Touching new heights

After a black belt in karate and taekwando,and playing basketball and football in age category nationals,when a 16-year old Arjun Vajpai came back from an advanced level course in mountaineering to tell his mother that he wants to climb Mt. Everest,her response was: "Ya sure,and I want to go to the moon."

Written by Smriti Sinha | New Delhi | Published: April 5, 2012 12:58 am

After a black belt in karate and taekwando,and playing basketball and football in age category nationals,when a 16-year old Arjun Vajpai came back from an advanced level course in mountaineering to tell his mother that he wants to climb Mt. Everest,her response was: “Ya sure,and I want to go to the moon.”

But within months,Arjun proved that not all aspirations are unattainable. After months of training and putting himself on a daily diet of half a dozen eggs,bananas and half a kg of sprouts,Arjun set out on the expedition in March 2010 and eventually saw the sunrise break below him on a May morning at the world’s highest peak.

Climbing the Everest at that time made him the youngest Indian to do so but Arjun was determined not to be satisfied with that feat or let his 8,848 meter climb be a one-time craze. In the following season,he climbed two more 8000m+ peaks — Lhotse (8,516m) and Manaslu (8,163m) and says he has become addicted to this adventure.

In a few days from now,in order to fuel his addiction even more,he is attempting another herculean task – that of climbing two more 8000m peaks in China starting from this week. Having gotten used to several firsts,one of them being the youngest in the world to climb three 8thousanders,Arjun’s eyes are now set on becoming the youngest person in the world to climb two such mountains in the same season.

And all this started when as a 10-year-old he trekked a small hill in the Sahyadri ranges on a family holiday.

“In between I did trekking all around north India and at 15 I went on and did a basic mountaineering course. It was so tough that I never thought I’m going to the mountains again but surprisingly I got A grade and went ahead to the advanced one.

“About the mountains,they say,the younger you are,the more vulnerable you are but this time I took to the mountains like a fish to water and I was even helping army men who were training there,with their luggage. The coaches suggested I try Mt. Everest and that’s how the bug bit me,” he recollects.

Though he says writing a book – On Top of the World: My Everest Adventure — was tougher than climbing the mountain itself,an unpredictable danger awaits him at Mt. Cho Oyu which has had 39 fatalities till 2010.

“Everest is another high altogether,you can’t beat the view but the other 8thousanders are much tougher. They are not as much receed. The Lhotse was much tougher than Everest both physically and technically because we had to often make our own routes and sometimes climb as straight as 80 degrees,” he recalls.

Though as an 18-year-old,he has toughened himself against mundane teenage temptations like Facebook and being cut off from his friends for months on end,a couple of memories from the Everest climb still send a chill down his spine. “You come out of every other sport unscathed. Here there is no scope for mistakes. You climb and see people’s graves,they are somebody’s father or somebody’s son. But you pray for them and just tell yourself,you could either finish the expedition or be one of those graves,” Arjun says.

From the rebellious young guy who was upset with his father for not letting him go for the trials of the U-17 national football team to spouting such maturity,Arjun has come a long way.

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