The Life Happens Outdoors group of adventurers has just taken off from Bhutan to Nepal when founder Rami Rasamny shuffles excitedly between the airplane seats, pointing out the different Himalayan peaks. To the untrained eye, every peak looks stunning, but also homogenous. For the Rasamny, however, every mountain has a personality. Spending most of his year at high altitudes, he has dedicated his life to exploring and sharing those distinctions with others.
He wasn’t always like this. A former legal consultant, the Dubai-based mountaineer’s passion for climbing began in 2006, when his health hit rock bottom. “I think the watershed moment was when I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day and was 110kgs,” he says. “I remember waking up one night craving a cigarette. That scared me because I felt out of control.”
He dedicates each ascent to BZ KIDZ, a not-for-profit that runs after-school programs for children in underprivileged neighborhoods and soup kitchens in schools in his native Lebanon. Since his health wakeup call, the 32-year-old climber has not only become a mountaineer himself, he has also helped others climb mountains, taking more than 150 travelers from 40 countries on expeditions. He tells livehealthy.ae why he decided to lead by example and encourage more people to embrace the outdoors.
Why did you set up Life Happens Outdoors?
When I started Life Happens Outdoors, back in 2015, the whole idea, even before we began taking people on trips, was about making the outdoors more accessible to everyday individuals. The outdoors is not for the fringe few. It’s just been wrongly made to seem only for the adrenaline junkies or those with a big budget. Anyone who wants to can have a transformative experience. I would always look at what experiences impacted me the most profoundly and that is what I wanted to offer to others.
What are some of the destinations that you take adventurers to?
Our first-ever trip in 2017 was to Mount Kilimanjaro, and since then we’ve done Kilimanjaro eight times. That’s something I do quite often. We then did Tour de Mont Blanc, the Annapurna Base Camp, and kept adding trips, such as Bhutan and Georgia. We recently concluded a trip to Machu Picchu, which we were doing for the first time, and next year have other new destinations, such as Chimborazo, a 6,000-meter stratovolcano in Ecuador and volcanoes in Indonesia.
How do you decide what destinations you should offer?
It’s largely based on where I want to go and what I want to share with the community. What is it that I feel passionate about because at the end of the day, that’s what we are about. I started off with places in my life that have had an impact on me, like Kilimanjaro. That was one of the most transformative moments of my life. Once we got the ball rolling, people who had travelled with us would recommend places they would like us to include. So I would start to research those places, get to know them, familiarize myself and that’s how we add new trips.
Was Kilimanjaro the first mountain you climbed as a challenge?
Mountains didn’t start the climbing journey for me. My parents put me on skis when I was two years old. That led to off-piste skiing and then to ski Alpinism (using skis while climbing mountains). So I got my first raw mountain experiences where I was really in exposed environments when I was quite young. That’s why the Alps are important to me and I do a lot of tours there. Through that I started to get into rock climbing and other kinds of Alpinism and eventually I got to Kilimanjaro. I had moved away from mountains when I was a teenager; did what most teenagers do, which was drinking, smoking, got overweight and unhealthy. When I decided to take back control 10 years ago, that’s when Kilimanjaro came into the picture and that’s why I say it was a very transformative mountain for me, because it came into my life at a point when I was trying to make drastic changes which have led me to where I am now.
Since then how many mountains have you climbed?
A lot! I don’t count, mainly because when you climb in the Alps, it’s very different from climbing in the Himalayas. Climbing in the Alps is a 24-hour expedition. In one week, I could climb three to four mountains. You traverse mountain to mountain. It’s not the same idea as an expedition where you do 20 days dedicated to one 8,000-meter mountain summit. These are shorter mountains but very technical.
What other climbs are the most memorable?
The Matterhorn was another gigantic mountain for me, which I scaled in 2014. I saw the Matterhorn for the first time in 1997 at the age of 10. That was the mountain that when I was a kid I told myself, ‘One day I am gonna climb that mountain.’ It was a big deal for me, because it’s just one of those mountains that shapes the way you think, that shapes what you believe you are capable of because it is a very challenging, technical climb. The other one that is very close to my heart is Amadablem. Ironically, it’s called the Matterhorn of the Himalayas because it’s the same kind of mountain except that it’s much bigger. Climbing Amadablem is in my very niche community, called a rite of passage if you like. People who do that mountain or similar have reached a certain level of mountaineering that is somewhat respectable among the mountaineering community and that was huge for me because I went there not expecting to summit. I had no expectations of that mountain whatsoever. I just went there thinking I’m just going to see how this goes. All I know is that at 8.30am in October last year, I found myself on the summit of Amadablem and I entered a new phase in my mountaineering life.
Do you lead all Life Happens Outdoors expeditions?
I’ll always want to lead on the mountaineering expeditions that are LHO related because mountains are my passion and I want to share that.
You are either achieving personal feats or leading tours. What is downtime like?
When I climbed Amadablem, I was in the mountains for 25 days in high altitude. When I was on my way down to Kathmandu after my climb, the only thing that was keeping my spirits up, now that this incredible experience was behind me, was the fact that I had a LHO trip to the Annapurna base camp in a couple of days’ time and so my descent from the mountain was only temporary. Being up there is my holiday, being down here is the part that I have to struggle with.
Because you’ve taken so many people with you, is there anyone that comes to mind that kind of sums up what you’re trying to do with LHO?
I can’t think of people who haven’t inspired me. The incredible results that I see with them is what keeps me going. I remember two ladies in their 50s with me on this past trip to Kilimanjaro in March. This was the one thing they always wanted to do all their life and on summit night they really pushed because they wanted it and that’s just so inspiring.
Do you have a fear you think you would not be able to overcome in the mountains?
My biggest fear in the mountains is not listening to the mountain. The unfortunate truth is that the deeper you go into this environment, the more risks you’re willing to take, but the more humble you must be. For me when I went to Amadablem, I remember sitting down everyday and I’d just look at the mountain and just talk to the mountain, look for cues and see whether the mountain is ready to receive me. It sounds crazy but you’ve got to understand your environment and leave ego at the door.
Can you tell us a little bit about your charity?
I raise money for BZ KIDZ. They run after-school programs for children in underprivileged neighbourhoods in Lebanon and a soup kitchen in various schools that are in low income neighbourhoods. This is all free and is financed by donors. The kids aren’t refugees, they’re not casualties of war, they’re just poor people in a very poor country. Unfortunately, that doesn’t carry with it the narrative that is conducive to good fundraising.
How much have you raised so far?
Over US$60,000 (Dh220,350) over the course of 4 years. The kids give me a lot of joy and a lot of inspiration. When you’re up there and you feel like you have it tough, they are a very rude awakening, a reminder in the middle of it all that we’re all very fortunate.
So hiking is for anyone if they put their heart into it?
Yes! The only prerequisite is to want to have an outdoors experience.
Featured photo courtesy Life Happens Outdoors.
Afshan Ahmed is a communications consultant with 11 years of experience as a journalist in the UAE. She has been a features writer for leading English dailies in country, covering a range of topics, including education, arts, health and fitness. When not behind a desk creating content, she is either building strength with a barbell in the gym or pursuing other physical goals to tick off her bucket list.