The trek from Chamundi hills to Everest

DH's Pavan Kumar H speaks to a Mysuru mountaineer and dentist, who is the first civilian woman from Karnataka to scale Mount Everest.
Last Updated : 03 July 2024, 23:43 IST

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Sitting near the summit of Mount Everest after 12 hours of non-stop climbing on sheets of ice, Dr Usha Hegde felt light and relieved, despite carrying an eight kg backpack containing an oxygen cylinder. Her five kg down suit, thermal innerwear and snow shoes were keeping her safe from the bone-chilling cold, but it was actually the joy and satisfaction of scaling the world’s tallest peak that kept her warm inside. 

Karnataka’s first civilian woman to climb Everest, Dr Usha could not fully enjoy the thrill, excitement and happiness just yet. She still had to face the daunting and dangerous task of climbing down the treacherous route to the base camp. Many have lost their lives while descending the mountain due to heart attacks, breathlessness or other health-related causes. “The euphoria of climbing Everest had to wait for a bit. Alighting the peak is a more challenging task than climbing it. Till you reach the base, one is not safe,” says Dr Usha.

Once back at the base camp, there was no end to the joy of this 52-year-old dentist from Mysuru.

She is said to be the second woman from Karnataka, after Major Smitha Lakshman, to climb the 29,031 ft-tall peak. While, on average, 35,000 to 40,000 people make it to the base camp every year, only a few make it to the top of the peak. 

It was at 6:10 am, on May 19, that Dr Usha, a professor at the Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology at JSS Dental College and Hospital in Mysuru, set foot on Sagarmatha (the Nepalis’ name for Mount Everest) and waved the national flag. However, the preparation started two years earlier, with training intensifying in the last three months, at the foothills of Chamundi hills.

“My routine involved going to the gym for strength training and general fitness, walking for two to three hours every day with a 14-kg backpack, and up to 5 hours on the weekends. Apart from this, I regularly climbed Chamundi hills with the load on my back. I also practised pranayama daily along with balancing my duties at work and home,” says the doctor and mother of two. 

A long expedition

Her journey to the summit started on April 13, when she reached the South base camp located at a height of 17,598 ft in Khumbu. After spending nearly a month at the camp training, acclimatising, resting and preparing, her team, led by Phurba Sherpa, started the summit push on May 13 at 11:30 pm. The five-day trek from Camp 1 to Camp 4 was held amidst thick snowfall. 

“Thankfully, on the day of the final summit push, the window of weather was clear for a few hours. There were moments when the wind was strong, the snowfall got thicker and walking became tougher,” she says.

The mountaineer adds: “Climbing Everest is about 40% physical fitness and 60% mental strength. But no matter how much one prepares and trains, it is Sagarmatha’s choice to see that one reaches the top. Sagarmatha was kind to me, so I could reach the top.” She was able to spend only a few minutes on the peak, as there were gusty winds, limited oxygen, and a long queue of mountaineers waiting to fulfil their dreams.

Dr Usha hopes that more women will take up the challenge of “taming Everest”. More women mountaineers from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, and Gujarat are venturing into climbing peaks across the world, but in Karnataka, the numbers are very low. 

Dr Usha highlights the need for facilities to encourage more women climbers in the state. She says she could complete the task because she participates in various adventure sports. In 2019, she became the first woman from Mysuru to complete the Ironman triathlon in Australia. 

Published 03 July 2024, 23:43 IST

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