Every mountain teaches you a lesson: Battling odds, woman mountaineer Priyanka Mohite creates history
Becoming the first Indian woman to scale 5 peaks above 8,000 meters, Maharashtra's Priyanka Mohite remains hungry for more, no matter the challenges she has to face as a woman or the dangers she has to brave on the mountains.
Mount Everest (8849 m), Mount Lhotse (8516 m), Mount Makalu (8485 m), Mount Annapurna (8091 m), Mount Kilimanjaro (5895 m) and now even, Mount Kanchenjunga (8586 m) - aside from being snow-capped and dangerously beautiful, what's more in common between them is the fact that Maharastra's Priyanka Mohite has summited them all.
There seems to be no stopping Priyanka who has become the first Indian woman to scale 5 peaks above 8000 meters. More recently she scaled Mount Kanchenjunga after a 20-hour long ascent in torrid weather conditions.
This is no mean feat for a woman who also balances a full-time job on the side in Bangalore.
Her story begins in the picturesque ranges of Satara, Maharashtra where she first went on treks with her family members and relatives. From there, it goes on to the far ends of the world overcoming challenges, constraints and crunches along the way.
Priyanka Mohite spoke to the Bridge after her recent summit of Kanchenjunga about all that makes up the thrilling life of a woman mountaineer.
Challenges that women face
One of the challenges that most women face is the problem of convincing and proving themselves before entering into any pursuit in life. Priyanka emphasised this with regard to convincing her mother to allow her to pursue trekking. While she maintained that both her parents have supported her continuously, entering into a pursuit as dangerous as hers was one of the many initial challenges.
On the topic of specific challenges faced by women in mountaineering, Priyanka maintains that there are certain aspects that do play a defining role. "There are several female mountaineers who manage their adventures based on their personal willpower and focus. We push ourselves slowly with the end goal in mind and after 12 years, I am always prepared for any challenges."
Her emphasis and solution for a lot of the challenges faced by women is the power of the mind. "Mental preparation is always important no matter what the situation. I even train during my period even if it means going and sitting in the gym and doing nothing. It helps condition my mind which in turn goes a long way in preparing me for my treks."
She also reflected on her formative years spent in her hometown of Satara which played a crucial role in building her interest in the outdoors and trekking in particular. "I began with basic trekking and rock climbing in Maharasthra. I followed all this by doing a basic mountaineering course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in 2010. My uncle particularly helped further my interest in the outdoors coupled with my parents who pushed me into trekking."
The early introduction to trekking definitely helped her in the long run. Priyanka also credits the assistance of Pioneer Adventure in organising and managing the logistics of the treks she has undertaken and prioritising the safety of the trekkers above anything else. Steadfast Nutrition also helped in guiding her to manage her stamina and strength through their range of protein-rich products. For Priyanka, it was the long term goal of scaling Kanchenjunga that helped her focus on sustaining nutrition and prioritising a balanced diet in the short term.
The unforgiving nature of mountains
Having scaled 5 peaks over 8000 metres, Priyanka definitely has some interesting stories to share."I remember one particular incident from when I scaled Mt. Annapurna. After reaching the peak I was really happy and enjoyed the moment thoroughly. But it dawned on me about 15 minutes later that I had to make my way back on the same dangerous route which I had come on. That mountain is known for its dicey weather with frequent avalanches and regular alteration of weather patterns and anything could change in a few minutes"
This is just one of the many incidents that Priyanka has faced in her short but majorly eventful trekking career. She recognises the individual challenges that each mountain has to offer which according to her, makes mountaineering all the more fun.
"Kanchenjunga is India's highest mountain so naturally, it has really long routes with bad weather. Crevices and a steep climb don't make for a comfortable trek at all and climbing at 7000m without losing focus is really draining." Priyanka goes on to emphasise that a small mistake could cost dearly anywhere and anytime in the mountains. Something as simple as a change in route or a wrong step could lead to instant death.
During her trek to Kanchenjunga, Priyanka lost one of her colleagues to exertion and fatigue. "It took us 20 hours to reach Kanchenjunga. Descending after a climb of 20 hours was even worse and really dangerous. We, unfortunately, lost 1 of our fellow climbers on that trek due to exertion and this was really shocking, to say the least."
"My scariest moment was when my oxygen got over during the descent at Kanchenjunga. I actually slept for about 10 minutes due to fatigue and lack of oxygen which was really dangerous at that altitude because it could mean I could have slept forever! But luckily one of my fellow climbers helped me down to the base camp."
Budget Crunches, Sponsorship Woes
Mountaineering is one of the most expensive pursuits in the world owing to the numerous requirements needed for each trek. "To give some perspective, I almost dropped my recent expedition due to a lack of sponsors. While I eventually managed to get a good response on my crowdfunding platform, the reality of getting sponsors is still quite tough."
Balancing a job and an interest in mountaineering is in itself a daily challenge. The consistency required to train and maintain one's stamina while also ensuring a steady income is a massive task and Priyanka has done exceptionally well to sustain her priorities. Insurance, training payments, mountaineering permit payments, oxygen tanks, and other economic overheads all contribute to making mountaineering an expensive sport. Priyanka has had the fortune of receiving generous help from her family and friends along with donors on crowdfunding platforms to cover her expenses that run into several lakhs per trek.
As for her future plans, the aim is to continue with her goal of climbing all 14 mountains in the world that are above 8000 metres. All of these peaks are located within the Indian subcontinent with a majority being in Pakistan, China and Nepal. Priyanka once again reiterates that discipline is the key to a lot of things in life, but quite particularly mountaineering.
Her interest and will to continue scaling greater heights is one that has not and will not die down in any manner. She emboldens the various qualities that make mountaineering what it is. Quite particularly, discipline, strength and the will to live to see another day.