Ain't no mountain high enough

Ain't no mountain high enough
With extreme temperatures varying between a mind-numbing -7 degrees Celsius and -40 degrees Celsius, 22 hours of broad daylight, several polar high-pressure systems and dangerous avalanches, the 4,892 m high Mt.

Vinson Massif in the icy continent of Antarctica is the most inhospitable peak on the planet. But it’s also one of the most spectacular ones, located as it is in the untouched wilderness of the polar desert. It’s every mountaineer’s dream to conquer this peak and in December 2014, the Dehradun-based sisters, Nungshi and Tashi Malik, did just that.

With Mt. Vinson Massif conquered, the duo has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the world’s first twin sisters to step together on the seven summits of the world. Ask the 23-year-olds about what keeps them going and they reply in unison, “When the body says ‘give up’ we have trained the mind to say ‘get up’!”

It’s no mean feat to successfully scale the seven top peaks across seven continents — Mt. Kilimanjaro (South Africa), Mt. Everest (Asia), Mt. Elbrus (Europe), Mt. Aconcagua (South America), Mt. Carstensz Pyramid (Australia and Oceania), Mt. McKinley (North America) and Mt. Vinson Massif (Antarctica). Apart from these, the girls have trudged up many other mountains and glaciers in India, including the Mt. Rudugaira (Himachal Pradesh) and an unnamed and unclimbed peak at 21,000 ft in the Himalayas.

And nowadays, they are busy skiing from the South Pole to the North Pole! Scaling Mt. Vinson Massif as well as the skiing trip is part of the ‘2 for 7 – Unchaiyon Se Aage’ mission they have undertaken in support of the girl child in India. As the twins point out, “Belonging to a place where gender-biased sex selection and violence against the girl child is not uncommon, we decided to stand for ‘Her’ as she climbs tough mountains through life’s journey.”

It was entirely by chance that the young climbers began their tryst with the mighty mountains. When they completed their class 12 exams, in which both scored very well – Nungshi got 94 percent, while Tashi got 92 percent – their father, Retd Colonel Virender Singh Malik, instead of pushing them towards pursuing hardcore academics, suggested they opt for distance learning programmes.

The twins latched on to the advice with great gusto as they took admission in a journalism and mass communication course. The next three years were spent doing a wide range of activities – from writing articles on social issues, dancing and skiing to a special course in computer applications and even a year-long certificate course in peace-building from a US-based institute.

Once again, it was their dad who came up with the idea of taking a beginners course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarkashi in 2009.  “We scored ‘A’ grade in all courses and ‘fit to be instructor’ grade in the final ‘Methods of Instruction’ course. Our instructors were very impressed with our grit and motivation and would often comment ‘you two should climb Mt Everest’. In fact, they started calling us ‘the twin Everesters’ as a joke and the name stuck!’’ shares Nungshi.

The girls started preparing seriously for the Everest climb from 2010 and summited the world’s highest peak in 2013. It was while they were spending days together at the Everest Base Camp that they came up with the idea of scaling all the seven peaks around the world.

“We had to spend nearly seven weeks at the Everest Base Camp acclimatising and waiting with 700 other aspirants for the opportunity to make the final summit. It was during this period that we came across few mountaineers who were on their ‘seven summit’ journey. Everest was the last on their list. It got us thinking about whether we could fulfill such a feat,” recalls Tashi.

Climbing mountains, certainly isn’t an easy task. Strict fitness regimes, strength endurance and religious cardio training  equipped this duo to survive in harsh environments. “Before attempting any major climb, we preserve as much body energy as possible as the loss is extremely rapid at a high altitude. For instance, during the Everest attempt, we lost 12 kilos each in two months,” they explain.

Of course, their climb to the top has certainly not been all fun, adventure and excitement. There have been times when unexpected problems have cropped up – like a painful overgrown wisdom tooth or a technical snag in their oxygen cylinder during the final push for a climb. Besides, there is also the apprehension of an evacuation in case anything goes wrong. The sisters also faced difficulties with funds. But thanks to the aid from their family members, well-wishers, Facebook followers, state governments, Birla Trust, ONGC, Tata Trust, Mahindra Group and others, they have managed their trips.

Nungshi and Tashi are part of the rapidly growing club of women climbers in India. In the last two years, girls like Krushna Patil, Arunima Sinha and Malavath Poorna have made the country proud with their achievements. Looks like there ain’t no mountain high enough for these women to scale!

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