An interview with the UAE’s toughest Outdoor Photographer
We met Mohammed earlier this year in his hometown Dubai and we talked with him about his passion for the Great Outdoors and his love of capturing it on film with his camera. He told us that he had just completed the trip of a lifetime to Hawaii to visit the birthplace of his favourite photo subject, “Mountains.”
Mohammed as the UAE’s toughest Outdoor Photographer was supported on this trip by Columbia sportswear with their latest apparel and footwear. Who could be a better person to test outdoor gear than Ahmed Ahli, on the hunt for the perfect picture in extreme places and harsh conditions? Columbia prides itself with the slogan “Tested Tough” and this slogan is the perfect headline for this trip!
Volcanos in Hawaii
Mohammed planned his 27-day journey with two main destinations in the America’s which could not be more different. The first destination was the scorching hot Volcano’s in Hawaii, one of the few places on earth where you can actually see how islands and mountains are born and the second destination was to the freezing cold icy mountains in Canada.
When we spoke to Mohammed, we could still see the fire of the volcano’s burning in his eyes when he told us how amazing this experience was for him. To get the perfect shot, Mohammed did take a lot of risks and entered with a guide (whose identity he kept secret) into a restricted area on “Big Island” to get close to the action and see how Mother Earth is spitting out molten lava. It was a tough 8.5 hours hike on rocks which were fragile like glass, he remembers:
“I just slipped a bit and touched the ground and directly had small splinters of rock in my hand which were no different to broken glass, so you have to be very careful when you walk. The hot fumes and gasses I was expecting but I did not expect how strong they were, even so strong that you can get dizzy. You would think that as an Emirati I would be used to heat, but the heat on a volcano is nothing to compare to the heat in the UAE.
Even from far distance of a few hundred meters you can feel how the wind blows extremely hot heat waves towards you like the fiery breath of the mountain which is being born. Everywhere you walk there is danger and in this area many people have already lost their lives, it is like a minefield you don’t know what you are stepping on and lava can suddenly come out of the ground at any place. I was lucky, when one rock just opened up with dark red lava just on the spot I stepped seconds ago! Close to the lava it is so hot that you burn your skin instantly. I had burns on both of my arms after this trip.
Gear and Heat
The heat is not only challenging to humans, also my camera equipment was suffering. My phone did not work anymore since it overheated, the batteries don’t function properly, some of my photo filters just melted and the camera of my friend got so hot that it exploded and was totally destroyed. Luckily my camera survived and I got the shots I was hoping for.”
If you think Mohammed was wearing any special protective gear you are mistaken, he was wearing his normal Columbia gear. Asking how the gear held up:
“The shoes were amazing since I did not get hot feet or any burns on the feet even though the soles melted a bit (which is no surprise) but I am happy that at least my feet were protected. Also the shirts with high UV protection are great since there isn’t any shade and you are walking the whole day in the sun, but I would recommend you to wear long sleeves to protect your skin better, as mentioned I got burns from the heat on my underarms when I took photos which I could have prevented by wearing a long sleeved version of the same Columbia shirt.”
Mountains in Canada
Only seeing the birthplace of mountains and how they are created from the magma of the earth was not enough for Mohammed on this trip, he also wanted to see real mountains rising up from sea level to touch the sky. It was on his bucket list to visit Canada’s oldest national parks; Banff National Park and Jasper National Park which are a great contrast to Hawaii. After getting literally burned, he now had to face almost two digit minus degrees in his tent at night and this is summer in the Canadian Mountains!
Mohammed said that: “The National parks have some of the nicest mountains and most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. The air is so fresh and there is so much green in contrast to the Rocky Mountains and the blue sky with thousands of beautiful scenes to shoot. I struggled many times even with the widest wide-angle lens I have, to capture this amazing landscape. But what would sort of an adventure would it be without some close encounters? One day when we setup our tent, I was looking up and saw a big black bear just a few meters away from us passing. Even if they look cuddly and friendly like a teddy bear, don’t be mistaken, they can get very dangerous. But since the bear seemed not interested in us and passed almost ignoring us, we decided to still pitch our tent in this spot and luckily we slept well without any unannounced visits!
Gear for the Cold
The nights got very cold, colder than we were expecting and I was so happy that I took my Columbia winter jacket with me and didn’t leave it behind. Especially if you live in the Middle East it is always advisable to prepare a bit more for cold conditions since we are not so used to these temperatures and freezing is as uncomfortable as getting burned, so the right gear is essential for a pleasant experience even in the harshest conditions. The Columbia gear is just perfect for the Canadian climate and you can rely on your shoes to keep your feet warm and dry and know that you can walk in them for days, with comfort and without getting blisters. The wrong gear can really spoil even the best trip you would have had otherwise, and I am so happy that I did not have to think about this since I was geared up perfectly and could simply enjoy the trip and focus on what I love the most– capturing on film the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine!”
You can follow Mohammed and see more of his amazing photographs from this trip on Instagram: “mohdaahli” and you can find gear for your next adventure in Columbia Sportswear stores across the UAE. ■
Products available at Columbia stores:
Dubai – The Dubai Mall, Mall of the Emirates, Mirdif City Center & Ibn Battuta Mall
Abu Dhabi – Al Wahda Mall and Dalma Mall
Instagram: @columbia_me | Facebook: Columbia Middle East
Words by: Daniel Birkhofer
Photos by: Mohammed Ahmed Ahli