5 min read.Updated: 09 Feb 2019, 02:44 PM ISTShail Desai
Satyarup Siddhanta could soon be the world’s youngest mountaineer to climb the seven highest peaks and Seven Volcano Summits
It was a proud moment to see the Indian flag there (Sidley), really special, said Satyarup Siddhanta
At 10pm on 15 January, Satyarup Siddhanta stood on top of Mt Sidley in the far reaches of Antarctica. A thick layer of clouds hugged the ice cover below, lit in the summer months when there is sunlight 24-hours at the South Pole. No Indian had stood there before. It was also the summit that put him in the record books: At 35 years and 261 days, Siddhanta is set to become the youngest climber in the world to have stood on the summit of seven of the highest mountains—popularly known as Seven Summits (the Guinness jury is out to verify the record)—as well as the seven highest volcanoes in each continent.
Let that sink in. Such is the draw of the Seven Summits that in modern mountaineering, climbers chase two lists of seven highest mountains popularized by veteran climbers Richard Bass and Reinhold Messner. In the Bass list, six mountains from the Messner list remain the same—only Mt Kosciuszko replaces Carstenz Pyramid. Siddhanta also decided to climb the Seven Volcanic Summits, which made it a comprehensive list of 13 mountains ranging from Everest, the highest peak at 8,850m, to Sidley, the lowest at 4,285m.
And to think that while growing up, Siddhanta had little idea that mountains could be climbed. During one winter holiday in the early 1990s in Darjeeling, Siddhanta paid a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). The Kanchenjunga range stood pretty in the distance, but what stayed with him were the words at the entrance: “May (you) climb from peak to peak."
In his wildest dreams, Siddhanta wouldn’t have thought that “(you)" could be him.
As an asthmatic child, even chasing a football at school in Berhampore came with its consequences. His inhaler was as important as his set of friends, though, eventually, he was relegated to positions outside the field. And though he had ambitions of joining the Indian Air Force—he even cleared the entrance exam—he knew the physical test would let him down as he settled for a career in engineering instead.
“At the Sikkim Manipal University, the setting was gorgeous, with mountains on three sides and the Teesta river raging down the fourth. But the slopes on campus sucked the life out of me," recalls Bengaluru-based Siddhanta. “I would get bouts of wheezing and uncomfortable breathlessness, which could only be controlled with the inhaler."
One day, while out on a walk, Siddhanta had an attack, only to realize that he had left his inhaler at the hostel. “(They were) the most horrible 10 minutes of my life. I was rolling on the ground and thought I was going to die. ...I realized how dependent I was on this inhaler and decided to do something about it," he says.
Medicine would have been a more conventional way of dealing with his condition but Siddhanta chose to gauge his tolerance levels while doing all the things that he was not supposed to do. He gorged on his favourite prawn dishes, which caused him breathlessness, while keeping an anti-allergy pill handy. He lied about his condition and joined a group hike to the Parvathamali temple in Tamil Nadu.
“All along, I had two things in mind—the closest chemist shop and the inhaler in my backpack on standby," he says.
Getting to the top was a liberating moment. On his return to base in Bengaluru, he took up horse riding, and, after a few other hikes with the Bangalore Mountaineering Club, eventually signed up for a trek to the Everest Base Camp in 2010. It was love at first sight and the juvenile plan then was to come back and climb Everest—with little idea of what it would actually entail. He enrolled in a basic mountaineering course at HMI in December 2011 to take one step closer to his target.
The following year, he went to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, where he first heard of the Seven Summits.
“Every year, I would first take stock of the funds on hand, the mountain I could climb, and buy a new inhaler. It was empowering to know that I made it up those mountains without using it," he says. That confidence took him up Denali in Alaska in June 2014 alongside a few climbers—Siddhanta claims it was one of the fastest unguided ascents by an Indian. With Elbrus, Aconcagua and Mt Blanc ticked off the list, he set his eyes on Everest.
“Raising money was a task and I owe my alma mater for their support (they donated money for the climb and have been supporting him since). And then the earthquake struck in 2015 and all expeditions were cancelled that year," he says.
“I was insensitive to the situation at first, since so much was at stake and I still wanted to climb. But amid the rubble at the Base Camp, I came across a book, Dead Or Alive. And I didn’t know if the person who had been reading it was dead or alive. That day I realized that the greatest gift was to be alive," Siddhanta says.
Once he got home, he realized he had EMIs to pay and no job, since he had quit his job at a tech firm in Bengaluru when his leave request was rejected. Somehow, he put together the money and returned to make a successful ascent of Everest in 2016. The celebrations were dampened, though, after the death of three fellow climbers from Kolkata.
On his first visit to Antarctica in December 2017, he climbed the Vinson Massif that earned him the Seven Summits. He then set off on the chase to claim the volcanoes on the other list, as well as the record that came with this.
And on his next visit to the seventh continent, Siddhanta entered the record books yet again after his climb up Sidley. “It was a proud moment to see the Indian flag there, really special and I felt like I was the chosen one to make it there," he says.
SEVEN SUMMITS (MESSNER LIST)
Mt Kilimanjaro (5,885m), AFRICA: 29 June 2012; 14 June 2018
Mt Elbrus (5,642m), EUROPE: 27 June 2013
Mt Aconcagua (6,962m), S. AMERICA: 13 January 2014
Mt Denali (6,194m), N. AMERICA: 23 June 2014
Mt Everest (8,848m), ASIA: 21 May 2016
Mt Kosciuszko (2,228m), AUSTRALIA: 12 June 2015
Vinson Massif (4,892m), ANTARCTICA: 15 December 2017
SEVEN VOLCANIC SUMMITS
Mt Kilimanjaro (5,885m), AFRICA: 29 June 2012 and 14 June 2018
Mt Elbrus (5,642m) EUROPE: 27 June 2013
Mt Ojos Del Salado (6,893m), S. AMERICA: 15 January 2018
Mt Damavand (5,609m), ASIA: 10 September 2018
Mt Giluwe (4,367m), OCEANIA: 9 November 2018
Mt Pico De Orizaba (5,638m), N. AMERICA: 5 December 2018