After being on many thrilling expeditions – from Mount Kilimanjaro to Mutnovsky Volcano, Aditya Gupta set his eyes on the next big thing — Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world standing at 8,848 metres. After nine months of rigorous training, he scaled the Everest in May this year. This was his second attempt – his first being in 2014, when he had to return due to a major avalanche.
Gupta, who took to trekking during his college days at IIT Roorkee, undertook his first expedition to Pindari Glacier in 1987. It marked the beginning of his love affair with adventurous trips. He says that the “final frontier” of this hobby was definitely to climb Mount Everest.
The 50-year-old feels that age is an advantage rather than a limitation in mountaineering as one is aware of the responsibilities and challenges. In a conversation with indianexpress.com, he sheds light on some learnings from the expedition, the need to prepare well, and overcrowding at Everest.
How would you describe the experience of scaling the Everest?
It is a life-transforming experience in various ways. It taught me about mental toughness, focus, optimism, self-confidence, courage, the power of goals, and the lesson of breaking the most monumental task into smaller bits to overcome them. One needs to expect the unexpected because sometimes equipments will fail, the weather will get worse, tragedies will take place but once you reach the summit, nothing else will matter. All those challenges will become a blur.
At the age of 50, how did you prepare yourself physically and mentally for conquering this mountainous feat?
Age is totally on my side and being 50 is an advantage as I am well aware of my responsibilities and limitations. I am blessed with time, energy and opportunity to explore life. Frankly, I am not an extraordinarily fit person but I did prepare well. Also, I am used to nature trips and tough expeditions once a year at least. My goal and motivation here was to prove that ordinary people like me can achieve anything with passion and preparation.
Both mental and physical fitness are essential to climb Everest. You can’t train yourself mentally much as it largely depends on what kind of a person you have been all your life and how you have always reacted to situations. However, physically, you need to prepare your body, as during the expedition, you eat what you get from your agency. Mostly, it is basic daal, chawal and sabzi. Some days on high camps, it is just noodle soup or some rice. There is eventually a lot of muscle loss after an expedition like this and recovery period after return is also long.
I trained for nine months, in which I increased my cardio capacity, strengthened my back and legs, and lost around 12 kgs. I would run with a rucksack on my back and weights tied to my legs to condition my body to take the extra strain. I was working out about 15 hours a week without sidelining my professional commitments. Generally, I am disciplined about what I eat but I added more proteins and vitamins to my diet.
Your biggest challenge while on the climb?
The Khumbu Icefall, which is considered the most dangerous part of the climb. You have to cross it in about eight-nine hours and it has a lot of crevices. The terrain is very treacherous. With Everest being the highest peak, you have to deal with high altitude problems, where you have little oxygen to breathe and face difficulty in eating and sleeping. It all then becomes a question of endurance.
When you are crossing a crevice with an aluminium ladder that is 12 inches wide, you don’t focus on anything else but the next step. Also, the length of the expedition causes a lot of fatigue. Only your mental toughness can keep you going. Luckily, in my group of four climbers and a few sherpas, everyone was quite determined to do it. Once you embark on that journey, you don’t think about how much is left, you think about how much you have covered.
What do you have to say about overcrowding at Everest?
I am not in favour of ‘overcrowding’ but there has to be a healthy number of climbers. Excess of anything is bad but when you have a decent number of climbers, you get better facilities and the path on the climb gets clearer. It’s extremely tough to walk on smooth ice. If there are footsteps, you get a better foothold. The ropes are there for support and safety but minus the steps cut out on the ice, the very path would be way more difficult to tread.
However, one needs to understand you can’t lower the number unless there is a government rule. There is only one Everest in the world with thousands of people wanting to climb it with hundreds of agencies facilitating it.
Your message to those looking to achieve such feats?
Optimism is my approach and I believe that things will be fine. It is also important to remember that when one gets an opportunity to do something great, something which brings a lot of happiness and glory, then the pain associated with it is also great. The pain and difficulty, however is temporary, the happiness is life-long.