The Weekend Leader - Unshaken but stirred

India’s youngest Everest climber will not look back even if the earth shakes

Sudheshna Sarkar   |   Kathmandu


Vol 2 | Issue 38

The major temblor that unleashed death and devastation in northeastern India and affected parts of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan Sunday, killing over 80 people in the region, has failed to dampen the spirits of India's youngest Everest hero, Arjun Vajpai.

The 18-year-old, who last year became the youngest Indian climber to climb Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world (8,848m), is back in Nepal's Himalayas with a new mission: to conquer Mt Manaslu, the eight highest peak (8,163m).

Eyes on summit: Mt Manaslu that Arjun is attempting to conquer is more dangerous to ascend than Everest and has already claimed 53 lives (Photo: IANS)

Meaning the Mountain of Spirit, Mt Manaslu, despite its lesser height, is more dangerous to ascend than Mt Everest and has already claimed 53 lives, making it the fourth riskiest high mountain after Annapurna, Nanga Parbat and K2.

This is Arjun's first bid to take a calculated risk to toughen up for the other riskier mountains as he continues with his quest to climb all the eight tallest mountains in the world and become the first Indian to do so.

Though summer is regarded as the best time for attempting the summits with the risk of avalanches and heavy snowfall low, the Noida teen was busy in May adding Mt Lhotse, the fourth highest peak (8516m), to his victories.

The Manaslu expedition has already been clouded by heavy rainfall in Nepal, increasing the risk of landslides.

Besides that, on Sunday, Arjun experienced a new danger in his two-year-old climbing career with an earthquake of the magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale rattling Nepal.

He was inside a "lodge" - the traditional hotels run by locals from their own houses for trekkers and climbers in the mountains - when the shaking started around 6.25 p.m. Sunday.

"Everything shook and there was also a kind of screeching sound," Arjun told his family. "All of us ran out of the lodge into the road, praying that it would not start a landslide or avalanche."

Up at 3,780m in the Samagaon village, the quake magnified risks. The "road" where villagers sought shelter is a narrow strip of land flanked on one side by the mighty Himalayas and on the other a deep vertical drop.

To the intense relief of the little group of people herding together for comfort, the surrounding rocks stayed put in place and the ground under their feet did not open up.

"I am rather relieved that the quake happened here and not next week when we would be higher up," Arjun said. "At that height, there would be a greater chance of avalanches."

On Wednesday, after having offered prayers, Arjun and his Sherpa guides set off for the base camp of Mt Manaslu, located at 4,700m.

The weather gods however have been frowning and the mountains have been receiving fresh snowfall, making the climb difficult.

The initial climbing plan sought to summit the mountain by Oct 17. However, after the quake, the expedition decided to stay in Samagaon for two extra days to wait for the aftershocks to subside.

The main tremor Sunday was followed by 130 aftershocks within 24 hours and seismologists said they could continue for over a month.

Supported by the Essar Foundation, Arjun's Manaslu climb is also intended to pave the way for fresh expeditions to the Poles in winter. - IANS

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