Updated: February 3, 2021 2:16:24 pm
Earlier last week, when Dr Anshu Jamsenpa’s name was announced in the list of Padma awards, the 41-year-old mountaineer from Arunachal Pradesh had just returned from a motivational session for young climbers at Bomdila.
As she became the fastest woman to do a double summit of Mt Everest in 118 hours and 15 minutes in 2017, while also holding the record for most summits to the tallest peak by an Indian woman – 5, she joined the illustrious list of woman mountaineers like Bachendri Pal, Santosh Yadav, Premlata Aggarwal and Arunima Sinha to have been conferred the Padma awards.
“The feeling has not sunk in yet and the first thought has been that this award does not belong to me individually but all the mountaineers. The way people and mountaineers from all over India have been sending their greetings for the award makes me feel very overwhelmed that if somebody from a remote place like Bomdila can win the Padma award, then anybody can achieve it,” shared Jamsenpa while talking with The Indian Express.
Daughter of an Indo Tibetan Border Police officer, Jamsenpa’s interest in mountaineering only grew post her marriage to Tsering Wange, one of the officials of Arunachal Pradesh Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Association, and the birth of her two daughters.
Three years after she started climbing, Jamsenpa would summit Mt Everest twice in ten days in 2011. She would scale the world’s highest peak once again in 2013.
But it was her climb of the now 8,848.86 m high mountain twice within five days which made her the fastest woman mountaineer in the world to do so. From running an online funding campaign asking donation for every single meter climbed to seeking a full sponsor for her twin attempt in 2017, Jamsenpa would prepare with rucksacks filled with her gear and running on roads at Bomdila. Prior to leaving for Nepal, Jamsenpa would also meet His Holiness Dalai Lama, a meeting which she says helped her to be mentally strong. “When I met his Holiness Dalai Lama, he prayed for me and told me that I should not forget my mission and it will motivate me to never give up,” recalls Jamsenpa.
In 2017, due to unpredictable weather, the official Nepalese route-clearing team could not open the route in early May as they could not go beyond South Col and Balcony.
Like most of the climbers waiting for the route to be opened, Jamsenpa and her Sherpa Furi Sherpa too were waiting at the base camp. “Unlike the 2011 twin summit, I had planned the 2017 twin summit and it was a waiting game for us from May 9-11.
On May 11, My Sherpa told me that the British Gurkha regiment and Sherpa team led by Nirmal Pujra are planning to try opening the final stretch of the route. I met the expedition’s manager the next day and he told me that they have advanced to base camp 2. We took the risk of going to base camp 2 and after the talks with the Gurkha team, we decided to accompany the second team,” remembers Jamsenpa.
OXYGEN SUPPLY MALFUNCTION
While Jamsenpa and her Sherpa would spend the night at 6,400 m high base camp 2 and follow the route to base camp 3 with the second team of 10 Gurkha mountaineers, mal-functioning oxygen cylinders would mean that Jamsenpa not only had to face the challenge of low oxygen but also to tackle Yellow Band, a strip of limestone at a height of more than 7,500 m followed by Geneva Spur, a 40 degree steep stretch of rock, ice and snow before reaching 8,016 m high camp 4 at South Col.
“Post camp 3, bottled oxygen is required and at that time, I realised that my oxygen cylinders were mal-functioning. We had to reduce our climbing speed and as the weather had not been good earlier, we had to tackle the rocks at Yellow Band and Geneva Spur wearing crampons. Till the time we reached South Col, we did not even know that the route from South Col to the summit had been opened by the Gurkha team or not,” says Jamsenpa.
BREAK AT SOUTH COL
Post the camp 4 at South Col, Jamsenpa and her Sherpa would push for the summit. Jamsenpa would scale the summit at 9.15 am along with 17 other climbers, including 10 Gurkha mountaineers on May 16.
Low oxygen meant that Jamsenpa was struggling with dizziness and would decide to spend the night at the 8016 metre high South Col rather than descending to camp 2. It also meant that the next day she descended from base camp 4 to base camp without any break.
“In hindsight, the fact that the first climb was done at a slow pace helped me ahead of the second climb. Even though a lot of climbers avoid spending a night at South Col while descending, I struggled with dizziness and decided to spend the night at South Col. Descending straight from South Col to Base camp also helped me maintain the rhythm ahead of the second summit,” says Jamsenpa.
FOUR DEATHS, THEN A SUMMIT
While the night of May 17 was spent showing the Nepal Tourism officials the summit pictures before the second climb and packing new gear, Jamsenpa’s second climb would see climbers facing adverse weather post camp 4 at South Col. With the route opening and rush of climbers in bad weather between the Balcony and South Summit, four climbers would die between May 19 and May 21 with others suffering from frostbite. Amid this, Jamsenpa made a non-stop push from camp 2 to South Col on May 20 before making the last push for the summit and climbing the summit at 7.45 am on May 21 and achieving the record of becoming the fastest woman to do a double summit of Mt Everest with a timing of 118 hours and 15 minutes.
“A lot of climbers had to return from Balcony as they were suffering from frostbite and we saw four climbers dying in two days. Post the South Summit, the hardest part was Hillary Step, which was a bit altered post the 2015 earthquake and a lot of climbers bypassing the step. In such a rush, it makes it risky and untrained climbers were making it difficult by landing feet with force. With an 8,000 feet drop on one side and 11,000 feet drop on the second side, it is not one of the comfortable places on the earth,” recalls Jamsenpa, who was also conferred the Tenzin Norgay National Adventure Award in 2017.
With the summit happening, the first thing Jamsenpa would do was to see the picture of Dalai Lama and kiss her sacred bracelet. With her too suffering from face burn, she would call the sherpas at base camp to let them know about the summit and pray for their successful descent.
While Lhakpa Sherpa of Nepal holds the record for most number of climbs by a woman mountaineer with nine climbs, Jamsenpa believes that if it’s in her destiny, she can push for the record.
While her daughters Passang Droma and Tenzing Nyiddon have grown up, Jamsenpa also has a message to all the women in the country. “The first thing to believe is not to think about gender and differentiate any task based on gender. The most important thing which made my climbs possible was mental strength. The day I returned to my home in 2017 after the successful climbs, my younger daughter said, “Mom, you have done us proud and the whole country proud,” That remains my biggest reward,” says Jamsenpa.
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