When your grit is as firm and high as a mountain, you will overcome every challenge and make your way to reach the summit. One such person, and that too a woman, who has scaled many peaks and mountains and her ‘dil maange more’ attitude doesn’t let her stop is Baljeet Kaur from Solan district in Himachal Pradesh.
She climbed the Mt Everest solo along with her guide Mingma Dai on May 21, 2022. From April 28 to May 28, 2022, she climbed five peaks back to back and broke many records.
The initiation into mountaineering
What started as a routine enrolment in NCC, led her to be trained vigorously for the first girls’ expedition to the Mt Everest, the highest mountain in the world. While in college, she registered for the first all-girls expedition to Mt Everest. Only two women had to be selected from her college for the final expedition. She was weak to the bone, selectors rejected her, she did not give up, built her body by training herself in ground clearing, pushups, pullups and eating wholesome. She still failed to get selected, only two girls had to picked, they were already selected. Mountaineer Baljeet persisted with the selectors, so they kept her in reserve in case any one of them drops out. Fortunately, one of them backed out, Baljeet was in. Now, her training at the HMI (Himalyan Moutaineering Institute), Darjeeling, started where 100 girls were chosen for the training and only forty got selected for the expedition.
Apart from being born in a hilly state, she did not have any exposure or inclination or inspiration to climb snow-capped mountains and risk her life. What was it that pushed Baljeet to participate in Mt Everest expedition? At that point, she just thought of it as a route to get access to a government job, earning money for the family and make herself and her siblings complete their education.
Daughter of a retired bus driver who is a small farmer now, this is what she longed for. If you thought this is the end of the story, she scaled Mt Everest and her story is over, you are wrong. This was her first exposure to the mountains and the first expedition straight to the Mt Everrst, might be good luck, you might think. Yes, she was a part of the first all-girls expedition to the Mt Everst, but among all other girls, she was the only one who could not reach the top as she fell 300 mt short of the summit, her oxygen mask stopped working, ice had set in inside, the guide put in some hot water which stiffened the ice more, she had to return back without reaching the summit. Now, Mountaineer Baljeet became more fierce in her determination and she said to the mountain: you failed me, now I will fail you, I’ ll come back. Her small time ambition of getting a government job lay dead.
This was in 2016, and she promised the mountain she’ ll be back in 2020. The next three years she did not climb any mountain, she did small jobs to sustain her family, worked as a guide in trekking expeditions, undertook ski courses, group treks, expeditions etc and waited for her chance to again climb the mountains. Her chance came in 2021 in the form of the Mt Everest Massive expedition in which not only the Mt Everest but four other peaks had to be scaled by a group of six men and six women who were selected for different peaks-Mt Everest 1 man & 1 woman, Mt Lhotse 1 man & 1 woman, Mt Nuptse 2 women &2 men; Mt Pumori 2men &2women. Mountaineer Baljeet Kaur was selected for Mt Pumori and because first Indian woman to climb it and after this she climbed Mt Dhaulagiri (8167m) and again become the first woman from India to climb it.
Then, there was no looking back, she climbed five peaks back to back within 30 days all of which were above 8,000 mt. above sea level in a month, including the informidable Mt Everest which she scaled solo along with her guide Mingma Dai on May 21, 2022.
From April 28 to May 28, 2022. She broke many records — Mountaineer Baljeet Kaur the first only Indian who climbed Mt Annapurna, Mt Kanchenjunga, Mount Everest, mount Lhotse and mount Makalu in 30 days. After this, she climbed Mt Manaslu 8163m without oxygen mount and become first Indian woman to scale this peak.
CityWoofer in a tete-tete with the mountain girl Baljeet Kaur
After scaling so many peaks and breaking so many records, did you get any support from the state or central govt?
