Arjun Vajpai, a 24-year-old Noida boy, climbed Kanchenjunga (8,586m), the highest peak of India last Sunday. With this achievement, Vajpai became the youngest mountaineer in the world to summit six peaks above 8,000 metres, including Mt. Everest. The feat, however, did not come easy as during the last lap of the summit, Arjun’s oxygen cylinder malfunctioned and the lack of oxygen made his lips turn blue. There was no place to sit or rest or even to drink water, he recalled, the mouth parched and toes got frozen.
“It was just up, up and up,” he told TOI. The team of mountaineers even ran out of equipment when they were on the final ridge, which had a straight drop of 1,000 m and 20-30 people were hanging from a single rope, whose diameter was just twice that of a USB cable.
Arjun climbed the whimsical Kanchenjunga, at his second attempt. Around 8 am in the morning, he summited the mountain and spent around 15minutes there to take in the experience, the view. “On the summit, I have no desires, no dreams, no unrest,” he said. But because of the malfunctioning oxygen cylinder and low levels of oxygen, he had to come down. On his way down, his hands started shaking and his ears started ringing due to the acute shortage of oxygen. “My body felt like it was under attack,” he recalled.
His father, retired Colonel Sanjiv Vajpai, is proud of a different victory. “After 11 expeditions, all his fingers and toes are safe,” he said. “It is a big achievement because if you meet international climbers, you’ll find many have missing toes or fingers cut off.”
Arjun considers himself lucky to have sat above the clouds while the sun sets behind the mountains he has scaled, or to have seen the pink-purple hues of the Milky Way. “Few get to behold the true face of nature,” he says, “and they’re blessed.”
His love for mountaineering began when his grandfather took him to climb the Hanuman Tekti in the Sayadris. And ever since, he has nurtured the feeling – even after his near-death experience during his third attempt to climb the Cho-Oyu. When he woke up to find the left side of his body paralysed – yet tried to crawl out of his tent, and fell unconscious. The next day, he was rescued by two sherpas, who wrapped him in a sleeping bag and carried him down even though he had no pulse.
Vajpai aims to be the youngest mountaineer in the world to complete the True Explorers Grand Slam which includes climbing the 14 highest mountains of the world, the 7 highest summits of the 7 continents and walking to the North and South Poles. He has already climbed 6 of the 14 mountains of over 8,000m – the Mount Everest, Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world, Makalu, the fifth highest, Cho-Oyu, the sixth, and now Kanchenjunga, the third highest summit of the world.