very consistent with my medication, have the right amount of food my body needed to heal faster, and I stayed away from all the stress of big avalanches, peak news, and basecamp rumours. Ten days later, I was feeling strong and decided to head back to basecamp, it took me about 8 hours through sun, rain, wind and snow! That day tested my patience and proved how bad I wanted to continue my journey. My main takeaway from this setback was the power of mindset and consistency. Having a growth mindset in any situation and committing to a consistent routine for ten days got me back on my feet.
How would you define success?
To me, success is being the best version of yourself. Living your best life. Being free. Giving back and achieving your dreams.
What is your biggest success so far and what would you still like to achieve?
My biggest success so far is myself. Today, I am not who I was yesterday as each event we go through shapes the peaks and valleys of our lives. Always moving forward through good times and tough times is a great measure of success and the results are reflected through my personality, perception, thoughts, and actions. I still have so much to achieve in terms of self-growth, passion, community, and exploration. The list of desired achievements is endless. However, the ultimate achievement would be creating a meaningful impact in the world and inspire people to be the best version of themselves and live their best lives.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
If I have to pick one, I would choose what my dear grandfather tells me all the time: “Do not look back because you will lose yourself in the past, only look forward and you will find the best version of yourself”
When are you at your happiest?
On a mountain, when I am feeling strong, halfway through an expedition, appreciating how far I have climbed, and excited about what is yet to come. Also in the community, when I’m giving back and creating meaningful impacts on the life of others.
Where is your favourite place to travel to?
I love travelling to South America, the energy of this continent is vibrant, deep and full of life. It brings out the best colours in me!
What is the life motto you live by?
Nothing is permanent! Be present and truly live the moment.
What is the next challenge you are going to set yourself?
There are a lot of adventures that are calling me but my top three currently are: Completing the last of my 7 summits: Mount Vinson – Antarctica’s highest mountain. Skiing both the North and the South poles. Climbing as much as I can of the 14 mountains that are higher than 8000 metres. (known as the 14-8000’ers)