Two Girls in the Mountains

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, meet Aisha and Anisah - two young Mountaineers with nothing but enthusiasm when they hit the trail.
Suzanne Gerber Suzanne Gerber
Former Mountaineers Publications Manager
February 16, 2019
Two Girls in the Mountains

With a whirlwind of energy, Aisha and Anisah enter The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center, along with their father, Hakim Ali. The program center is a giant playground for them, starting with the basalt columns outside. I’m always proud to share with guests that people actually climb them – but the little Mountaineers, Aisha and Anisah weren’t surprised.

I tried to get them to burn off some energy before the interview by giving them a tour of the program center. First, I showed them the indoor climbing wall, then the friction slabs we’re building, then the office itself and introduced them around. It wasn’t working – they seemed to have a limitless pool of energy. What more could you expect from two who can climb to 10,000 feet and regularly hike 4,000-foot peaks? So I took them upstairs for the interview.

The first question I asked was an easy one, to which they gave a not-so-easy or rather, impressive, answer. I asked what their favorite hike was. In unison, "Mailbox peak!" The old (steep) trail.

Aisha, age 8 has been up Mailbox 16 times and Anisah, age 6 has been up seven times. They hike with their father, Hakim, every weekend. It’s become a weekly tradition. Their mom, Donna Chen, hikes too, but doesn’t climb. She's terrified of heights. Though you could say that Donna’s the one who started all this. She's the one who introduced Hakim to hiking in the Pacific Northwest. Two and a half months into dating, she took him to hike Mailbox peak, with a 4,000-foot gain in just over 2.5 miles.

That was nearly ten years ago. At the time, Hakim explained, “I was 75lbs heavier and had to turn around halfway.” He waited for Donna, at the car while she went to the top and came back down. His knees were killing him. 

“It was a turning point,” he said. “I wasn’t going to get embarrassed like that again.”

Hakim grew up in Tanzania, at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. He moved to Kenya at the age of 15 and to the United States in 2001. Most of his family have moved away from Kenya and Tanzania. "The middle class is shrinking," he explained to me. "Small businesses are bought out by large ones and the lack of opportunities locally send people abroad." Hakim first moved to San Fransisco and now works for Terex, in Redmond. Donna, his wife, is from Nanning in Southern China.

Donna may have introduced Hakim to hiking, but he quickly took up the passion — which they've passed along to their two kids, Anisah and Aisha. He goes on a hike three or four times before he brings the girls along, so that he knows what the terrain and timing will be like. They bring along sandwiches, trail mix, fruit, and plenty of water. Turkey wraps are a favorite.

The girls each carry their own backpack — though I know from hiking along with them to Poo Poo point that their bags are often handed off to Hakim, as the girls run ahead. "Walk, don't run!" Hakim will shout from behind. Anisah, the 6-year-old yells back, mid-jog, "I am walking!"

It's more than just the physical challenges that push this family. They love to explore and all vacations are road trips - along Highway 101 or to National Parks — with local Mount Rainier and the Wonderland Trail being a favorite.

A trip to Camp Muir

This past summer, on a hike to Camp Muir in Mount Rainer National Park, Hakim and the girls ran into Mountaineers member, Gavin Woody, and his buddy Ras Vaughan, who were completing the Infinity Loop. This 120-mile run encircles Mt. Rainier and summits it twice. Their completion of it was an historical accomplishment, featured in the Fall issue of Mountaineer magazine. The most inspiring part of their journey? Meeting Hakim and his two young girls, Aisha and Anisah, around 8,700 feet. It's not every day you see a 6 and 8-year old so joyfully trudging up this mountain.

IMG_4981.PNGAnisah and Aisha at Camp Muir. Photo by Hakim Ali.

The hike to Camp Muir was the girls’ first hike up the Muir snowfield. Hakim had been taking them on hikes on lower trails of Rainier for five years before venturing past Pebble Creek and up the snowfield. The girls didn't quite understand the scope of Ras and Gavin's quest until they got home and Hakim pulled out a map to show them complete route. They were excited and impressed. Aisha said, "Can I go with them next time?"

Aisha is hoping to summit Rainier in 2018. She will be 10. She'll go with her father, of course, and if successful, they will use it as inspiration for an international trip to one of the Seven Summits.

Their big goal takes them back to Hakim's roots in Tanzania. Yes, you guessed it: Kilimanjaro. Despite having grown up there, Hakim never summited it. Getting to the top with his daughter will be the perfect way to bring together his and family and passion. But this all depends on training. Hakim is planning to summit Rainier twice next season before he takes his daughter up there the following.

Anisah will still be a little young to join in on these larger Mountaineering adventures. They're careful not to push her too hard, as she was born with a pulmonary heart defect. She had four surgeries as a young child and has never let that stop her. Hakim got the go-ahead from her doctor before their recent summer trip up to Camp Muir. They didn't need to worry: Anisah did great. Both girls did. When your favorite hike is Mailbox, Camp Muir is just another 700 snowy feet up.

DSC_0201.jpgAnisah (left) and Aisha (right) at Chrico trail head on a weekend hike. Photo by Suzanne Gerber.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2017 issue of Mountaineer  Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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