The man who put Manipal on top of the world5 min read
Satyarup Siddhanta, an alumnus of Sikkim Manipal University and a member of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, recently achieved the remarkable feat of scaling the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest.
On his sixth major mountaneering venture, he created history when he waved the Manipal colours at the summit of Mt Everest. He had set a benchmark by becoming the fastest Indian to make an unguided ascent of Mount Denali, the highest Mountain in North America. There was a time when running hundred metres would leave him gasping but today he is one of less than 5000 people in history to have scaled Mt Everest.
In an interview with The Manipal Journal, he reveals his passion for mountaineering, his most adventurous experiences and his interest in exploring what nature has to offer .
What motivated you to make the challenging climb of Mount Everest?
Back in December 2010, I had gone for a trek to Everest base camp and was amazed by the magnificence of the mountain. While returning from Nepal I bought two books – ‘Into Thin Air’ by John Krauker, which speaks of the 1996 disaster at Everest and ‘Paths of Glory’ by Jeffrey Archer, the story of a famous mountaineer, George Mallory. These books were inspiring and insightful. Later, I enrolled myself in a mountaineering course in 2011 and then trained in climbing mountains. One by one, I climbed the highest mountains of 5 continents and finally on 21st May early morning, I climbed the highest mountain in Asia and world, Mount Everest. I have now climbed the highest peaks of six continents, and I am left with one more to go, Mount Vinson Massif of Antarctica.
When it comes to climbs of different heights, what type of group would you choose?
We go in big groups of 10-12 people for comparatively easier climbs. This allows the group to be versatile with different age groups and with different level of experiences. People do get an opportunity to learn from each other. For difficult mountains, smaller groups are preferred and team bonding is very important. We go with people whom we have climbed with before such that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses prior to the expedition.
During your climbs of each of the six peaks, have you noticed any interesting feature in any particular peak?
Today, popular peaks have maintained a good infrastructure to ensure safety. This makes such peaks more accessible. For peaks like Mount Denali or Mount McKinley, the profiles of mountaineers are scrutinized before giving them the permit to climb. I believe this measure can prevent accidents in the face of inexperience.
Mount Everest to me was dangerous but Mount Denali was tougher. Starting from pulling sleds with heavy weights to melting snow for cooking and drinking, mountaineering agencies charge around four to six lakhs for Mount Denali. We decided to cut down on the cost and do all of it on our own there. In Mount Everest, it is quite convenient and cost effective when all of these things are taken care of by agencies and Sherpas. Every major peak has some good measures to offer.
Do you believe that mountaineering can be a profession? If so, how would you recommend on going about it?
Yes, mountaineering can be a full time profession and can fetch money equivalent to a white collared job. In fact, it is a good sector for entrepreneurship. In India, the most common way to go about it is opening a trekking and mountaineering agency. Core mountaineering related profession like being mountain guide, however needs more training and accolades apart from some life-saving skills.
Although adventurous and challenging, mountaineering can sometimes be risky too. Have you personally faced any such incidents in all your years of mountaineering?
I fell down in a crevasse this time enroute Camp 2 from Camp 1 of Mt Everest. The snow bridge breaks and suddenly I find myself hanging on a rope with just a carabineer. I am glad that my safety was tied to the fixed rope; hence I didn’t fall beyond 6 ft. I got goose bumps when I looked down to see where I would have landed had the safety rope was not tied. I was scared but in that moment I realized that life is short and we must enjoy every moment. I absorbed the beauty of the blue ice and the silence down there. It was a different kind of feeling.
Later I was rescued by my team members. Also when I was going to camp 3 at 7100m, just before the camp I saw a Sherpa falling to his death. He continued to slide and went past our rope. I was in trauma for few hours, whenever I was closing my eyes, I could see him falling. It takes a lot of mental strength to face such things and come out of it. That incident made me more determined and cautious.
Every Mountaineer’s dream is to reach the Everest. Now that you are finally a one in the league, how does it feel?
When I look back I see a huge struggle. Back in 2015, it was a challenge to arrange for the money and furthermore when we were set to begin, the earthquake hit Nepal. About 22 people had also died in the Everest base camp because of an avalanche caused by the earthquake. We marginally escaped death, although all the money we paid for the permit had gone down the drain. We again planned for it this year and arranged last moment funds from family and friends. Overcoming hardships and challenges, escaping death narrowly, having sleepless nights, and then reaching the summit, you realize it is once in a lifetime type of an experience, for we have not conquered the Everest but ourselves.
Satyarup Siddhanta is now faced with his latest obstacle- Mount Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
Edited by Anirban Paul