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'I thought my end was near'

On May 23, Arjun Vajpayee became the youngest Indian to scale Mt Everest. In a freewheeling chat with the Hindustan Times, the 16-year-old spoke about the experience and more.

other Updated: May 27, 2010 00:40 IST

On May 23, Arjun Vajpayee became the youngest Indian to scale Mt Everest. In a freewheeling chat with the Hindustan Times, the 16-year-old spoke about the experience and more.

You are the youngest Indian to scale Mount Everest. How does it feel?
I always dreamt of making it to the Everest, so here I am.

What made you take to mountaineering?
I was 10 when I had gone to my grandmother’s for a vacation. Some friends asked me to join them on a Sahyadri trek (in Pune). It lasted for three days and that’s how I developed a liking for the sport.

When did the idea of climbing the Everest hit you?
After completing the basic and advanced courses from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (Darjeeling), I scaled the India Garhwal Himalayas DKD2 (19,000 ft) in 2009 and the Island Peaks (21,000 ft) in Nepal this year. My instructors who motivated me to scale the Everest.

As a young boy, what were the difficulties you faced during the expedition?
Breathing was a major issue. The lung capacity of a youngster is less compared to an adult’s. Initially, I would pant after a few steps but the acclimatisation course helped me survive.
The problems one faces at high altitudes magnify for a young boy. Among them were loss of appetite, tough living conditions and survival, which was quite a task.

How difficult was it to stay sane?
I played around with the mind. During the last summit push, I was short on oxygen. So, I kept talking to myself all the way up.

Tell us about the toughest part of the expedition?
It has to be the steep ice wall that stands between Camp II and Camp III. We were on a descent when we came up against the ice wall. I held on to the ascending rope instead of the descending one and got stuck in a crevasse. I wasn’t able to see anything below my leg. I thought end was near when a sherpa came to my rescue from nowhere.

The best part…
The feeling after I dodged the Khumbu Ice Fall successfully. Khumbu is a very tricky glacier that awaits you right after Base Camp. Sometimes, the ice breaks and starts moving. It puts your mountaineering skills to test. I think I did well there.

Any lessons learnt?
Mountaineering teaches you a lot of things. Among them is how to take failure in your stride. It holds a mirror in front of you and tells you how to react in the face of death.

What's the most important thing to remember while climbing mountains?
Apart from the technicalities, members should back themselves because when you are up against nature, it's not about the individual anymore.