At 16 years, 11 months, and 18 days, Arjun Vajpai became the youngest Indian to climb Mt. Everest in 2010. A year later, he became the youngest person ever to summit Lhotse, as well as the youngest mountaineer to summit Mt. Manaslu. Currently, he holds the title for being the world’s youngest mountaineer to summit six out of the total 14 highest mountains of the world. He talks to us about these amazing achievements and the challenges of scaling great heights. By Debomita De
T+L India: Tell us about your first mountaineering experience? How old were you then?
Arjun Vajpai: It started with the pure curiosity of how beautiful the sunrise would look from the world’s highest mountain—and it was truly mesmerising. When I climbed Mt. Everest in 2010, I was 16 years old. It still feels fresh in my mind! Once I scaled Mt Everest, I saw other peaks from up there which I wanted to conquer.
T+L India: How does it feel to hold the title of “The Youngest Person to climb two higher 8000ers” in the Guinness World Records?
Arjun Vajpai: It makes me feel super happy, but I am not someone who chases records. Holding that title is a proud moment—not just for me, but for the entire country. And I’m not stopping here. Each recognition gives me the push to climb more and be closer to Mother Nature. It takes India’s flag to some of the highest peaks on Earth. I want to be the youngest in the world to do all 14 peaks above 8,000 meters.
T+L India: Tell us about the Arjun Vajpai Outdoor Academy and how it came into being?
Arjun Vajpai: Arjun Vajpai Outdoor Academy’s core purpose is to inculcate adventure sports into young kinds and also keep them healthy and fit. Growing up, I never had any knowledge about mountaineering or adventure sports. I want to give that platform to the younger generation. With the inclusion of sport climbing or wall climbing in the Olympics, me and my academy want to give a platform for children to take it up as a sport. We have installed over 200 walls across various schools and colleges in India.
T+L India: How do you train for these treks—physically, mentally, and emotionally?
Arjun Vajpai: When you are climbing mountains that are 8000 meters or more, physical fitness is of prime importance. But after a point, your physical fitness is of no use! The more mentally strong one is, the more one is able to push longer and harder. For mental fitness, I rely on yoga and meditation. I try to visualise the route from archives to see if conditions have changed over the years, and read up about the mountain and how previous trekkers have scaled it. I also make a mental note of how many ropes we are going to require as it helps me get a feel of the mountain mentally. I believe that you need to be in a meditative state to push yourself physically and mentally. I, for one, cannot climb a mountain without being in this state. But once you achieve it, you don’t feel any pain. Sometimes I get into the zone at home while packing for the climb. Sometimes I get into it while performing a prayer for the mountain goddess at the base camp. Sometimes it’s at the last camp, just before the summit push.
T+L India: Mention some difficult situations you’ve experienced on your treks?
Arjun Vajpai: Whenever you are competing with nature, it always becomes a difficult situation. I had a near-death experience during my climb to Mt. Cho Oyu in 2012. The experience made me more determined. It made me believe that if I put my everything and stay positive, anything is possible.
[Then] the winds at Mt. Cho Oyu were hostile and the temperature was -60 degrees. On the second day at Camp 2, I woke up with my left side paralysed. The two sherpas who were with me couldn’t carry me down, so they left me in the tent to summon help. I crawled for 17 hours to come down, but I only remembered four hours of that journey. I don’t remember reaching the place where they found me. Luckily, I was immediately shifted to a bigger hospital. After recovering fully, I decided to let go of everything that happened and climbed Mt. Cho Oyu again; this time, I was successful.
T+L India: What were some challenges you faced while climbing Mt Everest without oxygen last year?
Arjun Vajpai: In 2021, I went back to Mt. Everest where I started my first journey. But this time, I wanted to scale it without oxygen and become the first Indian to do so. Unfortunately, I had to return from camp 2 itself due to a back injury. But the clock has now been reset and I have already started training. I’m looking forward to completing my oxygen-less climb of Mt. Everest soon.
One of the major difficulties I faced was taking all the permissions, planning the logistics during lockdown, and procuring all the equipments (many of them cannot be purchased in India). Most of the people at base camp tested COVID-19 positive. While there were set protocols, COVID-19 got the better of us. Even with light symptoms, it was getting difficult for them at such a high an altitude.
Another challenge was that there were no Indian climbers who had achieved this feat. So, there was no reference material for me to study and observe. Climbing a mountain with and without oxygen is a different ballgame all together. Though I had to return mid-way, I learnt a lot of things which will come handy when I revisit the mountain.
T+L India: Who has been your mountaineering inspiration throughout the years?
Arjun Vajpai: To be very honest, there is no one inspiration for me. But I would give majority of the credit to Bachendri Pal. I read about her achievements in my school textbooks. Further, I did a lot of research myself. I also spoke to her and I am regularly in touch with her. Also, my family—and my dad, in particular—has been a huge support for me. Since my father was a colonel, he had many mountaineering friends who would take me to treks to channelise my energy.
T+L India: Which peak is next on your list?
Arjun Vajpai: In March, I am looking to summit Annapurna 1 and Mt. Dhaulagiri, followed by another attempt at Mt Everest without oxygen.
T+L India: Any tips and suggestions for first-time mountain climbers?
Arjun Vajpai: First and foremost, complete your basic and advance mountaineering course. Be skilful because without the right education, you are not only putting yourself at risk, but you are also a potential threat to every climber around you. One must be mentally and physically prepared. Start by exploring 5,000-6,000 meters before going to the bigger mountains.