‘The way to Everest is not a Yellow Brick Road.’ American writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer’s words ring true even today. He is the author of the immensely popular and insightful book, Into Thin Air, which chronicled his personal experience on the mountain that has been a symbol of resilience and strength for mountaineers worldwide. Climbing Mt Everest is an arduous task; each year hundreds prepare to ascend it, hoping to add their names to the glorious list that began with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful ascent of the mountain in 1953.
For Prakriti Varshney, the dream to climb Mt Everest took shape over a decade ago, when she first learnt of its existence. As a 15-year-old, she had chalked out her plans for her ascent but education took priority and her plans were put on the backburner. Until 12th May, 2022, when Varshney, now 26, finally stood on the summit of the tallest mountain in the world.
“For as long as I remember, I had wanted to pursue mountaineering. I trained, climbing various peaks in India and then set my eyes on Mt Everest. But lack of funds was the biggest roadblock. It was in 2021 that I decided to finally make my way to Mt Everest, the pinnacle of endurance for all mountain climbers,” she shares. Back in November, Varshney became the second Indian woman to climb Mount Ama Dablam, believed to be one of the most challenging peaks in the world. Armed with self-belief, she looked towards Mt Everest, and started raising funds to make her expedition possible.
Varshney started training for Everest in December, 2021; she had the help of a coach for strength workout and yoga while supportive friends and family aided her in cycling and running. It took four months of endurance, stamina and strength training for her to be ready to face her biggest challenge. She managed to raise 10 lakhs and also received funding from an airline in the form of return tickets from Nepal.
Prakriti, who has a degree in fashion designing and currently resides in Manali, made her way to Everest Base Camp in April, from which paced rotations through lower camps took her to the peak on 12th May. While climbing Mt Everest was a personal goal, Varshney could not have done it without Mingma Dorje, her sherpa and guide in her journey. Dorje has climbed Everest 10 times, and his support ensured the young content creator’s successful endeavour.
“At 7100m, my oxygen mask broke down. I was told it would be hard to continue the expedition without supplemental oxygen and I was petrified of having to turn back when the peak was almost within my grasp. But then Mingma Dorje Dai gave me his mask to use for the remainder of the ascent; his selflessness saved my expedition,” Varshney recalls fondly.
A Greater Purpose
The final ascent to Everest is perilous; physical exertion from the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes, spending weeks acclimatising and risk of avalanches. While the view from the tallest peak of the world is sure to be dazzling, Varshney had another reason to pursue this deadly expedition. As a practising Vegan for almost the better part of a decade, she wanted to break the myth around veganism and show the world that following this lifestyle does not devoid one of strength and endurance, even in the face of Mt Everest.
With her vegan mittens clutching the Indian flag with pride, Varshney’s picture from the top of the Everest is sure to fill one with pride. She now plans to ascend another eight thousander, but has set a greater target for herself. She wants to do it sans supplemental oxygen. When asked if she has any advice for those who wish to summit Everest, she quips, “Descent is as important as ascent. Many people fail to save their energy for the descent. While going up is surely tough, you have to come down too. A lot of people tend to forget that. And more importantly, do not underestimate Mt Everest.”