“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Many of us have read about people who have climbed Mt. Everest. But, I don’t know any of them personally. It is something to read about such individuals in newspapers and appreciate and applaud their efforts. But, when one of your friends climbs Mt. Everest it is a different feeling of pride and admiration all together.
Now such an individual is Brij Mohan Sharma or Breeze Sharma as we runners call him. I have known him for many years and have had the privilege to run several ultra-marathons with him almost end-to-end.
And Breeze recently became the first civilian from the Indian Navy to summit Mount Everest.
Breeze tried to climb Everest in 2015, but his attempt came to a halt following an avalanche, in which he was buried under heavy snow. All of us who knew of his expedition, know how much he had invested in this effort, including selling his bike to fund his trip.
But, he did not give up on hope. A year later, in 2016 he participated in what is considered as the toughest Ultramarathon in the world- Badwater 135 miles race and successfully finished it to become the fastest Indian at the world’s toughest foot race. And only two Indians have finished this race so far.
This year, he also broke his own previously-held record of 24-hour Treadmill-Running Asian Record by clocking 202.50 km in the timespan of 24 hours. And that’s not all. He has finished many 135 mile and 100 mile running events-and he makes it look completely effortless.
Having run many marathons with him, I know him as a person with tremendous grit and determination. But Mt. Everest we all know is a different beast all together. Many of us aspire to climb it someday.
Here I had my own set of questions for him on his journey to the peak of the highest mountain in the world:
What made you set your eyes on climbing Mt. Everest?
Since it’s the highest peak in the world, it attracted me right from the beginning of my mountaineering days. This was way back in 1993. Whenever I went climbing other peaks, I felt closer to the almighty. It was a feeling that this is how closer I can get to the God and this is how the world looks from the top.
How did you book the expedition?
I booked the expedition through my Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa from Darjeeling. I did not book it through any company.
Everest is considered as a financially denting, expensive expedition. How did you manage to fund it?
For both the attempts, I paid a sum of Rs. 45 lacs in total, out of which Rs. 21 lac was raised by Indian Navy, Rs.5 lacs given by my batch mates and the rest I borrowed from friends, relatives and banks.
How did you begin your training?
I prepared with regular gym workouts and long runs. Also, I had an advantage of having a vast experience doing a few summits before. However, unfortunately, I could not find time to scale one 7000 mtr. peak before my departure, which is extremely important.
This was your second attempt, the first expedition got called off due to earthquake and avalanche. What was that feeling like when you had to return?
It was unbearable. I can never forget the feeling when I was leaving the base camp in 2015 after 42 days into the expedition. My team was the last to leave the base camp. We left only when we got the assurance from Nepal Govt. officials that our permit to climb Mt. Everest would be extended. Only then did we leave.
I was disappointed that I could not attempt Mt. Everest back then. But, there was relief that I would get another chance to attempt it. The expedition cost for me in 2015 was Rs. 27 lac. I had borrowed more than Rs.15 lacs, a loan I had to repay when I was back.
I had gone through a life and death situation in 2015. I got trapped in the middle of an avalanche. For 3 days, 3 corpses were kept below my tent and I used to see their faces every day!
While returning this time, I was very well aware that anything could happen to me and I was completely prepared for that.
There were frequent avalanches at the basecamp even this time. Every time I used to hear the sound of an avalanche it would take my mind back to the things that happened back then, the things that I experienced in 2015.
How did you motivate yourself to go back?
It was my dream since last 23 years. This was my second attempt, I had no choice but to summit.
Now, whenever the thought stuck me that I may not return back alive at all, I used to tell myself that one day I have to depart from this world in any case, so let’s leave it on the AKKA (God). If he wants to send me back from here, I will return to Mumbai. Otherwise, I am fine to take my last breath right here.
“The choices we make lead up to actual experiences. It is one thing to decide to climb a mountain. It is quite another to be on top of it.”
-Herbert A. Simon
What was your learning from the first experience? And how did these learnings help you change your approach this time round?
There are certain mountain manners that you learn. Except those nothing was applied second time.
