Climbing to the top

“It was early in the morning, and one person from another team went ahead of us. When we got close to him we realised that he died about 10 to 15 minutes beforehand,” he says.

With more than 250 people having perished trying to climb Everest, due to accidents or illness caused by the high altitude and low temperatures, Mr Samra says he shouldn’t have been surprised.

Yet he was struck down by fear. “I was so scared that I couldn’t move,” he says.

Ultimately able to compose himself, and knowing that nothing could be done for the man, Mr Samra and his group continued their ascent of the world’s highest mountain.

A few days later, on 17 May 2007, Mr Samra, aged 28 at the time, became the first Egyptian to scale Everest.

It was the fulfilment of a dream he had held for 12 years, and reinforced his belief that though hard work, and beating his fears, “a person can achieve whatever he wants, and reach anything he sets his mind to”.

It is a personal ethos that he applies to both his working life – as the founder and owner of Wild Guanabana, one of the fastest-growing travel companies in the Middle East – and his continuing mountaineering exploits.

Sense of belonging

Born in London to Egyptian parents, the family returned to Egypt when Omar was just a few months old.

Diagnosed with severe asthma when he was 11, a doctor told him that it should go away when he was in his 20s, but only if he started to exercise. And so he began running, and then playing basketball and squash.

However, the sport he instantly fell in love with was mountaineering, which he tried for the first time aged 16 at a summer camp in Switzerland.

“It was my first time seeing and walking in snow,” he says. “The whole mountain world was alien to me, but the strange thing is that I also felt that I belonged there.”

There and then he decided he wanted to ultimately climb Everest.

Yet returning to school and then university in Cairo, where he studied economics, Mr Samra had to put his mountaineering on hold until upon graduating he got a job with an investment bank in London.

He says he would work 17-hour days, and then spend all his money going on holidays climbing mountains around the world.

Such was his general wanderlust that after two and a half years at the bank he quit to spend a year backpacking around the world.