From becoming the first Indian to successfully climbing the highest volcanoes of each of the 7 Continents, winning the ‘Explorer’s Grand Slam’ to discussing the real challenges of mountaineering as an adventure sport, India’s ace mountaineer Satyarup Siddhanta gives us an insight into his world of dreams. Excerpts:
Q: In your early days you were a software engineer but you always had a passion for climbing mountains. Your initial days must have been very challenging as you had to work different shifts in two different companies to arrange funds for your mountaineering. How do you gauge these crucial junctures in your life?
A: Initially, it was very tough. Mountaineering is an interesting sport but it requires a lot of money as well. 2015 was a challenging year. Back then, I was working with 2 companies as a consultant from 10 am-1 pm in one and from 2 pm-10:30 pm in another. I had a tough time arranging the funds. Approaching various sources and managing work was difficult but I somehow managed to save up for my journey to the Everest. However, the unfortunate Nepal earthquake that year devastated the entire course and the trip had to be cancelled. However, I made up my mind to cover all the 7 summits that year and I achieved it, followed by Antarctica and the South Pole. My friends had arranged for a lot of money through crowdfunding and that was how I could finish the summits and the highest peak “SALADO”. I was determined to cover the 7 volcanic peaks which would take me closer to the world record as well. I finished all the 7 volcanic peaks, the highest mountains of the 7 Continents and the highest volcanoes of the 7 Continents. Reaching the top was indeed a big achievement. Very soon, I became the youngest one to climb all the highest peaks and volcanoes. After I completed my 2019 journey to the North Pole, I bagged the title of the ‘Explorer’s Grand Slam’. I was the first one from India to reach Mount Wilhelm, Mount Sidley and Mount Kīlauea.
The junctures were crucial but I have taken each one as a challenge and tried to come out of it as a winner.
Q: You are an ace mountaineer with acute asthma who has already made it to the top of 7 summits and 7 volcanic summits. Now, when you look back, how do you see your journey and how do you see the future of this profession?
A: At the age of 2, being diagnosed with acute asthma was something any child would not desire. My life too was not very easy and perfect. At the age of 25, the pictures of hills allured me and brought back the most cherished memories of my childhood days. The excitement and thrust set in and started enthralling me gradually. Reaching the top of the first peak was indeed an achievement. Then, I went to the Western Ghats and took my first big leap to one of the highest peaks — Mount Everest base camp. I promised myself that I would come back to Mount Everest and joining the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling in 2011 broadened my horizons. Every expedition is expensive, but outside India, climbing mountains requires a huge amount of money.
During my research on Mount Kilimanjaro, I got to know about the 7 summits. The trip to Kilimanjaro was memorable as I had led a team of 10. I have recently started my own company under the name of Winners and Achievers, to promote adventure tourism and to bring back people’s interest in mountaineering. I try to put the focus on the elite. I send out invites to join the training leadership and impart life skill development through my classes. Several entrepreneurs are taken to the base camp to give them a glimpse of what mountaineering is and to break the myths. According to me, it is indeed a life-changing experience.
Q: Mountaineering is a profession that entails a lot of risks and poses severe threats and challenges. Do you carry any specialised infrastructure with yourself to safeguard yourself against those situations?
A: Mountains can be very dangerous just like driving or any other thing. What is important is to identify the risks and analyse them and try to mitigate them so that you can reduce the chances of accidents and prevent any untoward incident. The truth is, every death can be prevented in the mountains. What is important is to identify the risks and analyse them to reduce the risk and a bit of calculation that helps you to be safe.
Certain precautions have to be kept in mind especially when we are travelling to the top. I usually have my helicopter insurance for any situation where I am stuck and need emergency assistance and I can be air-lifted. By the Delon satellite-based device, my parents can track my live location and can send me messages and communicate with me whenever necessary. They can see my location on their screen. It helps me and my close ones to stay in touch with each other. The technological advancement has indeed made the sport more popular and gradually it is becoming people-friendly too. These types of infrastructural technology need to be developed more to make this sport safer and invite more people.
