Mountaineering is one of the most risky and improbable sports around. And why not? Afterall, your opponent is none other than nature. However hard you train, once you are on ground zero, it is just you and the mighty mountains that seem to rise towards the infinity. The rules you have learnt during your practice may not even be present in the books of mother earth! All you can do is, as they say, “Hope for the best and plan for the worst!” But adventures and risks are a part of Priyanka Mohite ’s life, and it has been the same since a very early age.
Earlier this year, the Satara girl became the first Indian woman to scale Mount Makalu, the fifth-highest mountain at the height 8,485 m! We at KreedOn had a chance to interact with Priyanka Mohite, where she opened up about her love for heights. And boy, isn’t she a climbing superstar!
Priyanka Mohite: Early Days
Hailing from Satara, Maharashtra, Priyanka lived in the city surrounded by mountains and forts. And it didn’t take her long to explore those mountains with her uncle, Anil Mohite and cousins. “From a very young age, I used to travel up the Ajinkyatara fort. Although it was really tough, I really enjoyed the view from the top, those hiking experience with my cousins and stories of Maratha warriors and Chhatrapati Shivaji. We used to trek a lot on weekends in different locations.”
But with Priyanka’s aspiration to climb even more difficult mountains, her uncle suggested the young girl join a trekking group for proper training and safer acquaintances. She joined the Sahyadri Trekking association in Satara when she was in just 7th standard.
Priyanka learned the basics of rock climbing and mountaineering with the group. She was the only girl in the group, but it was never going to stop her. Despite learning from her Trekking group, Priyanka felt like she needed a little more time to go on to the next step. She enrolled herself for mountaineering course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi after 12th standard.
And that course changed her life forever. “Now my parents allowed me to go for the basic 20-day course, which was followed by an expedition which was also a qualification for higher courses. I reached 17600 ft in my first attempt to gain A grade in my first attempt to climb the Everest. This was enough to give me confidence that I can acclimatise as well as get the top courses in the institute. This was the time when I felt that this is really something that I want to pursue for the better part of my life.”
From the Naughtiest one to the disciplined one
We asked Priyanka about her memories of trekking with her uncle and cousin in her childhood. To our surprise, the mountaineer, who is obviously a much-disciplined athlete now as the sport requires her to be, was actually the naughtiest of the group.
“We were 5-6 cousins with my uncle who used to go for the treks in Satara. I was among the younger ones and probably naughtiest one as well. I remember hiding along the way with one of my cousins just to tease my uncle,” she says.
“Actually this was the reason for which he wanted me to join a group. I was very undisciplined, you can say.”
Kick-starting a career as a mountaineer
After deciding to pursue a career in this unique but risk-filled field, Priyanka returned to Satara for BSc (Biotech) in 2012. She also finished her advanced mountaineering course simultaneously. Priyanka then climbed her first mountain, 21500ft high Mount Bunderpunch. And although Priyanka loves climbing more robust mountains rather than higher ones, she got an opportunity to climb the highest mountain, Mount Everest.
“One of my friend who studied in Himalayan Mountaineering School in Darjeeling informed me about a golden opportunity of scaling the Everest. Their principal, Colonel Neeraj Rana was planning to take the youngest team for the Everest,” Priyanka remembers.
“This how I got the opportunity and I went for it the following month. Being fresh from the advance course, I was pretty fit and acclimatised as well. I climbed around some 18000ft, and he selected me in the team along with my friend.”
Preparing for the biggest test of life
Climbing the Mount Everest is the dream of any mountaineer and Priyanka got an early opportunity to live her dream. “My biggest achievement was definitely scaling the Everest. But not just because it is the highest peak but rather due to numerous reasons in the journey to the peak.”
Priyanka had to make sure she was physically in the best shape for the biggest challenge of her life. At the same time, she also had to find the sponsorship of around 18 lakhs. It was a tightly packed schedule for Priyanka for the next six months. “I used to wake up at 5 and work on fitness, including yoga, running, and gym. This was followed by proper and diet and Bharatnatyam Practise.”
Yes, the talented Priyanka is also a Bharatnatyam dancer, and why are we not surprised here? Of course, she is an all-rounder. Her final exams clashed with her Mount Everest preparations, but she managed both of them.
After six months, Priyanka was physically prepared for the biggest test of her life but not financially. She and her parents could only manage 6-7 lakhs in the sponsorship, but her family chipped in for the rest of the amount. Such was the support of her family!
