ADVENTURE Ashish Mane, who recently became the second youngest Indian to reach the summit of Mt. Lhotse, talks about the highs and lows of the expedition
Death is a possibility at every step. The mountain challenges you relentlessly and the winds can send you hurtling down from a frightening height of 8000 metres. Life becomes the most precious possession. For Ashish Mane, a 22-year-old from Pune, it was a “thrilling” experience no doubt but also an encounter with “reality.”; the reality that the difference between life and death, hope and despair, success and loss, victory and defeat hangs by a slender thread.
Giri Premi is an organisation that undertakes these expeditions under the leadership of Umesh Zirpe. “Adventure is the theme no doubt but it is a journey of inspiration. When you conquer peaks, your motivation levels rise and you look forward to excel in any walk of life. We were the first Indian civilian expedition team to scale two 8000 metres-plus peaks at a time,” says Zirpe.
Mane was the face of this expedition which included Ganesh More, Anand Mali and Bhushan Harshe, all reaching the peak of the Everest. With Ajit Tate managing the base camp, Mane emerged the second youngest Indian to reach the summit of Mt. Lhotse on 16 May. “The team confronted high winds throughout the climb,” informs Zirpe, whose pride in his team’s achievement is obvious.
Hailing from Satara, it was Mane’s dream to do something “exceptional.” He was an avid footballer but the passion to stand out in a crowd paved the way for Mane to take up mountaineering. “There is nothing like hanging from the mountain and seeing the world below and around. Sometimes it can be scary but it is mostly exhilarating. You are driven by the fact that not many on this planet would attempt such tough assignments,” Mane says. “During my expedition, I saw bodies hanging from the mountain. Such an occasion makes you think if you have opted for is the right vocation. But one moves on. You never know because the next step could mean the end of the world for you. Every step is fraught with danger,” he reflects, revealing how he ended up stepping on a corpse. “It was sad but unavoidable since there was no space for me to manoeuvre past the corpse.”
Back home, the police often seek his assistance in retrieving bodies of dead mountaineers from the Sahyadri ranges. “Death doesn’t scare me,” he insists, but there were moments when he evoked divine guidance when faced with death. Survival on soup and conserving strength for the descent are lasting memories of his adventure.
Scaling Mt. Lhotse (8516 metres) is considered one of the toughest tasks in the world of mountaineering. “Ice and rock, almost 90 degree wall, make scaling this peak such a huge challenge. The winds make it tougher. I must confess I had my moments of fear but the passion to make it to the top kept me going. The technical challenges of Mt. Lhotse are fearsome.”
With a weight of 10 kg on his back, Mane negotiated his climb with a determination that had its roots in support from his family. “Initially they discouraged and vehemently opposed my love for climbing. But they encouraged me when they realised that climbing was an essential part of my life. They feel proud of my achievements.” Mane scaled Everest (8848 metres) at 21 and Mt. Lhotse at 22. What next? “Mt. Makalu, the fifth highest mountain the world (8481 metres).” Mane sounds confident. So does his mentor Zirpe, the driving force behind Giri Premi.