Q: There have been certain guidelines to ensure the safety of mountaineers and each one of them has to fulfil the criteria to qualify for financial or any other kind of help from the state, a move that is aimed at reducing the number of accidents. How do you feel it has been successful in the journey of a mountaineer?
A: One piece of advice to all the new mountaineers would be to be financially stable before taking up mountaineering. It can be a very exciting and many find it to be very alluring but it requires a lot of money.
Q: Many budding mountaineers are following your footsteps to achieve new heights. Awareness and knowledge sharing is very important to inspire people. Digitisation has, of course, made everything easier and accessible. How do you plan to reach out to the new generation mountaineers and inspire them?
A: It is a myth that overnight people dream and go to the Everest. An expedition to the mountains is a difficult task. A lot of planning, determination and training has to be imparted and one needs to be confident to achieve it. One needs to identify his/her own skills, talent and go ahead with it. The thirst for crossing peak after peak should be a passion and madness. Many a time, I have been invited to give speeches. That is primarily how I try to reach out to people. Mountaineering is not just about climbing but it’s much more than that. It is also about learning self-development throughout the entire course.
Q: Global warming is having a tremendous impact on the climate and is largely affecting mountain peaks and glaciers. Certain routes are getting affected and have been experiencing dramatic changes. Do you think this will pose a threat and a serious challenge to all the budding mountaineers? What is the solution to this?
A: Global warming is a serious concern, especially in the mountains. It is a fact that serious weather conditions can make journeys difficult and tedious. A behavioural change is important from our side. We have to be more cautious and try our best to stop polluting the mountains. Plastic waste creates a lot of pollution and that has to stop.
Q: At 35, you have achieved your moment of glory after reaching Mt. Sidley in Antarctica and proudly bagged the Guinness Book of World Records. How was your experience?
A: This was something which I had never thought of achieving. Primarily because in a world which is mostly dominated by cricket and football, I have excelled in the field of mountaineering which is not very usual. But this has been my passion and I have been fully devoted to this. This is probably the only key to my success which has helped me to go further. Once I had established a strong ground underneath my feet, I started to get a lot of scholarships which made my expeditions easier. This has definitely helped me to succeed and get more scholarships for future expeditions. Of course, winning the title has given me more confidence. It still is a matter of huge pride to me to reach the top of any peak and to flutter our national flag. It fills me with tremendous joy and happiness.
Q: Mountaineers from West Bengal attempted the maximum number of peaks in the Himalayas during 2014. Mountaineering as a sport is a catchy profession. Do the youth still connect it as a luxury or as a dream. Are the numbers increasing or decreasing?
A: The scenario is changing and gradually a lot of people are interested to pick mountaineering as a sport. I have seen a lot of people from Bengal getting very interested and involved in the sport. For me, however, mountaineering was never a luxury but more of a passion and dream. Every journey to the top is like a personal journey and helps in self-development too. In mountaineering, you never compete with others but you compete with yourself. It is satisfying to see more and more children coming in. If people can embrace it and take it up passionately, then the number of mountaineers will go on increasing on a large scale.
Q: What is that one experience that shook you from within?
A: While I was climbing the Pico de Orizaba, the highest volcanic peak in Mexico, we got hit by a huge rock. I and my friend were injured badly. I was already anticipating my biggest fear that what if my leg was broken and I would not be able to complete my next expedition. Fortunately, my leg was movable. I saw 1 sherpa die right in front of me at that very moment. On reaching the base camp I took my injured friend for medical assistance. A lot of things happen during your journey to the top. Some are tragic and painful. But one has to be mentally and physically very strong to overcome all the hurdles and make calculations in such a way so that any drastic mistake or deadly step can be avoided. My journey to the highest peak of Papua New Guinea will always be the most memorable one. We had to navigate through the insect-infested dense forests where cannibals were also present posing a huge challenge for us that could have proved fatal. It was a constant struggle for existence that we had to endure. It was a dangerous journey and that makes it all the more special.