Vamini, a senior professional at a multinational firm in Gurugram and a Limca record holder for cycling, is on a mission to scale the 7 highest peaks of the world. Here she shares her attempt to scale Mt.Everest.
At the baggage check at Kathmandu airport, the security personnel looked at my t-shirt that read ‘Scale Your Summit – Everest’. He asked me in Hindi – Upar pahunche (Did you reach the top)?
With disappointment on my face, I said our team had been unlucky and we had turned back from the last camp at 8300 meters due to bad weather. On hearing this, he showed me a piece of paper that had two names on it – Kalpana Das and Anjali Kulkarni. He asked me if I knew them. I nodded. Yes, I knew both of them. Both had passed away on Everest this year.
The security personnel said “They summited. And their bodies are going back with you in your aircraft. You are lucky to be going home on foot”. I looked up, smiled through my pain, said nothing and proceeded to the next counter.
His words echoed in my ears through the rest of my journey. Till then, I had been contemplating if the decision to turn back due to a bad weather forecast had been the right one. I remember feeling physically fit and ready for the rigors of the most hostile environment on the planet. I could clearly see my dream destination just half a kilometre away; only 548 metres remained and so much was at stake. However at that altitude, in the ‘Death Zone’, one cannot gamble and wait to see how the weather turns out, and we had turned back with heavy hearts.
The Investment – Spiritual, Physical, Financial
It had been two years of planning and training, two months away from work and family, an insane amount of funding and much more. As much as we wish for things to go our way, the forces that decide the fate of our adventure are beyond our control and we must bend before their power.
Everest’s Mood In 2109
In 2019, Mt. Everest saw one of its deadliest climbing seasons in years. Still, many climbers tried to make it to the summit with a very small favourable weather window. I was climbing from the North Side of the mountain (Tibet, China) to avoid the crowds and the traffic jam that the South Side had become infamous for. Later I learnt that there were as many as 11 deaths on the South Side. Fingers and limbs were lost due to frostbite. If only those stuck in the queues and almost running out of oxygen had paid heed to the warning signs and turned back in time!
One of my biggest learnings from this climb was that in life, ‘Sometimes you have to step back to move forward’ and ‘We should only risk as much as we can afford to lose’.
Earlier during the acclimatization climb, I had a near fatal accident at North Col pass at 7100m. Boulder-like chunks of ice rolled speedily and unpredictably towards us. I avoided one, but got hit by the other. I could barely walk after that and had to leave the basecamp to visit the hospital. A week later, I had a tough decision to make – To continue the journey with 80% recovery or call it off? I decided to press on. Little did I know that I’d climb up to the dizzying altitude of 8300m and then have to turn back anyway. Clearly Chomolungma wants me to come back again…
Saying ‘Till We Meet Again’
The art of mountaineering is knowing when to go, when to stay and when to retreat. Ultimately, weather has the last word.
The two months I spent on the attempt taught me so much; to celebrate life, death and everything in between. I came back with a bag full of learnings, friendships for a lifetime and absolutely no regrets. I will hopefully go back again to claim the part of my soul that was left behind on Everest!