Unfortunately, no. I feel there has been some dearth of efforts on my part only, that the government has never got in touch with me for any kind of help or even appreciation. In the neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana, sportspersons are encouraged and helped so much financially. I belong to Himachal, and union youth affairs and sports minister Anurag Thakur is from my state. Because I belong to a hill state, people think its natural for me to be a good mountaineer but they forget the climatic conditions we face on snow- covered mountain peaks are not natural conditions meant for humans.
|Mountain Peak Name
|Expedition Region | Year |Summit | Reached Upto
|Mt. Deo Tibba
|Himachal 2015 Summit
|Uttarakhand 2015 Reached 6,350m
|Himachal 2015 Summit
|Himachal 2017 Summit
|J&K 2019 Reached 4,982m
|J&K 2019 Summit
|Himachal 2019 Summit
|Uttarakhand 2019 Summit
|Nepal 2021 Summit
|Nepal 2021 Summit
|Ladakh 2021 Summit
|Nepal 2021 Summit (1 October,2021)
|Nepal 2021 Summit (28 April,2022)
|Nepal 2022 Summit (12 May,2022)
|Nepal 2022 Summit (21 May,2022)
|Nepal 2022 Summit (22 May,2022)
|Nepal 2022 Summit (28 May,2022)
|Ladakh 2022 Summit (21 august,2022)
|Nepal 2022 summit (30 September 2022) Without oxygen
How did you manage to find sponsors for your expeditions which require huge money for equipment and bodywear?
I got in touch with sponsors on my own through friends and acquaintances. Some of them are local industrialists, some are from Pune, Delhi, Gurgaon. I created my own savings by doing small jobs and by becoming a guide in expeditions and treks. I spent money from my pocket for most of the expeditions.
I borrowed clothing, foot wear and equipment from others, bought some second hand, some cheap ones because all these things are very costly and brands sometimes don’t matter. For the Mt Everest Massive expedition, I needed Rs 86-90 lakh, I used my own savings, I got a sponsor on my own. When I scaled Annapurna peak, I did not have a Sherpa (guide) I was alone, I couldn’t afford him.
From where did you learn mountaineering skills which make you so adept?
I owe it to the Indian army, NCC camps and the mountaineering institutes in Darjeeling and Manali.
What are the challenges you face while mountaineering?
You have to keep moving, you can only stop for 2-5 minutes maximum otherwise you can freeze or may suffer frostbite. You need to keep hydrating yourself and maintain your speed. The greatest difficulty is when you are mountaineering without oxygen mask.
Have you faced any life-threatening situations?
Yes, we face them all the time, I have been caught in avalanches twice with wind speed of 80-85 kmph. Once I was stuck in a snow storm for 8 hours while climbing down Mt Annapurna with wind speed as high as 70-75 km/hr. Once I rescued a girl who was stuck in an avalanche, in another incident, I could not save another mountaineer who died in front of my eyes. Once I had not eaten for five days, I did not have oxygen mask, I made up my mind, I did not want to go back and I completed my trek in 12 hours.
What are your feelings when you reach the summit of any peak?
I close my eyes and remember all the struggles and hardships I have faced to reach here. I can feel the surrounding mountains and peaks peeping through the clouds and admiring me.
What are the life lessons you have learnt from mountaineering?
It has brought in maturity and I see purity in people who are around us. There is no sense of shame, we support and help each other and survive.
What are the techniques and special skills you keep in mind while mountaineering?
The first thing we keep in mind is belief in God. Other than, we use self-arrest technique and ice-axe to save ourselves. We have to be careful that the anchor is set right or not, how to rescue ourselves from a crevice, how to make air pockets on opposite sides, how to fight fatigue, etc.
Would you like to tell something about your coach?
My coach is 37-yr-old high altitude guide Mingma dai Sherpa who has immense will power which keeps me going even in adversity. He had spotted me during an expedition in 2015 when I was climbing Mt Trishool, I didn’t know him then, he came looking for me in 2021, when I was at Mount Everest base camp ready to climb Mt Pumori, since then he has always been my guide.
What is your advice to young mountaineers?
You should know the capability of your mind and body. Its always a wise decision to abort the expedition if needed, you can always climb the same mountain again.
I have a project named ‘Unexpected’ in mind for which I am looking for sponsors.