It is a fresh start every time you attempt to climb. Every time glacier changes, terrain changes, level of difficulty changes. Mountains never respect experience, every time you climb is a new attempt and a new challenge. Every time, you have to encounter a completely different sort of situation. So, there was no co-relation between two expeditions.
What was the toughest point as you were climbing?
Around 8600 mtr. there was a wall which was around 60 feet high. It had an elevation of about 80 to 85 degree. Zummering over here was the toughest. After every push, I had to rest for at least 5 minutes. This took a very long time, almost more than two hours.
The saddest moment was around 8400 mt. when we passed the preserved body of a climber known to us. We had met during the 2015 expedition. My mind switched off for few moments there.
We know you are a fantastic runner with great achievements. Did your running experience help you in your climb?
Running or ultra-running is relatively an easy activity. We run in areas with full oxygen level. We can regulate our speed as per our ease and requirement. Yes, it did help me. But not in a very big way. Maybe up to 10% of the entire effort.
When we run, we lose a lot of calories yes. But one loses more calories by sitting in a tent trying to balance body temperature with the outside temperature.
Also, we wear the lightest gear possible to reduce any kind of weight on us when we are running. At any given point in time a climber has more than 15 kg weight on his body, only the boots weigh around 5kg. There are no aid stations here, like you have when you run. And when you reach 8000 mtr. that is when you need the most energy and the irony is that you cannot eat!
At any given point in time did you feel that you can’t do it? If yes, then how did you motivate yourself to get back on track?
No, I never felt that I cannot do it. I was very sure that I would do it. With permission of AKKA (God).
How did you feel when you reached the peak? What was the first thought?
It was like meeting the Almighty! It was so amazing, so beautiful to see the world from the top. First, I thanked the AKKA for his permission to let me reach his ‘DARBAR’!
What was descending Mt. Everest like?
Descend was the most difficult part. Even after having oxygen supplement, I was feeling breathless many times and used to rest frequently. My Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa was the most experienced person around me. He has summited Mt. Everest 7 times. He used to check my oxygen supply frequently and kept motivating me every second in the process.
How does your body react to so much altitude? Did you get any hallucinations or hypothermia or loss of appetite?
Yes, my body reacted in a different manner. Up to 8000 mtr. it was normal, at 8000 mtr due to heavy wind of around 90km/hr we had to remain at camp for 28 long hours in tents while we were waiting for weather to clear. We were on oxygen, but I completely lost my appetite and I barely ate. Those hours spent in the death zone were critical including summit attempt. In that period I drank 2 litres of water, some soup, cup noodles and coffee. My Sherpa used to check oxygen supply frequently specially in the night after the summit. But no hallucinations or hypothermia no cold related injuries. I will never forget those 28 hours trapped in the tent.
Will you recommend others to go for Mt. Everest Summit? What are the tips that you will give to those who aspire to climb?
I will never recommend any one to go directly to this expedition unless someone is a mountaineer or has sufficient knowledge and experience in climbing. Even the best climbers fail there. In reality this expedition is toughest thing you will do in your life. There is no retake here. If you commit a mistake, punishment is right there.
I will suggest, first do the Basic and the Advance mountaineering Course. Then gain sufficient knowledge of climbing by summiting peaks of different heights such as 6000 mtr to 7000 mtr. One must know the subjective and objective hazards of climbing. One must know the acclimatisation process as per the height of the peak. One must know the improvised methods of survival.
Sherpa selection is equally important, Sherpa must care of the climber and must have sufficient experience to handle any odd situation. In my case when we stuck in death zone for about 28 hours, oxygen cylinders were limited. Our Sardar Sherpa Mingma Tenjii did not use oxygen for 72 hours to save the oxygen for the members. Also, he purchased more cylinders for the team from the other teams those who were returning from the camp due to heavy wind.
Ok, Bad Water done, Mt. Everest done. What is next on your list?
Ha ha ha….I think I have done everything.
About Mt. Everest, it is really costly to climb. If I get a sponsor, I will definitely go for Everest again from China side. Also, I would love to climb Kanchenjunga, Lhotse and K2 someday. All are 8000 mtr and above.
As far as running is concerned, I will go for top 10 toughest ultras of the world.
“To see what others can not…
You must climb the mountain”
― Ron Akers