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Priyanka Mohite’s elusive date with Kanchenjunga

At 21, Priyanka Mangesh Mohite became the youngest Maharashtra girl to scale Mt Everest in 2013. She was the third Indian to scale the world’s highest mountain at such a young age. She is gearing up for the summit in the 2021 climbing season.

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In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, The North-East Affairs caught up with top Indian woman mountaineer Priyanka Mohite to find out what all is happening at her front.

We discover she has not self-isolated herself like most of us. Rather, she is reporting to her work every day. She works in a sector that belongs to the essential services and therefore she has not been home like the rest of us during the extended lockdown, savoring hot crispy pakodas and milk tea in the monsoon madness that Mumbai and Konkan region is going through. That’s where she comes from.

Though the plans to stand atop the world’s most treacherous mountains have taken a back seat right now, the spirits are flaring. Ace woman mountaineer Priyanka Mohite was in the final stages of her preparations for yet another 8000-plus meter summit this April-may. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to give up the plan just when she was about to set out for the expedition. As a matter of fact, the Nepal government has cancelled all such expeditions in the country. Now, Priyanka is gearing up for the summit in the 2021 climbing season.

She was to climb Mt Kanchenjunga this season (April-June), which is not an easy climb even for the most seasoned and acclaimed mountaineers. It’s one of the remotest among all 8000-plus meter peaks. In terms of logistics, there are fewer Sherpas ready for this summit and not much can be expected along its long base camp trek that takes from 11 to 16 days to complete. The higher reaches are notorious for snowstorms that cause frequent avalanches.

The oxygen level in the air at the top drops to a third of the sea-level and the casualty rate is astoundingly high, especially during the descent. It’s because the climb itself is exacting as it has to be completed practically in one go – in about 16 hours; the weather does not offer too many windows. And, Priyanka was aiming to scale this mystic, majestic and mysterious blue mountain without oxygen. Determination, passion, or plain madness? Take your pick but she is convinced of her abilities.

At 21, Priyanka Mangesh Mohite became the youngest Maharashtra girl to scale Mt Everest in 2013. She was the third Indian to scale the world’s highest mountain at such a young age. In 2019, she became the first Indian woman to conquer the world’s fifth highest mountain, Mt Makalu (8,463), which lies about 19 km south west of Mt Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border.

The expedition would cost about Rs 18 lakh. She is confident and exuberant about the climb. She explains, “I have been preparing for the climb for the last one year by undergoing necessary weight and uphill training in the gym.” Dispelling the concerns that Mt Kanchenjunga is a difficult expedition, she makes her intentions clear, “Last year, a group of 10 Indian mountaineers from Pune climbed the summit.”

At 21, Priyanka Mangesh Mohite became the youngest Maharashtra girl to scale Mt Everest in 2013. She was the third Indian to scale the world’s highest mountain at such a young age. In 2019, she became the first Indian woman to conquer the world’s fifth highest mountain, Mt
Makalu (8,463), which lies about 19 km south west of Mt Everest on the Nepal-Tibet border.

The Mt Makalu expedition took about 50 days, starting from India to reaching the top. The base camp lies at around 5,600 meter, while there are four more camps before the summit at 6,100, 6,600, 7,200 and 7,600 meters.

Mohite is an alumna of the Mumbai University from where she has obtained a PG degree in biotechnology. She works as a research associate with an MNC pharmaceutical research lab in Bengaluru.

On an average, each of her mountaineering  expedition to the top of the world costs about Rs 20 lakh and she has been going on these expeditions almost every year, beginning with her Mt Everest summit in 2013.

The now 27-year-year-old mountaineer belongs to Satara, Maharashtra, while her mother belongs to the island city with her parents (Priyanka’s grandparents) living at Malad.

Mountaineering is as much about physical fitness as it is about mental tenacity. And she seems to know how to find her way even when there is none. As a mountaineer she has seen the worst. In 2015, her team was on its way to Mt Lhotse, the fourth highest peak (8,516 meter) in the world. As they were about to leave their camp, a sudden inclement weather forced them to change their plans. Soon, there were powerful jolts. There was an earthquake and a massive avalanche came crashing down. Those who had already left their camps lost their lives in the avalanche. After two days, Mohite and her teammates were rescued by a joint operation of the Nepal and Indian armies. That was the worst earthquake Nepal had seen in a century, killing more than 10,000 people in a matter of a few seconds.

She returned safely but only to return and conquer Mt Lhotse in May 2018.

Experts say that for a summit or safe return, a mountaineer should know his or her body perfectly. The weather at Mt Kanchenjunga can turn hostile and altitude and exhaustion related illnesses have claimed many lives. The secret to a safe return lies in knowing when to return.

However, like any successful mountaineer, Mohite’s nerves are made of steel and she can think and apply her strategies in most difficult circumstances. Mt Makalu was a tough climb but the entire geography is breathtakingly beautiful—stunning to say the least. At the base, the Barun Valley is resplendent with its waterfalls cascading down the deep gorges and disappearing. The exotic locale has only ethnic people such as Sherpas and Kirats inhabiting the place. Priyanka says she has hit the gym since it opened on August 5. But the pandemic is scary and she is taking all care not to get infected. Talking about the expedition next year, she says there is so much of insecurity all around. God alone knows if the Nepal government would allow the expeditions next year.

She says she has some very important friends in Navi Mumbai. And she always likes to return to the island city. In fact, she would marry and start her family only when she returns to her beloved city Mumbai.

(The writer is a journalist, content developer & blog writer. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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