The formidable challenge of scaling the Everest

Ajeet Bajaj and his daughter Deeya  

The mountain that regularly claims its pound of flesh, is often giving. The week starting May 14 was a good one for mountaineers. Everest welcomed Ajeet Bajaj, 53 and Deeya Bajaj, 24, India’s first father-daughter duo; Shivangi Pathak, a 16-year-old, the youngest Indian to summit from the Nepal side; and Sangeeta Bahl, 53, the oldest Indian woman to scale the peak. With each firm foot, these four earned their spot in the most exclusive club on the top of the world. This is their story.

Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj, from Gurugram

They call themselves a regular family that thrives on adventure. The Bajaj girls, Deeya and Meghna, 20, grew up listening to tales of rafting, scuba diving, encounters with wildlife and skiing trips to the Poles. Their holidays were all about waking up at the crack of dawn to join their parents on treks. In 2009, the duo kayaked through Greenland Sea. In 2011, they undertook the Greenland Cross Country Skiing Expedition and skied close to 650 kilometres in 19 days. Deeya was 17 years old then and the youngest in the world to accomplish this. A year later, they set out for an expedition to Mt Elbrus in Russia. The idea to scale Mt Everest was in the works for over three years (they scaled in about 40 days). Deeya was still in college at Cornell University, New York. On her return to India, they began training. The family agreed that this adventure was the perfect way to support the girl child.

The formidable challenge of scaling the Everest

You trained for over a year to scale Everest, what did it entail?

Deeya: Both of us have mountaineering training and experience. I have done my advance mountaineering course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and dad had done a climbing instructors course in France. So we had the technical training. To brush up our skills we scheduled four practice expeditions.

Besides that, in Delhi, we would train for more than two hours every day, running, swimming and strength training.

What was the most challenging aspect of the climb?

Deeya: Dad always says that climbing up is optional, but coming down is mandatory. Going up you have torchlight and barely notice the dangerous falls. On the way down, because of daybreak, it is unnerving to see those precarious areas that have to be negotiated safely.

What were the risky moments during the climb?

Ajeet: Navigating the Three Steps. There is rock and ice, and you are not a 100% there because of lack of oxygen. On May 14, we got to camp 2. We were both very nervous because we feared our tents would be blown off the mountain.

Deeya: Closer to the peak, dad’s oxygen mask froze over. We took a call that I would carry on while my father changed his mask. At that altitude, not moving can mean trouble.

What is the most memorable moment during this climb?

Deeya: I reached the summit on May 16, a few minutes before my father as he was changing his mask. When I reached the peak at about 4.30 am, the sun was beginning to rise. As the light around me changed, my father reached.

Ajeet: That is one of the highlights of my life. Witnessing the sunrise at Everest with my daughter was a special moment.

Shivangi Pathak, from Hisar

Pathak, from Haryana, summited Everest after a month-long trek on May 17. She learnt mountaineering at Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports, Jammu and Kashmir, and completed high-altitude training programmes in Kashmir before taking on this formidable challenge. She says Arunima Sinha, an amputee, inspired her. Her father first sensed her fearlessness when he saw her bungee jumping in Rishikesh, at 14. “After that, my parents have always supported and encouraged me. In the beginning, leaving home to train for mountaineering was difficult. This time, my parents accompanied me upto Nepal, and after that the toughest was cold weather and strong chilly winds,” she says.

The formidable challenge of scaling the Everest

For Pathak, it was also about meeting new people: there were 180 nationalities at the base camp, and she forged close friendships with the two Sherpas accompanying her — Italian Dada and Aung Sherpa. Describing the journey, she says the trek from Lukla, Nepal, to Base Camp takes 11-12 days, with 12 stops on the way. “Then we head to Camp 1, where we spend the night and head to Camp 2 for two days. We return to Base Camp to acclimatise. After three-four days of rest, we leave for the final climb, going through four camps. This takes about seven to nine days. After the summit, it can take about three-five days to return to base.” Her dream? To climb the seven summits before she turns 18.

Sangeeta Bahl, from Gurugram

Bahl started mountaineering when she turned 46. She made it to the Everest summit in her second attempt on May 19, 2018. This time, she was on a mission to raise awareness about cancer. One thing is for certain, she says, like the disease, “A mountain doesn’t treat a man or a woman differently.” Bahl is now working on a book and getting an even more powerful body in order to scale her 7th summit at Mount McKinley in North America next year. Here, she tells us what mountaineering and her trip has taught her.

The formidable challenge of scaling the Everest

“When you are outdoors, the first thing you learn is to be at peace with yourself. Understand that there are many things beyond your control, like the weather and how your body will react to the altitude. I have learnt immense patience and the ability to embrace changes with a smile. Extreme dedication, self-belief, no mental blocks, coupled with a passion for what you love. On Everest, after camp 2, you have to be self-reliant, and then it is a mind game to push through physical exhaustion. Your willpower has to be phenomenal. It wouldn’t have been possible without my US-based trainer Courtney Schumann, who sent me monthly plans, and my family who constantly excused me from social events and late nights so I could train early in the morning.”

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 5:36:29 PM |

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