Priyanka’s beloved dog, Aishu, her companion for 11 years died during her training for the Everest. She was so depressed after her dog’s death that she did not even want to train anymore. But Priyanka’s dad was there to help her out again.
At the top of the World: Priyanka Mohite
The journey for the Mount Everest started on 4th April 2013 for Priyanka. She flew to Lukla, and after acclimatising for around 12 days she and her team travelled to base camp which is around 17600ft. And to hear the story told in her own words is the chilling experience itself. “The real journey started after the base camp. There are camps established at defined distances from thereon. So it is a step by step way up. Also, being in the summer season, we can travel at night only, as the snow melts in morning lot of technical difficulties occurs due to that. I called my parents from Camp 2 that I was going to summit on 21st May.”
Unfortunately, Priyanka’s Sherpa fell sick a night before she was supposed to reach the summit. She had to return back to her camp halfway. And she had to calculate the Oxygen usage all over again with a little less Oxygen left and constant weather changes.
“Meanwhile my parents and family are waiting back home for the good news and also worried about me because of the delay. So I finally summited on 22nd May. On the way down, though, I was totally exhausted. It was really tough to move because of the high wind. Unfortunately, the walkie talkie and all other contact sources’ battery was dead by then. All the people were really worried, especially my family back home. Finally, we reached the base camp somehow.”
But she had done it! The girl from Satara climbed to the top of the highest mountain in the world at the mere age of 21! And she had not forgotten about her dog Aishu either. Priyanka took her dog’s picture to the summit along with the tricolour.
Constant family Support
Priyanka’s father is a constant source of inspiration for the mountaineer. “I credit him for the ‘zidd’ I have in my nature to never give up. Also, I would credit Shivaji Maharaj whose stories still motivated me from the beginning.” Priyanka’s entire family was waiting back home for a message from her and were worried due to the 2-day delay. And when Priyanka finally called her family after reaching the summit, her father asked her what does she want when she returns home? Her answer – “I want to scale the really beautiful mountain that I saw in the journey.” Her mother though simply asked her to return home safely first.
But Priyanka wasn’t kidding. She was talking about the Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain on Earth, at the height of 8,516 m. Her expedition was called off in 2014 after an accident that killed 16 Sherpa. The following year, the mountaineer escaped without a scratch after an earthquake in Nepal. However, she finally climbed it on 16th May 2018 – her second 8,000+ summit.
She followed it this year by climbing the Mount Makalu on 15th May 2019, becoming the 1st Indian woman to scale the fifth highest mountain’s summit. And received praise from none other than Sachin Tendulkar!
Was a pleasure to meet Priyanka Mohite, a bright young woman who climbed Mt. Everest at 21 & accomplished the feat of being the youngest ?? woman to climb Mt. Lhotse in 2018. It’s amazing to see youngsters like her, who have the drive to break barriers and achieve the impossible. pic.twitter.com/ucim8Q3Xwl
— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) November 19, 2018
Talking about her love for mountaineering, Priyanka says, “I enjoy the climb a lot. It makes me feel great from inside. I don’t how, but after 8000ft, I am just full of energy to climb further. I just love each and every aspect of the journey.”
But she doesn’t get to enjoy chicken and cakes, two things she loves the most. And boiled chicken which she gets during her training is nowhere near what she would love to eat. Priyanka also gets to eat junk food during celebrations – Little price you pay for big achievements!
“Never received support from government”: Priyanka
Priyanka is not all happy with the Government’s role in promoting the sport. “Rock climbing (Sport Climbing) is an event now included in the Olympics from 2020 Tokyo edition. But still, our government is not focussed on promoting our athletes and mountaineers. In my case, I never received any fund or financial support from the government. It is really tough financially to do it alone in mountaineering, especially.” And she wants to change this situation at all costs. Priyanka wants to lead an all-women expedition to many mountains across the world. You go, girl!
In her message to young and budding athletes of India, Priyanka says, “Establish a balance between pushing yourself and realising the reality. Respecting mountain and respecting your body is really important in this sport.”
Having already reached the summit of 3 of the top five mountains on Earth, one can only wonder what’s next on Priyanka’s mind. But the 26-year old is not the one who is going to stop at anything. She plans to work for the betterment of mountaineers in India. And we at KreedOn are fully behind her!