We’ve often heard that age is just a number, but entrepreneur Aditya Gupta proved it to us. At the age of 50, he scaled Mt. Everest, the highest mountain peak in the world. Naturally, we were compelled to talk to this super-fit man and find out more about his expeditions. Read on to know his story! By Kumar Shree
1. When did you take your first mountain expedition? Which peak was it, and how old were you at the time?
It was back in 1987; I was a college student. I must have been an 18-year-old when I visited the Pindari Glacier. It was my first expedition, and since then I took a liking to adventurous trips.
2. Did you undertake any course or training in mountaineering?
During my college days at IIT Roorkee, I joined a mountaineering club named ‘Himalayan Explorer Club’ and began enjoying trekking. In 1991, I did a course in mountaineering and since then going on serious expeditions became a way of life for me.
3. How many attempts did you make before you finally conquered the Everest?
In 2008-09, during my Brahmaputra rafting expedition, my friends prodded me to try climbing the Everest. I thought to myself, ‘why not?’ In 2013, I saw the Everest for the first time on the Island Peak Expedition. In 2014, I attempted to scale it for the first time, but due to a major avalanche, I had to return. I had almost given up on this dream. However, five years later, I realised that I would be turning 50 and won’t be getting any younger, and therefore, I gave it another shot.
4. What inspired you to take on the Everest?
Every mountaineer is charmed by the mighty Everest and at some point, we all have to believe that we can climb it. It is the final frontier of this hobby. I gave it a serious thought at the age of 39-40, and after five years of planning and preparation I made my first attempt.
5. Which other peaks have you climbed before climbing the Everest?
Every adventure prepares you for the next, because it is about dealing with risks and keeping your nerve while also ensuring physical and mental challenges. The Mamostong Kangri IInd (7650 m) expedition of 2011 was my longest and hardest. But, even small ones like Stok Kangri (6150 m 2016) and Kilimanjaro — which I did twice in 2007 and 2015 — were useful. My previous Everest attempt in 2014, of course, made me quite familiar with the atmosphere of the base camp and the challenges of this summit expedition.
6. Recently, the news of bodies being found at the mountain was doing the rounds, and the news of a human jam of sorts on the mountain also kept recurring. What is your take on this?
Deaths on Everest are a reality and one has to take it in his/her stride. It is well known and expected that one would cross dead bodies both old and new. Dead bodies have to be left there for some time before arrangements to move them out can be made. That’s a complex and expensive operation. It did not affect my morale as these things are anticipated and one has to focus totally on the mission with very little scope to think about other things.
Now coming to the traffic on Everest part, it slows down the movement. Given the tightness of the safe paths, overtaking a slow climber is usually not possible. There is just one rope. So people need to wait if a slow climber is in front of them. Sometimes you could be standing for a long time. But since the oxygen is running constantly, one can run short of it at any time. And, that can cause some obvious complications.
I am not in favour of ‘overcrowding’ but there has to be a healthy number of climbers. Excess of anything is bad, but when you have a decent number of climbers, you get better facilities and the path on the climb gets clearer. It’s extremely tough to walk on smooth ice. If there are footsteps, you get a better foothold. However, one needs to understand you can’t lower the number unless there is a government rule. There is only one Everest in the world with thousands of people wanting to climb it and hundreds of agencies facilitating this within a small climate window.
7. What factors should one keep in mind before going on an Everest expedition?
Mountaineering is about enjoying nature while accepting challenges on physical endurance and mental toughness. One has to perform better and better as the situation keeps getting harder and harder. Be very optimistic and determined, but also be flexible about turning back whenever necessary. We have to be respectfully aware of the fact that the mountain is way more powerful than us, and we cannot be arrogant when challenged by nature. There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity.
From what I saw and felt during the expedition, the learnings and lessons can be summarised in the following five points:
1. If you prepare well and are passionate enough, only then you can perform well.
2. The power of ‘focus’ is extraordinary. Once you set your eyes on the goal, you have to cut out all the noise and stay on your track.
