She started climbing mountains as a teenager and a decade and a half later she had scaled the highest peak in the world and escaped a near death experience while doing so. This is the story of Manisha Waghmare – a story of determination, hard work, courage and above all facing death and looking in its eyes and returning alive. Manisha is the first woman from Marathwada and the fourth from Maharashtra to have conquered Mt. Everest. She tells her awe-inspiring story to Fitrangi, read on –
The first time I went to the Himalayas was in 2004. I was young, naïve and very excited to see snow-clad mountains. It was nothing more than a trip to spend some days of my summer vacation. But those few days that I spent in those bewitching mountains were the best days I had experienced in my life. Within no time I knew that this is where I would love to be for the rest of my life. The next thing I did was I completed my Basic mountaineering course from Manali and Advanced course from NIM, Uttarakhand. While I was there, I met a lot of climbers and mountaineers. Sitting by the fire, sipping cups of hot coffee, listening to their stories and aspirations every night, was where the motivation for Mt. Everest had begun to take roots, I reckon. I was awestruck by the amount of passion these people had for the sport and the length of preparation to which they could go for achieving their dreams. Being an athlete, I could connect to every bit of them.
Earlier in my life, I was a star volleyball player however had to quit the game because of a major accident. My doctor had advised no jumping at all and I being the smasher of the team, playing volleyball without jumping was like having tea without tea leaves – pointless! Years later, in the foothills of the Himalayas, I decided to take up mountaineering to keep my adventurous spirit alive!
Mountains show you your level. Your aptitude. They will show you your place. They are stern, austere, ruthless and yet rewarding to the relentless. They will break you down and again also make you a better version of yourself. I experienced this while on my first high altitude trek – EBC (Everest Base Camp).
It was very exhausting for me. But that trek gave me a mission – to conquer Mt. Everest. I started my research the day I came back. Climbing Everest is difficult majorly because of two reasons – the unpredictable weather conditions and less amount of oxygen. The temperature goes down to as low as -70 degrees Celcius and being from Marathwada (where the temperature is anywhere between 35-45 degrees during summer) it was very difficult for my body to adapt to the cold. To train myself for Everest, I started making my way up the ‘Seven summits’, carrying a pressing social cause every time.
Very soon I had started my preparations toward my goal of climbing Mt. Everest. My trainer had set a strict work out regime for me. I used to work for six hours and then spend six hours in the gym. And after that, with the little time left, I used to wander for sponsorships. I also read extensively about the health issues and the strategies to survive at high altitudes. Our regular day-to-day activities require about 3,200 calories, however the same amount of activities require more than 10,000 calories at a high altitude. Time management is another crucial issue here. There is limited amount of oxygen and the more time you spend the more oxygen you consume from your cylinder. Majority of the deaths happen due to mismanagement of time. After what seemed like an eon of research, training and preparations; I finally set out to conquer the highest peak in the world. A dream I had held close to my heart since ages.
All went well up to Camp 2 where I changed my oxygen cylinder and was waiting for my chance. A few days later we were in the death zone. My Sherpa was awesome! I sincerely thank him for his assistance and the quick and right decisions he made at crucial points, without which I would probably not have been alive today. We were informed that the weather is getting worse and that we return to Camp 2. However, we decided to wait up there for a day and try again. We had enough oxygen to survive for an extra day. But as fate would have it, the weather did not improve even that day and we were again informed to come down.
My Sherpa and I did some quick calculations and came to the inference that we can survive one more day if we stay still in bed the entire day without making any movements. That way we did not burn any calories and hence consumed minimum oxygen. Also most of the mountaineers die in their sleep at this altitude so we took turns to sleep for half an hour each so that we can constantly make sure the other one is alive and act immediately at the slightest symptom of abnormality. And thus we spent another day in the death zone praying for better weather. This format worked well. We woke up to satisfactory conditions. Our prayers had done much to ameliorate the weather and that night we started to climb again.
It was eleven thirty at night. We reached a point called Balcony. Temperature was about -50 degrees. The cold was cutting through the five layers of fleece and thermals I had donned. The speed of wind was nearly 150 kmph and escalating. But I was adamant on going ahead. I was not sure whether it was my rising spirits or my inanity and ignorance to the actual situation. I was in full swing. At that height, the brain kind of miscommunicates with the body and we tend to behave in a weird manner. We continued to climb up to Hillary Step.
The watch showed one thirty and that’s when my Sherpa saw a message from the base camp asking us to return due to bad weather conditions. The message was sent at eleven thirty and he had missed it at that time. We had already come two hours ahead and were now stuck in a dilemma whether to return or continue further. We saw a team of 15-20 climbers going back. At that point my oxygen regulator malfunctioned. We stopped in a stone arch to clean my oxygen pipe and just then a huge avalanche came rumbling down and washed away the entire team of descending trekkers hundreds of feet below. I was thankful that we faced a technical difficulty with the regulator, and at the same time that scene was so scary that I almost broke down. But at that time my Sherpa took the strings in his hand and grappled me. I so badly wanted to reach the top which was a mere hundred and seventy metres away! However, with all his experience and knowledge, he said that we could definitely go till the summit. But he couldn’t guarantee our return journey.
It had taken me ten years to reach here. And now I was placed in a position where I had to choose defeat and flush all the endurance of the past ten years or to take a chance between life and death. And I had to make this decision when my brain and body was in a complete asynchronous state. I chose to return. But before taking my first step down, I promised myself that I am going back only to return one day, and very soon, to finish what I had started.
When defeat comes, accept it with grace. Without your ego coming in the way. Rebuild your plans, strive harder and set sail once again toward your coveted goal.