Have you ever wondered exactly what it takes to climb Mt. Everest? We found out when Sipra Majumdar joined us on the Goechala trek in May 2018.
An ex-Army Major, Sipra summited Everest in 2005. She was part of the First Indian Army Women’s Expedition to Everest.
Perhaps the most shocking part of Sipra’s story is that she recalls herself as never being physically strong enough to accomplish such a feat. So how did she get to the highest peak in the world?
Where Did She Start?
Sipra grew up as an army kid, and in some ways it was natural that she join the army herself. But in other ways, it came as a surprise.
“I am from West Bengal. My father was in the Indian Army and hence I studied all over the country.
“I was never very strong. Even in school, my parents would never let me participate in NCC as I wasn’t physically strong. When I joined the Army, no one around me could believe that I had cleared my screening.
“After I did my engineering at AIT, Pune University, I joined the army in 2001. I was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers in March 2002. I served in the Indian Army from 2001 to 2007.”
The Opportunity To Climb Mt. Everest
“The Indian Army was planning to launch women into high altitude climbing. With this aim, the project of the First Indian Army Women Expedition to Mt Everest was launched. I was chosen based on my performance during my training in the Officers Training Academy. And I went for the selection camp at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi.”
At the beginning, Sipra says there were over 140 women from the Army, Navy, Airforce and NCC cadets.
“There was a 5 day selection camp in which our endurance, team work and basic rock climbing skills were tested. 60+ of us cleared the screening and started with our Basic and Advanced Course at NIM, Uttarkashi.
“We were trained in rock climbing, snow craft and ice craft.”
Each phase was a training cum selection process.
Sipra’s training took her through the Har ki Dun valley, Gangotri glacier, Mt. Kedar Dome, and Mt. Abi Gamin.
Training in Siachen Glacier
“Post Abi Gamin the team was taken to Siachen Glacier. We trained in Siachen Glacier in the peak of winter ( End of December 2004 to mid-January 2005). The temperatures would dip to -35 to -50 degrees. We climbed a 19,500 ft peak as a part of the training.
“These are my most vivid memories.”
For Sipra, these days of training were an enormous transformation. The amount of effort it took her to get through each day was a testament to her growing strength.
“The training in Siachen helped me cross my own limitations.
“I was not very good in sports/outdoor activities at school. I wasn’t the best in physicals during my army training. I always had to really push myself both physically and mentally.
“Hence the memory of crossing some of my mental barriers is very close to me.”
As chance would have it even after all this training, Sipra was not guaranteed a chance at summiting Everest. It took a good amount of luck to turn things around.
A Sudden Twist To The Plot
Fate had other things in plan for Sipra.
Here’s how she explains it: “Finally, 10 of us were selected for the Everest Expedition. We continued our training in Delhi for another 2 months. It was endurance and strength training (Long runs with 20 kg weight and weight training).
“We also used this time to prepare for the logistics of the expedition. The initial plan was to summit the peak from Nepal (the popular southeast face).
“Five women were part of the climbing team. I was in the support team for the base camp. Though I was sad, this didn’t dampen my spirits.
“I continued my training wishing that something would work out and I would get a chance to summit. I always wanted to be physically ready for the summit.
“I was in luck.
“Because of an insurgency in Nepal, the route was changed to the North east Side (from Tibet). Now there was some additional budget and I got a chance to be part of the climbing team.”
The Expedition Begins
Finally, the team was off to climb Everest in May 2005.
A fit team on Everest Base Camp trek. Picture by Santhosh Govindarajulu.
As part of acclimatization, they first went to the North Col, a pass connecting Everest with Mt. Changtse in Tibet.
“The climbing is a memorable experience. The North Col is at a height of 23,000 ft. There is an ice field and a steep ice wall that you need to climb to reach there. It was the most painful part of the climb.”
This is one of the few times Sipra talks about the fears she faced during the expedition.
“One of the experienced male member of our team told me to take 10 steps and then rest. I was so exhausted that I would count 10 in my head and not move a single step.
“At one point the thought of death crossed my mind and I realized that there is no way anyone can take me down if I die here. Coming back successfully from the North Col itself felt like an achievement.”
Sipra’s thought shows how prominently one’s mortality features on undertakings like this one. It takes a large amount of maturity and humility to accept the possibility of death and continue on.
What Did Climbing Everest Mean To Sipra?
“Around the third step I saw the dead bodies of climbers who had probably gotten exhausted on the way back and sat down to take rest. It is a site that reminds you of the power of the mountain. I silently prayed for a safe return.
Towards the end I started believing that when you really want something the entire universe conspires for your success. At the top I was filled with a sense of gratitude. I thanked Sagarmatha (Nepali name for Mt Everest) for blessing me with success. I felt that all my efforts paid off. ”
Sipra is nonchalant about many of her struggles on her way to the highest peak in the world. But it’s clear what it means to her when she talks about the gratitude and spirituality of her experience on top of the world.
And that’s how Sipra Majumdar climbed Mt. Everest.
The Journey Continues – A Decade Later
I had to take a break after I left the Army. My focus was now shifted to motherhood and building an alternate career. Since the last few years I have been trying to get back to the mountains but I wasn’t sure how. That’s when I heard about Indiahikes from one of my husband’s friends.”
And when she returned to Goechala last month, it all came back again.
“This year I took the plunge and went to Goechala. I met an amazing group of fellow trekkers and trek guide. The entire trek was really memorable. After a long time, I felt at peace with myself. Nature calms you down that way. I’m looking forward to many more treks with Indiahikes.”
We’re excited to learn more from you every time you come back, Sipra!
Are you inspired by Sipra’s story? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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