Guest column: A mountaineer on the challenges of lockdown
In 2019, when I failed at my attempt at climbing Annapurna, the world’s 10th highest peak, I had decided that I’d be back to scale it the next year. 2020 was my year of big plans; it marked 10 years of my being a mountaineer, so I wanted it to be a culmination of the 12 successful expeditions above 8,000 metres I had done over the past decade. And in these 10 years, I had seen myself evolve from the 16-year-old who had stood on top of Everest, understanding finally that the world was limitless.
So in early March, when a certain virus began infecting the world, a lockdown was announced, climbing stopped and I was stuck.
I had put in a lot towards my expedition, not just financially, but physically, mentally and emotionally. I had been training every day for six to seven months. But mountains have taught me patience. Mountaineers believe that the mountains decide who will go up and down, so I just considered this year as something the mountains had decided for me.
I’ve been through such blows earlier. In 2013, I started climbing Mount Makalu, but was only able to summit it in 2016 after four attempts. Every year, I thought I had prepared my best, but the mountain would signal that I wasn’t ready for it yet.
“The moment when you are the most scared is when you’re the most fully alive” —Arjun Vajpai
Before the lockdown came into effect, I was in Noida, running my business and training in the city, cycling for 60kms every day and then hitting the gym. During the lockdown, my schedule had to be completely revamped; I worked my upper body with bars and plates and for my lower body, mounted my cycle on a stand for elevation. As soon as I could, though, I moved to my parents’ home in Uttarakhand.
Now close to the mountains, I intensified my training with renewed vigour and devoted time to retrospection. Doing 8,000m expeditions is a pretty expensive proposition. Each expedition costs about ₹40-50 lakh and not each of them is successful.
I’ve faced this monetary issues since my first climb, which was crowdfunded even before crowdfunding became cool. But I climb for the feeling that I get from within... I believe that the moment when you are the most scared is when you’re the most fully alive. Now I look forward to 2021, when I’ll attempt to summit Annapurna again, this time without oxygen and Sherpas. I want to be true to my mountains.
As told to Shruti Nair
Arjun Vajpai is a mountaineer and the youngest Indian in 2010 to have scaled Mt Everest
From HT Brunch, January 17, 2021