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Afghanistan-born MIT grad raises money, awareness with Denali climb

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 10:22 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, the legendary mountaineer George Mallory simply said, “because it’s there.”

Alaska has its own impressive peak to draw adventure seekers from the world over to Denali. Sam Sidiqi is the latest mountaineer looking to reach the top of “the tall one” as it’s known, but his reasons are more philanthropic than those of George Mallory.

Sidiqi was born in Afghanistan, but he grew up in America, even attending Huffman Elementary School in Anchorage for a year when he was young. The assent of Denali will not only serve as a physical challenge to undertake but also as an opportunity to raise money and awareness for his homeland.

“It’s a troubled country, but great people and really beautiful mountains,” Sidiqi said. “I’ve always wanted to find a way to connect this state Alaska, that I’ve had so many great experiences, with with my home country of Afghanistan.”

Educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as M.I.T., Sidiqi used some of his knowledge to launch the program Afghan Peaks.

“What we’ve done in the past is we focused on mountain safety, so it’s about avalanche safety,” Sidiqi said. “We’ve looked at weather stations so that people can monitor, you know their years where hundreds of people die from avalanches in Afghanistan.”

While programs about mountain safety are certainly useful, Afghan Peaks also has a sporting element to it.

“Just this year we sponsored the first woman’s ascent of the tallest mountain in central Afghanistan,” Sidiqi said. “Now, not quite as tall as Denali only 5000 meters or so but still a great ascent. We sponsor the ski competition in Afghanistan as well.”

By attempting an ascent of Denali, Sidiqi hopes to raise awareness as well as money for his Afghan Peaks program. He would have made the effort up the mountain last year but COVID-19 canceled those plans. Although that gave him an extra 365 days of training, it hasn’t completely calmed the nerves.

“I think the toughest part of the climb is really respecting the weather and kind of self care. So, so it’s about keeping up the stamina over the three weeks, and kind of managing yourself, and all your stuff so that you’re ready on summit day,” said Sidiqi.

With the trip planned, inspiration clear, and challenges still ahead, the question asked of George Mallory still remained, there are lots of ways Sidiqi could have connected or combined Alaska and Afghanistan to draw attention — so why take on Denali?

“I have so, so many fond memories of the time that I’ve been up here and so just to have that great additional experience, I think it will just feel great,” Sidiqi said.

Already in Talkeetna, Sidiqi hopes to be up on the mountain by Friday and if he completes his goal it could be historic. Based on his own research, Sidiqi said he believes he’d be the first Afghanistan-born climber ever to summit Denali.

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