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In an exclusive interview with Career Ahead magazine, Shivangi Pathak, India's youngest mountaineer to scale Mount Everest, shares her experiences, challenges, and her empowering message for young aspirants in the world of mountaineering and beyond.
Born in Hisar, Haryana, Shivangi Pathak is the youngest Indian mountaineer to climb the world’s highest peak Mount Everest from the Nepal side. Determined to prove that women can do anything they set their minds to, Shivangi began training at age 15 and achieved her goal of climbing to the top of the world when she was just 16 old. At the age of 17, she summited Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, in record time. She also climbed Russia’s highest mountain, Mount Elbrus in the same year, and was conferred with the Bal Shakti Puraskar by President Ram Nath Kovind in 2019 for her extraordinary achievements in mountaineering. Shivangi spoke to Career Ahead magazine to share her thoughts and message for the youth.
Q1. What or who inspired you to take up mountaineering? Share any specific incident or memory.
A1. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to do something different, something extraordinary. I belong to Haryana, Hisar, and I had never seen big mountains as a child. When I was in the tenth grade, I decided to climb Mount Everest. The specific trigger behind this decision is that I went to a seminar with my mother where I saw a documentary film where they explained what mountaineering is, why people climb mountains like Everest. Sitting there with my mother, I was completely focussed. My mother had never seen me so quiet and engrossed, as I was generally a naughty child! Seeing me so captivated by this film, my mother suggested that if it was so interesting to me, I should try to climb Mount Everest myself. After that moment, it was as if those words were stuck in my head. In that instant, the idea germinated, and I decided – this is what I want to do. I want to climb Mount Everest!
Q2. How did you prepare for this adventure?
A2. I was a very ‘healthy’ child, I loved food! To prepare, I firstly needed to lose some weight. I lost around 15-17 kilos. I worked on making myself physically fit. I travelled to all the mountain ranges in India, like Rishikesh, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Jammu and Kashmir, Leh, Ladhak, and every place where there are mountains and training for mountain climbing. The main courses that I completed are from Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering (JIM) and Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI). I did the basic mountaineering course and advanced mountaineering course, double advanced mountaineering course, as well as adventure course and so on. I also went on many treks to prepare myself.
Q3. What were the challenges you faced after you decided to pursue mountaineering?
A3. There were a lot of challenges. A few of them stand out in my memory as the biggest challenges. Firstly, getting into proper physical shape and losing weight was a big challenge for me. But, considering that my aim was to climb Everest, I had set my aim so high, how could I not be motivated! I was very determined. The second challenge was staying away from my parents and family for such a long period of time. I spent almost two or three months away from my family, in a place where I knew no one. I had no idea what was going on. I was just 15 years old. Lastly, I had only lived in Haryana, where winters are not extremely cold. The cold temperatures I saw in Leh, Ladakh, and Kashmir were extremely challenging for me.
Q4. Who has been your greatest supporter?
A4. The one person who has supported me the most, in every phase of my life, is my mother. My father has also always supported me. But most of all, my own expectations from myself are what motivate me. I have great expectations from myself! I believe I can do great things, and I believe I will accomplish whatever I put my mind to. I have many ideas and plans, and I share these with my parents, my brother, and even my extended family, as I belong to a joint family. While they do not have mountaineering or sports-related experience, they are experienced in life! They always give me the best suggestions. I think my family, myself, and blessings of the superpower are my biggest supporters.
Q5. What is the most dangerous situation you have faced so far? How did you overcome your fears?
A5. I do think I am a fearless girl, and my father believes in me, and that gives me even greater confidence in myself. Still, every human being has some fear. But I don’t have a fear of heights or mountains. In fact, when I first told my father that I wanted to climb Mount Everest, he asked me how I could be sure that I would not be afraid to attempt such a climb. I had never been on mountains in my life! And neither had my father. He then suggested that I should try bungee jumping. The idea was extremely exciting. Within ten days we went to Rishikesh where I tried bungee jumping. I jumped from a height of 83 meters. That was the day that my parents and I concluded that I had no fear of heights or mountains!
