Air warriors fly high, but some of them prefer to kiss the sky without being in the comfort of a cockpit. A team of five air warriors of the Indian Air Force (IAF) summited Mt Vinson in icy Antarctica in the last week of December. The force also claims to be the first defence body to summit all major seven peaks across seven continents.
Before Mt Vinson, different teams of the Air Force had summited Mt Everest (Asia), Mt Carstenz Pyramid (Indonesia-Australisa continent), Mt Elbrus (Russia-Europe), Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt Aconcagua (Argentina-South America), Mt McKinley/Denali (Alaska-North America) over the last two decades.
Led by Captain R C Tripathi, the only air warrior to be part of all the seven expeditions, the team was flagged off by Air Chief B S Dhanao in December last. Trekking on a huge barren landmass, which is a continent in itself, is a daunting task, admits Tripathi. “Summiting every peak is different. You have different challenges in terms of topography, climate and logistics,” he said.
From snow storms that piled up a huge mass of snow outside their tents to the sun which refused to get weary even after shining all day, or the sub-zero temperatures to the arduous treks, the five Air Force personnel saw it all. “This trek was particularly challenging because we had sledged our luggage, which we had not done before for any of our treks,” Tripathi said.
On their arrival in Delhi, Tripathi, Wing Co S S Mallik, Squadron Leader Rajesh Mookhi, Sergeant R D Kale and Corp Pawan Kumar – were felicitated by the Air Force chief, both for their feat and for returning back safely. “When you conquer all the six peaks and you have the last one left, you tend to do mistakes. My only worry was your safety,” the Air Force chief told the mountaineers.
The fear seems justified as the force lost two of its personnel during a 2005 expedition to summit Mt Everest. “We dedicate our success to Sqdrn Ldr SS Chaitanya and Sgt Shantanu, whom we lost during our Mt Everest expedition in 2005. We dedicate this achievement to all our martyrs,” Tripathi said.
But how does it feel to summit the peaks in all continents? “Mountaineering is a sport where nobody is there to clap for you or cheer you. No one can see the pain and agony. You are on your own in the wilderness. You just have to feel the achievement,” Tripathi added.