A Mountaineering Prodigy, Arjun Vajpai
The young climber looks back at his success and forward to new challenges
1. How did you start climbing? How did you go from enjoying trekking and hiking to serious climbing?
Since my childhood, I was always an outdoor person. At the age of 10, I went on a small evening hike with my grandparents in the Sahyadri hills in Maharashtra and saw the sun setting from there. I was mesmerized by the view and as a 10 year old, I wondered if it is so beautiful from here, how beautiful would it be from top of the world? This curiosity pushed me towards mountaineering.
2. Why do you think you have been able to achieve what you have at an early age?
I cannot point on that one factor which contributed to my success but it is the combination of a lot of things falling in place at the right time. Apart from this, I have been fortunate to come across some mentors who groomed me and supported me every step of the way; starting from my parents of course. They have been a huge pillar of strength. Without them none of this would have been possible. Then I’ve had some really encouraging instructors during my training days at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi. I think that gave me the much needed confidence to go about chasing this crazy dream and since then there has been no looking back.
3. How has the experience been finding support from your family and sponsors?
As I mentioned, the family has always been supportive of my dreams and my vision. On the other hand finding support from the corporate world and the government has always been difficult as mountaineering is not a very famous sport in India. For my first expedition to Mount Everest, there was no interest shown from the corporate world and the government. It was my loved ones and well-wishers who chipped in who offered me a support financially. However, I see that the situation is now slowly changing. I am glad that Mountain Dew is supporting my Kangchenjunga expedition and it draws hope that people are willing to support all kinds of sports.
4. Have you ever thought that you were underprepared for a climb you did?
Yes. It was during the expedition to Mount Makalu (8485m) in Nepal which is the 5th highest mountain in the world. I made 3 consecutive unsuccessful attempts on the mountain. I always blamed external factors for the failure of the expedition but the fact was I was lacking somewhere. Maybe I had gotten a little arrogant because I hadn’t faced any failure before that or maybe I was not giving all I had with full honesty. The day I accepted that the problem was me and only me, I started working on it and in my fourth attempt the Mountain Goddess opened her doorways for me and I was able to summit Makalu.
5. What does your training look like?
I wake up at 3:30am every day. My day starts with some pranayama and meditation. It is more important to train the mind than the body! After this I go for a long distance run or an intense cardio session followed by a rigorous gym routine. The evening are usually for long cycle rides followed by some yoga to relax the body and mind. Apart from this, there is a climbing gym in my house so every now then I get onto the wall and train whenever I have free time.
6. What challenges do Indian climbers face which international climbers do not have to deal with?
In India unfortunately there is a serious lack of awareness regarding this sport and due to this a climber faces problems every step of the way. There is a serious lack of infrastructure in India for athletes like me to train and prepare. The government hasn’t looked into the world of outdoor sports much, and because this sport is not as popular as Cricket, there is not much backing up from the corporate world. But as I said earlier, mountaineering is slowly gaining the attention it deserves. As for me, Mountain Dew is supporting me in my expedition through their ‘Risk Takers of India’ platform; that celebrates the efforts of people, like me, who push themselves to achieve extraordinary results by bringing alive my journey on screen. I am hopeful mountaineering as a sport will benefit from this.
7. How do you see the sport growing in India? What’s the best way to get started?
Mountaineering is not just about climbing mountains; It’s a much deeper science and there are a lot of things to be learned. There are a few mountaineering training institutes in India where we are taught every nitty-gritty of mountaineering; from rock climbing to ice climbing to weather reading and so much more is taught in these institutes at a very nominal cost. If you want to be a mountaineer, Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Courses are a bare minimum to begin with.
To answer the second part of your question, our country is gifted with the great Himalayas itself, which is a paradise for mountaineers! There are so many unexplored 6000 meter and 7000 meter peaks in Indian Himalayas and I see a lot of potential in India to be developed as a mountaineering nation if these peaks are opened for climbing. I firmly believe that India has the potential of becoming the ‘Mountaineering Capital’ of the world.
8. You want to be the youngest to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world- what other goals do you have set?
I just want to keep climbing mountains for the rest of my life; be it 8000m mountains or any other. Apart from this through all my climbs, the intention is always to spread awareness and get more and more young Indians interested in the great outdoors. It is very important for everyone to realize how much outdoor and nature can influence our youth.
9. How do you mentally prepare for a climb?
Meditation! And when I say meditation, it does not mean sitting for hours cross legged. It simply means being able to connect with yourself the best by spending as much time on yourself. For me it is through training; like when I am on a long distance run, I am able to cut everything off around me and connect with myself or when I am cycling for a long time, I get in to a zone and my mind gets completely blank and there is no useless thought running through my mind and in times like these, self-exploration happens and nothing makes me mentally strong than to know myself completely!
10. What life lessons have you learnt from climbing?
The biggest mountain lies inside you; they are the mountain of doubts, fear of failure, fear of being judged and so many other facades that stop us from climbing the Everest of our life. Once you are able to climb these inner mountains then sky is the limit! There is no limit to what you can do! Find the Everest of your life and climb it because if you can dream it, you can make it!