I have to say the most dangerous situation I have faced so far is when I went to Nepal in 2021 to climb Mount Lhotse, the fourth highest peak of the world. I caught Covid and my oxygen level dropped to 18. I was rescued by a helicopter when I lost consciousness and had to be admitted to a hospital where I was on oxygen for three days. That was the most dangerous situation I had faced in my life, where I fought for my life. Somehow, that superpower blessed me and within just 14 days of my recovery I once again attempted to climb Mount Lhotse.
Q6. What are the safety precautions you take while climbing?
A6. There are a lot of precautions that we take. First of all, we check the weather. It should be clear, and sunny days are our first preference. Other safety measures include a lot of equipment, such as helmet, rope, harness, pulley, and other equipment that we always carry while climbing. Apart from this, what helps us the most is teamwork. If you are in a team and every teammate is cooperating, difficulties are greatly reduced. Another important aspect is our food. We need to take great care of our diet, because we can perform at our best only when we are full of energy. In case we face a situation that needs extra strength, we need to be prepared to give it our best, and we can do so only when the body is well-nourished, healthy, and properly protected from the cold weather.
Q7. What has been your proudest moment so far?
A7. The first thing that comes to mind is the way I fought for my life when I caught Covid on Mount Lhotse, and when I decided to climb up again. I never quit, I tried – I never stopped trying. Next, of course, reaching the summit of Mount Everest was one of my proudest moments. One more is when I climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro, South Africa’s highest peak, in 32 hours, this was the proudest moment for me.
Q8. What are your future plans?
A8. I have many future plans. Currently, I am recovering from Covid as I still have some lung and kidney issues that I need to work on. My main plan right now is to take up my further studies abroad.
Q9. What advice would you like to share with young people, and girls in particular, who aspire to do great things in life and sports?
A9. For boys and girls both, I would like to say, they should first of all become close friends with their parents. My message for the parents would be the same, that you should be a friend to your children. Considering my personal experience, if I had shared my intentions to climb Mount Everest with my friends, or even my best friend, they might have laughed it off and not taken me seriously. But I shared my plans with my mother, and she knew I was serious and supported me fully. She is so much more experienced than my friends and she understands me better than anyone else. I was certain that my mother would give me the correct advice, and that is why I didn’t hesitate to share my thoughts with her. This is why I believe it is most important for parents and children to have such a bond that they should not hesitate to share their innermost feelings and ideas. Children should trust that their parents will value and understand whatever it is they say. Children should be able to share their ideas freely.
My message especially for girls is that they should never be reluctant to speak up. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, you must not let it slide. Trust your intuition, and if something feels wrong to you, you must act on it. We all have to know how to raise our voices and speak up for ourselves. No one else can or will speak for us! I was just 15 when I lived away from my parents, yet I never allowed anyone to mistreat me, and this is what I want every young person to be like. This advice stands for boys too. We may feel that boys and girls are different, but I think they have the same feelings as women and girls, and this is my message for every human being.
Finally, I would like to say, if you wish to make a mark in sports, discipline is the most crucial factor. If you practice daily with discipline and give yourself time, pay attention to your growth and observe your development carefully, you will certainly see results. I have seen the results of discipline and consistency in my own journey, and I am sure that you will too.
Career Ahead, the flagship handle of Career Ahead Magazine, is dedicated to molding the next generation of professionals and entrepreneurs. Our mission is to educate and inspire today's ambitious minds to become the icons of tomorrow. As the ultimate tool and resource, we cater to young students, budding entrepreneurs, and innovative startups, providing them with the knowledge and inspiration needed to navigate their paths to success. Through in-depth articles, insightful analysis, and inspiring stories, Career Ahead empowers its readers to forge their futures in the ever-evolving world of work and enterprise.