Meet Krushnaa Patil, an avid mountaineer as she talks of her experiences.

In May 2009, she became the second youngest Indian to scale Mt. Everest. For her achievement, she's won the Rajiv Gandhi Award, Women Award and the Hirkani Puraskar from the Maharashtra government. She is currently just two peaks short of her seven -summit goal — of conquering the tallest mountain in each continent. We got this Pune lass talking before her dash to Europe and Alaska to complete the amazing feat. Meet Krushnaa Patil, the avid mountaineer. (By the way, did I mention that she's just 20 years old?)

You're among the youngest to have been at the top of the world. Describe the view to us.

Oh, it's completely heavenly! We were standing on the sixth of the fourteen surrounding peaks. It was perfect weather and the sun has just risen; it was serene. The cloud layer was at about 4000 metres and we were standing at 8800! Just being that high, (the clouds) looked far below. It's a very beautiful feeling.

So are these experiences your ‘high'?

Definitely. The whole process of getting to the top is really long, tiring and very difficult. The summit is actually the smallest and most insignificant part of the climb. Yet it's the most rewarding.

How much is left on your seven-summit list?

I'll be going to Europe (Mt. Elbrus) and North America (Mt. McKinley). I've finished the rest. I'm trying to do them all under a year and become the youngest to do that. So I'll have to do Europe off-season, before May 21.

But after the Everest, everything else must seem a smaller goal.

Not really. Peaks like Kilimanjaro and Kosciuszko have been like nice holidays. But the others have been tough, like Aconcagua.

In my mind, they're not easy things to do. The next two are going to be much tougher. It's all so weather-dependent; and not by the book. Europe's highest is known for its blizzards, and I'll be going before summer. So I'll have to face bad weather. I'm not underestimating them. Besides, people die on every mountain.

So which peak has been your most challenging so far?

Antarctica. We had amazing weather for the first 4 to 5 days. But towards the summit, it got really bad. We were trapped in an Antarctic storm. The winds didn't let us walk and the visibility was only 10 to 15 metres. There was talk of turning around. I'd paid 33,000 USD for this and it meant a lot. I wouldn't get the chance to do it again. Thankfully the weather died down and we could go ahead.

Aren't you afraid of death?

I got over that a long time back. At the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, we are taught to be comfortable with death. Unless you do that, you can't give 100%. Like jumping over a crevice, if you don't give your 100%, you might just fall in. There's always a fear; it pushes you. But you have to be comfortable. It's survival.

Aren't your parents apprehensive?

Never. It's an unsaid thing. We all know it's (death) possible. But we've never talked about it. My dad always says, “Please come back.” My mom's more chilled out.

It seems adventure is in the genes!

Definitely. My parents are very adventurous – completely off the road. Always in tents, never in hotels! Basically, most of my summer holidays were in Uttaranchal, Kashmir; I fell in love with the mountains there. I did the adventure course at the Nehru Institute in 2005 and the NIM Everest 3 to Mt. Satopanth. All through the climb, everybody was talking about the Everest. I thought, “Why not do it?”

Sponsorship is usually an issue with such pursuits. Did you foot the bill yourself?

I have tried for a corporate sponsorship for the Everest attempt – Adidas, Mountain Dew, Godrej, Tata Adventure Fund (she reels off a long list); but nobody was interested. The government promised Rs.1 lakh. My dad had to finally take a loan from Saraswat Bank. They were really co-operative and the moment I summitted, the bank waived the entire loan. After Everest, rewards came in from political parties, corporates etc. I've built my kitty now to finance my trips.

What's your fitness regimen like?

I've generally been a sports person. Before a climb, we run 6 to 11 kilometres every morning. We trek with weights on our backs (about 25 kgs.). I've also done a search and rescue course; that's about carrying bodies down. It trained me both mentally and physically. On a personal level, I practise yoga and pranayama. But back in the city, I'm the laziest.

What keeps you motivated?

Personally, I'm not looking at setting records. Bachendri Pal (first Indian woman to scale Everest) did it in '84. But there's been no global recognition since then, till Malli Mastan Babu did the 7-summits in 2006. For me, it's about putting India on the mountaineering map. It's 70 per cent for my country and 30 per cent for myself..

There's news of a 13-year-old Californian attempting the Everest soon. Do you think vying for the ‘youngest' title is healthy?

Being young is okay, and as long as you know to stay alive. Mountaineering is risky. You have to have the maturity. It's not just about reaching the summit; you should also know when to turn back.

You're interests include dance and design?

I come from an artistic background. I'm an Indian contemporary dancer and have performed. I've also designed costumes and sets too. Now, I'm doing the interiors for my sister's place! I'm also a painter and I'm hoping to put up an exhibition after the seven summits. The paintings will be related to that.

That's a lot! So who's Krushnaa going to be in the future?

(Laughs) I don't know actually! I'm too confused a person to pick one.

Tanya is a II Year B.Com. student at Stella Maris College.


Hope in the Valley of despairMay 8, 2010