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I scaled Everest to debunk every single myth around veganism

Kuntal Joisher

Kuntal-Joisher

Mountaineers as superheroes

Actually in Nepal and India, mountaineers are heroes. Tenzing Norgay Sherpa is the hero in our region because he was the first person to summit Everest. While growing up, I was highly influenced by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. But frankly the first seeds of the passion to summit Everest were sown in me in 1997 when I saw a PBS documentary called “Nova Everest”.   I watched Khumbu Icefall, Lhotse Face and Hillary Step. I went through the motions in my life after that but Everest was lodged in my subconscious.

Shimla experience

Out of the blue my wife and I decided to go to the Himalayas for a vacation. She had never seen snow in her life. The sole goal of the trip was to see snow. We went to Shimla (Himachal Pradesh, India) on February. One of our friends suggested us to go to a peak. He even said that we could drive to the summit. Halfway to the summit our driver told us that we could go out of the vehicle and play with the snow. We were overjoyed. I asked my wife to venture a little further and after four hours we were on top of the peak. For my wife nothing changed. She was miserable and wanted to go home as soon as possible. But for me it was dramatic revelation in the sense that I really felt alive for the first time when I was on the top of that peak.  I was able to hear my own heartbeat. I was blown away by the experience. I thought this is the feeling I want to chase a significant portion of my life. I am a passionate guy and wanted to chase my dreams.

I was at the peak of my career when we went to Shimla. I called my boss and said that I have to do this a lot more often. I knew mountains were my calling. I started going to the mountains quite a lot. Then I decided to go the Everest Base Camp. We went to Pumori Base Camp. Right in front of Everest, Pumori offers a spectacular view of Everest. You can’t get the similar view from anywhere else. I came out of my camp to see the last rays of the sun on Everest which is burning golden. Then and there I decided I had to climb Everest.

Quit the job

Then I rang my boss and said that I’m more dedicated to Everest than to running a company. I resigned from the company and took up the role of a consultant. My company was very supportive of me. I had worked for my boss for nine years and he knew my passion about things. I had done a lot of treks but there was no set goal. And then I started to train for Everest. I was methodical about the climb. I wanted to go through the process. People said that you can allot two years for it. But I wanted to take five years for the preparation.

Kuntal

Trained in Chile

Mountain climbing requires a lot of skill sets. I signed up for a mountaineering course in Chile. Chile has the two largest icecaps in the world. The course was on the northern icecap where we would learn skills to become a self-sufficient mountaineer. You see a whole bunch of people in the Everest with no skills. They are just fit and know basic stuff which is good enough only if things go right. I trained to rescue myself. I learned what to do on a mountain terrain. It was a 40 day intense course where they taught everything required to survive in the mountain. I was confident to scale a mountain and then signed for some expeditions. Initial expeditions were unsuccessful. But I quickly realised that not getting to summit is not a failure. You are going to learn more if you don’t get to the summit. I got to know my shortcomings and I improved on them. I did a lot of expeditions in Indian and Nepali Himalayas.

Attempt at Everest

In mid-2013 I told my boss that in 2014 I was really attempting the Everest summit. I was at the end of five years and I felt I was ready and fit. My boss gave a pleasant surprise to me by saying that the company will sponsor my whole expedition, additional training and buy gears. Then I focused on my physical training but I wanted to go to the next level.

On top of the world

I reached the south summit. My body was telling me to quit the expedition but I kept going. Suddenly there was an adrenaline rush in my body. All of a sudden I started to cry. I was so hammered in the last three years of my life. When I saw the summit I had a breakdown. Last 20 meters I went crying all the way. I had to take a picture of mine without goggles and oxygen mask as stipulated by Nepal government. If I kept crying and tears kept rolling they would freeze in a few seconds and temporarily blind me. So I stopped crying.

Then I planted two flags on the summit: Callfire (which had sponsored me in 2014) flag and Vegan flag. Veganism has defined my life for a significant portion of life. I’ve been a vegan for the last 14 years. I was important for me to send a message across the world that vegans can do it. I wanted to debunk every single myth around veganism. After taking picture with bare face and planting flag on the summit I made a phone call home. I told my wife and mother about my success. My father has been a patient of dementia for the last 14 years and we can’t communicate with him. I thought that news of my success would bring a smile on his face.

I saw the whole world under my feet. But to be frank I could not savour the moment as much as I should have because there were many things to do. But I don’t regret it.

The next step

Most people think that Everest is the biggest prize in mountaineering. It is the tallest mountain, all right, but there are several other mountains that are extremely beautiful and a lot more challenging than Everest. I want to climb them. Even while climbing Everest for the third time, I knew that this was my last attempt and I would not spend any more time and money on Everest. I was third time lucky. I had sacrificed my career and my personal life for Everest and ultimately everything paid off. I will keep climbing but not in this frequency.

Kuntal

Adopting veganism

I belong to a Hindu vegetarian family. My family told me not to eat eggs but they were fine with cakes that contain eggs. In the US I had a roommate who was ‘ethical vegetarian’, not a vegan. He pointed out discrepancies of vegetarianism and sent me links about dairy industry and egg industry. Then I started doing research on it and naturally stumbled into veganism. It sounded logical to me. At this point there is no difference between a piece of meat and a glass of milk for me. The amount of cruelty involved in killing a cow is exactly the same in milking. Actually milk entails more cruelty. You torture the cow year in and year out by milking it. You deprive calf of its natural right. I realised that to be in peace with myself, I have to go vegan. I looked at my household items, saw that they were not vegan and then donated everything. The first six months were difficult. But eventually I figured out ways to get vegan foods. In December 2002 I became vegan.

Daily food routine

I focus on eating a lot of vegetables. Vegetables, lentils, fruits, whole grains and nuts will give you enough nutrition. I met a lady named Lindsey. She runs a blog called happyhervibore.com. She suggested me to take a lot of vegetables and less oil in everything. Healthy and clean vegan diet helps me recover a lot faster after rigorous training and gives me confidence to push myself on the mountain.

Vegan diet in Everest

I prepared a detailed food plan. I asked the head cook in my expedition group to remove a bowl of porridge for me before putting milk powder on it to serve others. I didn’t pressure anyone to do anything extra for me. Just don’t put milk items on my diet and I am fine with it. Spinach and sesame seeds are good sources of calcium, alternative to milk items. You have to eat healthy foods to stay fit. Gorging vegan junk foods will not do.

Wrong analogy

A vegan lady died in the Everest and people linked her death with being veganism. This is wrong analogy. That lady died because of altitude sickness and a meat-eating climber too died the same day. More than 300 people have died in Everest and all of them were meat-eaters. No one talks about them. Each person has different reasons for altitude sickness and veganism has nothing to do with it. I am a prime example of a vegan successfully scaling the highest mountain in the world.

(Based on the conversation Bindesh Dahal for Lokaantar had with Kuntal Joisher, a vegan climber who scaled Mount Everest this season)

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