Being a software engineer by profession, how did you decide that you want to start climbing in the first place? Who inspired you to do this sport?
I never chose this adventure sport. I became an accidental mountaineer. Way back in 2008, while I was in my seventh year fighting to cure my childhood asthma, my team leader in office- Prem showed me some pictures of a trek, which were not of Himalayas, Andes or Alps, but of a small hill called Parvathamalai in Tamil Nadu. I was so much fascinated with the adventure trail that I lost sleep on that and asked him if I could do it. He told me that if he can do it then anyone can, unknown about my conditions. I mastered all my courage and secretly bought a new inhaler and went for that trek making him as the leader of the ten member team. After a long day finally when I reached the top, I couldn’t believe it. The view was exhilarating and the moment was magical and at this moment I discovered that I didn’t had to use my inhaler for once. It was the most liberating feeling I could ever experience. That day I climbed Mount Everest. There was no looking back and series of events led to where I am today.
We’ve read that you were an asthmatic patient earlier, despite that, you chose to fight your fears. From where did you get the motivation?
It was a desperation that came in when in 2001 I had an attack while I was in my college campus at Manipal Institute of Technology, Sikkim. I reached out for my inhaler only to find that I left the inhaler at the hostel room and the next ten minutes saw me gasping for air lying on the road. For a moment I thought I will die. Somehow, I survived that attack. I sat there dejected, frustrated, sad and helpless. I realised how much dependent I was getting on this inhaler and badly wanted to break free from this dependency and finally decided to fight it out. The next seven years I started painful conditioning of my body with the strong hope to get freedom from asthma. That very thought of freedom was my motivation.
What do you like the most – climbing a mountain or a volcano? How do they differ in your experience?
I love adventure as a whole. Climbing volcanoes were special because I got a scientific inclination towards understanding the rocks, the geology and environment. That opened a new dimension to me and a wider vision. A volcano has got a gradual inclination and is conical shaped. The route gets tricky because of dangers of rockfall and also the snow layer on the top becomes unstable because of underlying granular boulders and stone chips. The volcanoes can be super cold and may have crevasses too like that of other mountains and may have crazy exposure.
What is your fitness and nutrition regime before and during the trip?
Nutrition and fitness goes hand-in-hand. Depending on the mountain, my practice varies. For a serious mountain I start practicing three months before the expedition whereas for not so serious ones, I practice one month before the expedition. The fitness regime includes some weight training, endurance training and cardio. Running, cycling, swimming, climbing stairs, push ups, squats, burpees and so on. I take food with high protein content and lots of green vegetables and fruits. During the expedition I take light weight dehydrated food rich in carbohydrates, high protein food, nuts and chocolates.
Which was your most memorable climbing trip and why?
The expedition to the highest mountain of North America – Mt Denali situated at Alaska, was my most memorable trip. The learning curve in that mountain was highly exponential. We couldn’t afford a guided expedition there and hence, me along with four friends from different countries decided to go there unguided and unsupported. It was tough and we had close calls multiple times. Tents broke, went under five feet of snow, faced blizzard, and so many things happened. We completed the climb within seven days which became the fastest unguided Indian climb at that time. We had to do everything by ourselves and the mountains taught me lessons in a hard way.
Have you had any discouragements? How did you deal with them?
The biggest discouragement I faced was in 2015 when after much struggle I managed to arrange funds for my Everest expedition, for which I even left my regular job according to the organisation policies. Just as we were reaching the base camp, there was this infamous earthquake in Nepal and more than ten thousand people died in that disaster unfortunately. A big avalanche hit the base camp and twenty one people died there. We lost USD 30,000 in a minute as our expedition was cancelled. My dreams were shattered. Maybe I was a bit insensitive to the situation and was still trying to figure out if there was any way to climb. I suddenly came across a book lying there in the debris titled “Dead or Alive”. I was shocked and started wondering if the person who was reading the book was dead or still alive. And I got this realisation that staying alive was the greatest gift and I can always come back to the mountain later only if I am alive. And on May 21, 2016 I scaled Everest.
How has this new achievement of becoming the youngest man in the world to climb seven mountains and volcanoes changed your life?
The feeling is great and my hopes to get sponsorship have got strengthened and I know my dream of making my country proud again will soon come true.
What will be your next challenge after this?
I get scared every time I go to Antarctica as dreams grow exponentially. My immediate challenge is to go for north pole last degree skiing expedition this April. Biggest challenge is to mobilize EUR 46,000 within 1.5 months. That will be yet another world record.