3. Take one step at a time. We can go anywhere in life if we persevere.
4. The scale need not scare you. Never be daunted by the size of your mission. Just believe that you can do it.
5. Expect the unexpected. Accidents will happen. Sometimes equipment will fail, the weather will worsen, and tragedies will take place. But once you reach the summit, nothing else will matter.
Basically, there are no shortcuts. Everest is a test of your body, mind, and spirit. So, prepare your mind for the worst and hope for the best.
8. How did you prepare your body for winning the highest summit?
There are tons of videos out there to give you an idea of what you are getting into. Climbing Mt. Everest requires fitness, both mental and physical. You can’t train yourself mentally as it depends more on the kind of person you have been all your life, and how you have always reacted to situations. However, physically, you need to prepare your body. I trained for nine months, in which I increased my cardio capacity, strengthened my back and legs, and lost around 12 kgs. I would run with a rucksack on my back and weights tied to my legs to condition my body to take the extra strain. I was working out about 15 hours a week without sidelining my professional commitments.
In general, I am disciplined about what I eat. Apart from more proteins and vitamins, there’s nothing specific. During the expedition, you eat what you get from your agency. Mostly, it is a basic meal consisting of daal, chawal, sabzi, and etc. Some days, on the higher camps, it is just noodle soup or some rice. Over the course of such an expedition, there is eventually a lot of muscle loss, and the recovery period after returning is also long.
9. What was your biggest challenge while climbing the Everest?
The first part you cross is the Khumbu Icefall, which is considered the most dangerous part of the climb. You have to cross it in about eight to nine hours. It has a lot of crevices and the terrain is very treacherous. Since Everest is the highest peak, you have to deal with high altitudes, where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult to breathe, and you will face difficulties in eating and sleeping. Then, it all becomes a question of endurance. When you use a 12-inch-wide aluminium ladder to cross a crevice, you don’t focus on anything else apart from what your next step should be. Also, the length of the expedition itself also causes a lot of fatigue. Only your mental strength can keep you going. Luckily, in my group of four climbers and a few sherpas, everyone was quite determined to do it [the climb]. Once you embark on that journey, you don’t think about how much is left. You only think about how much you have covered.
10. What message would you like to give to the people who aspire to climb the Everest?
Scaling Everest is a life-transforming experience in various ways. It teaches you about mental strength, focus, optimism, self-confidence, courage, the power of goals, and the lesson of breaking the most monumental task into smaller bits to overcome them.
My goal while climbing the Everest was to prove that ordinary people like me can achieve anything with mental tenacity and physical endurance derived by the commitment towards the goal.
11. Any accidents that you met with while on the climb?
When we left the base camp for Camp #1 for the first time, I had a potentially serious accident. We left the base around 2:00 am. After about an hour and a half of climbing, somewhere in the early part of the Kumbhu icefall, my left leg and upper thigh suddenly went through the ice floor and straight into the icy waters below. I was fortunate that only one leg went through and not the whole of me. The crevasse could have been deep enough to consume me! The water, however, soaked my foot and went into my boot. It took a couple of minutes for my sherpas to pull me out. Then, I had to turn back to base and walk for more than an hour in minus 15 degrees temperature with one boot completely wet. This is also a ripe situation for potential frostbites. The next day, I had to go back up again alone after drying my clothes and boot.
12. How did you feel on reaching the summit?
When I reached the summit, I felt a sense of gratitude. You realise that there must be some divine power looking after you, and that your family’s wishes are with you. You feel a sense of relief after having fulfilled a dream, but at the same time, you are also restless because it’s just half the journey. It’s said that going [up the mountain] is optional but coming back is mandatory and most tragedies happen on the way back. I made a small video of the view for my family and thanked them for their love. I am an avid photographer and so, I risked frostbite for a few seconds to quickly click some shots.
13. What’s next for you?
I do one adventure tour every year. All tours may not be extreme in nature but they are certainly out of the ordinary like climbing a dormant volcano in Ecuador and riding horses on Mongolian mountains. And these tours are not just limited to mountains; it’s a mixed bag. Adventure is my long-time love and I will do it till my body allows. There are so many areas to explore. I am yet to do sea diving, explore the Amazon rain-forest again, and etc. I am not running after milestones. I am collecting experiences.