India can attract foreign mountaineers by setting up robust rescue and waste management systems: Keval Kakka, Tenzing Norgay National Awardee

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you – David McCullough Jr. The 31-year-old Keval Kakka is the first Indian mountaineer to climb two of the world’s two highest peaks within six days. Such feat cannot be achieved without passion, grit and sheer love mountaineering and constant training and dedication to horn the craft.

Due to his unparalleled physical and mental endurance, Keval has been listed by Man’s World among ten strongest men in India. The Quotes reached out to Keval Kakka to understand his passion for mountaineering, and the challenges which is constantly coping up in his quest to achieve more. Excerpts of the conversation.  

Q 1: In 2019, you became the first Indian to climb down the tip of the world’s tallest peak Mount Everest and then Mount Lhotse, within a span of six days. You received the Tenzing Norgay National Award from the honourable Ex-President of India , Shri Ram Nath Kovind. Kindly explain what inspired you to take up such a daunting task and how’s been the journey so far. What was the idea behind completing both within six days?

The idea was always to focus and excel in the craft that I had been learning. When I took the mountaineering as a sport, I accepted the required hard work, training and the compromises in the journey as integrated part of my life. I would say the process of becoming a mountaineer has completely changed my life.

I always had the wish to do something unique and something that others haven’t done. This wish has always kept me going and motivated me, inspired me to push my limits. That was the sole idea to accomplish Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse both in a single season and the shortest possible span. The successful completion of that back-to-back climb has injected lot of confidence in my heart and I am now ready to take more challenges in future.

Q 2: In 2018, you completed the trek of Mount Stok Kangri in Ladakh along with your friend. That trek completely changed your life as you were forced to cut your thumb. Kindly share the story behind loosing your thumb and how challenging was the trek?

We were attempting Stock Kangri (6,153 metres), is the highest mountain in the Stok Range of the Zazkar Mountains a Trans- Himalayan Mountain in the Ladakh region, in winters which was a very difficult task as the weather was quite cold say – 30-to-40-degree Celsius, additionally the wind chill factor.

Me and my friend were stuck in a snow storm for two days which became quite difficult for us due to which we decided to go for the summit push with the fresh snow. It took us almost 16 hours to reach the summit.

While descending my friend twisted her ankle and we were forced to descend slowly and by the time we reached our tents my fingers had gone cold and frostbitten. Immediately the next day I reached SNM hospital in Leh and they asked me to get it treated in a good hospital in Mumbai. But as it was a deep tissue frostbite the tip of the thumb had to be amputed and cannot be saved. Accepting it as a part and parcel of the profession I moved on and resumed climbing after letting it heal completely.

Q 3: We read about your aspiration to complete ‘Project Tri Summit.’ How far have you reached in your quest to achieve your dream project. Also kindly help a common reader to understand the significance of Project Tri-summit.

So, after climbing two peaks above 8000m, I wanted to push my limits and achieve a new feat to set the bar high. I decided to climb three peaks above 8000m in a single season and named it project tri summits. My first quest was Mt. Annapurna 1 and after attaining the peak when we moved to the next peak there was an outbreak of covid at base camp and many climbers got infected due to which climb was called off. We had to return back and abort the climb.

After successfully climbing Mt. Dhaualgiri, I tried to trek Mt. Kangchenjunga but the weather turned bad and we had to turn back 100m short of the summit. Suffered frostbite on the right great toe of my thumb and so couldn’t continue further. But I wish to try and push harder the next time and finish the project.

Q 4: As a prominent mountaineer, how do you see the culture in our country for mountaineers and what more needs to be done from the government perspective. There is not much awareness in our country when it comes to this activity. What according to you is the reason behind such a situation and what can be done to improve the situation.

Mountaineering is a very wide sport. But since it’s not a competitive format it’s not so popular. Many say it’s an individual’s sport that one does for his or her benefits etc. Also, it is one of the most extreme kind of sports.

As we all know we are blessed with the Himalayan range and so many mountains and high altitude passes, if we set up a system for rescue and promote it well, we could attract good number of foreign climbers that would help develop an economy like for example Nepal.

But we need to also focus on waste management and clean-up of mountains post expeditions.

Q 5: Mans World listed you among ten strongest men in India. What was your first reaction when you heard the news and what do you think of such acknowledgment?

It felt really great to be a part of the 10 strongest men in India. It has motivated me to work harder and try some more projects beyond my boundaries to push the barriers and achieve the next.

Q 6: Kindly help our readers under about your transition from a normal guy pursuing Automobile engineering to taking up a daunting passion like mountaineering.

The transition took a lot of efforts and focus. I always knew that road ahead is going to be a challenging one and I’ll have to compromise with lot of my regular habits in order to achieve great heights as a mountaineer. From diet, training to prepare myself mentally, I went through a revolutionary transition in my life which helped me to take up my first expedition at the age of 21. However, being close to my parents and then best-friend and now fiancé helped me a lot to keep the right perspective and approach towards my goals.

Q 7: We have learnt that you sourcing funds from private entities. Kindly explain how you doing that and how you make money via mountaineering? And what are your future plans?

Mountaineering is an expensive sport and especially with all the technology and high-end gear there is a lot of money involved. Very few brands or sponsors support climbing or an expedition so it becomes difficult to raise funds.

During my first climb in 2017 I got rejected by 182 sponsors but didn’t give up and kept trying hard. It’s still the same struggle even after climbing 6 peaks above 8000meters and doing ‘n’ number of treks and climbs and receiving the national award as well. Every year and every project are equally challenging with regards to finding sponsors but that’s how it is have to stay positive and try our best to find and get as much as possible to make a climb safe and successful.

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