In 2011, 41-year-old Ajit Venkatraman was on his way to the top of Kala Pathar to view Mount Everest and was ready to give up. His wife had surrendered to altitude sickness at 4,700 metres and returned to base camp. Everest is 8,850 metres at its peak and Ajit was making his way to the top of Kala Pathar at 5,550 metres. At 5,500 metres, and having to stop every 10 metres, things were looking tough. But, the first glance of Everest was worth it. Now 45 and having lived to tell the tale, Venkatraman explains, “The last 50 metres were a vertical stone climb. I tried opening my bottle to drink some water only to find it frozen. On the way back, I didn’t have a flashlight and was planning my night on the peak when I encountered a group of trekkers that I went back with. So, I had my share of scares too.”
Venkatraman started quite early but conquering the summit continues to be his biggest achievement as a trekker. Having been an active long-distance runner and swimmer for long, he started trekking when he first moved to the US to study at the University of Michigan in the 90s. “There are a lot of people I encountered with varied interests and from different backgrounds. That was the time I trekked to Alaska, the Grand Canyon, Mount Washington and the likes and became a serious trekker.” In fact, he says that one of his memorable times as a trekker was while kayaking and trekking to Columbia Glacier in Alaska. “We actually saw grizzly bears at the shores of the river catching salmon with their mouths and while we couldn’t get too close to them, it was a sight to remember.”
Venkatraman treks mostly on his own by leafing through Lonely Planet guides and joining trekking groups on their journey. He prepares his body for these arduous treks by constantly staying fit through his running and swimming regime. He lets us in on that and says, “Swimming is a wonderful exercise in breathing. Considering how important knowing how to breathe is at that altitude, it really helps you a lot. So, I try swimming two to two-and-a-half kilometers every day. The running helps with developing the white muscles in the body.”
His wife has been a constant companion on these adventures and they have also made sure that their nine-year-old daughter remains in touch with her adventurous side by taking her along since she was five. Says Venkatraman, “While a lot of people are concerned about whether trekking is safe for children, they often forget that children are more agile and more adaptive of these circumstances. She has been a part of a trekking group at her school when she was in Pune and she came along with us on treks around the city. It also helped that her PE teacher in school was an avid trekker himself.” He also took his wife and daughter along with him for a second round to the Everest base camp in April this year, but that was when the disastrous Nepal earthquake struck and they had to cut their journey short.
So, what is it about trekking that keeps him going back for more? “It’s definitely not easy. For, say, a Nepali Sherpa, it’s business as usual. For those of us who are used to walking every day, climbing mountains is not something we encounter daily. It’s a great test of endurance and encourages you to persevere and keep trying till you succeed. Being up there and watching the sun set on the mountains is a high. No pun intended.” Scaling new heights is not new as he assumes his new role at APM Terminals and plans to revisit the Columbia Glacier with his daughter before it melts.