After that unfortunate turn of events that unfolded a few metres from the Everest summit, there were no points for guessing that she was going to go back for a second attempt (to read about her first attempt click here). Just a couple of months after she had returned defeated by the mightiest mountain on the planet, Manisha Waghmare set sail for achieving her unfinished dream and this time with double the confidence, double the strength, a lot more experience and minus the naivety of the first time. She tells Fitrangi about the eventful journey of her second attempt of climbing Mt. Everest. Here it goes –
When I returned to the base camp after a failed attempt of climbing Mt. Everest, I was in for another shock of my life. As if the trauma of not being able to achieve my dream was not enough, life threw another bouncer at me. I was called by the authorities to identify a body. I was already weak from dealing with my own demons, when I went with them to help with the identification. And then, what I saw was the most horrifying scene and it still haunts me sometimes. The body was of a fellow mountaineer who was with me since 2015. He had been with me on some of my missions and trainings, a very avid trekker – far more experienced and knowledgeable than me. But above all, he was a friend. Someone who had been with me through the ups and downs of my life. Looking at his frost bitten body made my stomach ache. I felt as if someone had punched a hundred kilo fist in my guts and twisted my intestines. In that state of misery, I had to complete the entire process right from taking ownership of the body to sending it to post-mortem and informing the relatives as I was the one closest to him. The body was in such a pathetically frozen state that it had to be kept for three days in boiling water before the doctors could use a pair of scissors on it. Seeing all this I was totally shattered. Emotionally broken.
But destiny gives a ray of hope just when you are about to give up. That day, I had a visitor. The greatest mountaineer of all times, the one who had accomplished the first solo ascent of Mount Everest, the first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen and was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 meters above sea level – Reinhold Messner! I had been looking up to him for a long time but never had the fortune to meet him in person. And here I was standing in front of one of the legends in the field of mountaineering! My emotions at that time were inexplicable. That short meet with this luminary filled new light in me and I was all set to take over the world once again.
After that epic incident, I returned home. Within a week’s time I had come from -50 degrees to 45 degrees! This sudden shift in the weather took a toll on my health. I was admitted in a hospital in Aurangabad. I was branded as a loser by the media. Someone who is not fit to achieve such big tasks. It took me a couple of months to regain my health and re-focus on my unfinished dream. In those days it was just my family and my close friends who were with me. With immense efforts, they helped me out of that state and inspired me to go on.
With new energy and zest, I was ready to take over the Himalayas once again. This time I was determined to repair the mistakes I had made last time. I took extra oxygen cylinders with me which meant I had to carry 22 kg of weight on my back. We reached Hilary Step at four in the morning. Nostalgia creeped in as the memories of the avalanche resurfaced. The avalanche which had taken down twenty mountaineers right in front of my eyes not a long time ago. I sat there for a few minutes to rest, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. My Sherpa removed the regulator of the oxygen cylinder as I was facing some issues in breathing through it. Just then a strong wind blew and knocked off the regulator from his hands. How much ever you plan, fate has a new way of tricking you every time! I had taken extra cylinders this time so that I do not run out of oxygen, but without a regulator those were of no use now. For almost half an hour we waited there asking passers-by if they had an extra regulator.
Unfortunately, we were not able to get even one. History had repeated itself. I was stuck on the same spot with a dilemma of either going ahead or returning back once again. But this time, I was not in a mood to give up at all. We had oxygen that would be more than enough for the both of us. The only problem was we were short of a regulator. That we could share. So, for the next fifty minutes, Sherpa and I shared oxygen and against all odds we reached the summit. I had thought that I would feel exhilarated when I reach the summit, but ironically, the feeling was nothing new. Because I had imagined this moment over a thousand times since I had returned from Hilary Step last time. I spent ten minutes on the summit and started my return journey.
On my way down I started feeling dizziness near South Summit. A strong gush of wind blew and within moments I had fainted and slid about hundred metres down the mountain. I did not slide any further only because of safety anchors. My gloves had slipped out of my hands and there was snow inside my goggles. It took eight minutes for my Sherpa to reach me and by that time I was frozen. He cleared my goggles of the snow, put on extra gloves on my hands and warmed my fingers for almost forty minutes. I could not open my eyes. There is no chopper service above 21,000 feet as there is too less atmospheric pressure for the chopper to be able to operate. Somehow, like a blind person, being led by the Sherpa I reached camp 4. I stayed for that day at camp 4 as I was totally exhausted. When I opened my eyes, I could not see. My vision had gone.
That night was the worst night I have ever lived. I was experiencing excruciating pain in my eyes and the pain would increase if I closed them. I was crying the whole night, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was actually counting minutes and seconds while praying for that tormenting night to pass. The next day we had to descend further to camp 2 but my eyes were still not ok. There was still no chopper available due to bad weather. Repeating the model of the blind person and his helper, we walked that entire day and reached Lukla from where I mounted a mule and reached the base camp.
After a wait of three days, I got a chopper to Kathmandu where I was hospitalised and my eyes were treated. I was suffering from snow blindness. The doctors said it would last for maybe a month or so. A month later, I had regained my vision slightly and after a few more months I could see like before. Today when I recall those days, I feel satisfied that I have made myself strong enough to go through such situations and near death incidents and have lived to tell the tale. This journey has helped me to live life in the moment and enjoy every bit of what I am doing.
In 2024, I aim to take an expedition of young women to Mt. Everest – that is my next mission.
You do not fail when you fall. You fail when you refuse to get up. Never pray to God for a smooth life without problems. Always pray for strength to face them. Accept the situation, face difficulties and be the best version of you!