Indraprastha college student, the 19-year old Saachi Soni,was selected to join the Everest Expedition this year. Not only is she the youngest girl ever to attempt climbing Mount Everest but she has also had the golden chance to come in contact with ace mountaineers Reinhold Messner and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. Actively participating in adventurous sports since the age of seven, she has scaled some of the tallest peaks in India including four peaks in Gharwal and Sikkim Himalayas.
All set to take her journey further by scaling all the seven continents in the world, Saachi sets a perfect example of how starting young goes a long way in helping you stay ahead. We caught up with her in a brief chat about her passion for mountaineering, things that inspire her and more.
Q) You were selected in the team to scale Mt. Everest, recently. How did that happen?
A) My passion and efforts gained recognition and I got selected for an expedition to the Everest. I underwent rigorous training and took part in scaling expeditions in Sikkim where I scaled peaks 22000 ft. high. We worked in low oxygen levels and temperatures that stayed below -30 deg -50 deg Celsius.
Mountaineering demands not just physical strength but a mental resilience too. When the temperatures are below 40 degrees, you’re wearing shoes that weigh 3.5 kgs each in low oxygen levels. You have frostbitten fingers, are breathlessness with winds with a speed of 80kmph around you. There are also,deep crevasses and sometimes your own team mate is lying injured or even dead next to you in the snow and some how you have to tell yourself that you must move on. An experience like that changes a person drastically.
I carried a heavy burden – not just 30 kgs backpack that I carried but also the threat of death and the heightened consciousness of loss that loomed over me every step of the way. I kept climbing the mighty peak craving the view from the top with a prayer in my heart for preservation and a gratitude towards nature for letting me be in such close proximity. Now that I have become the youngest girl of our country to attempt to scale the Everest I find the sweat, tears and pain were worth it.
Q) You are student and a mountaineer. How do you manage to strike a balance between your education and your passion?
A) Balancing these two aspects of my life has not been easy. I have had to miss classes and examinations. There is hardly any time to study and every day is a race against the clock. However, I have been able to maintain a great percentage while excelling in mountaineering. The mountains have taught me to be dauntless and unruffled in the face of most difficulties.Somewhere along the line, while climbing mountains I have become one with my self. I stand straight, tall and undefeated in the face of all troubles. I believe that God never burdens us with more than we can handle. So far, life has been my biggest teacher and I strive to conquer my self. It also motivates a great deal, when you are noticed. The difference you can make in someone’s life is a different kind of rush altogether.
Q) When did it all start with conquering mountains? What inspired you to do so?
A) I started mountaineering when I was seven years old. When my age mates used to visit their grandparents and relatives in the holidays I dedicated myself to exploring the Himalayas with my father. The beauty of the great Himalayas always left me spellbound and I was unable to tear myself away. I started with snow skiing in the mountains. I have always been very brave and more at home in the wilderness, even as a child. My father has been a constant source of inspiration and strength. I did mountaineering, snow skiing and water search and rescue courses under the Ministry of Defense and got the best grades under UIAA affiliation. Climbing mountains is like meditation for me. It is something I am genuinely passionate about. It keeps me grounded and the feel of standing on top is I believe happens to be the sweetest fruit of hardwork I have ever tasted. During a time like this I simply bow down and thank the mighty peak for allowing us to conquer it.
Q) Tell us more about your background – your family, upbringing, education and anything else you’d like to tell us.
A) Both my parents are working and being the eldest among two daughters I learnt to look after myself at an early age. Sports and mountaineering run like a backbone through my life. They are the manifestation and source of all my strength and passion. Currently I am a student of Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University. I’m just trying to learn as much as possible and widen my experience. I am in the best phase of my life right now. This is my time. I’m doing my best to make sure that the world remembers me. And the way things have been shaping up, seems like they will 🙂
Q) As India isn’t a very sports-encouraging nation except maybe cricket, do you think there should be better options and facilities within the country for people like you? What were the few challenges you faced to get where you are?
A) It is quite sad that sports are not given as much attention as they deserve. I have noticed people from backward families excelling at sports but what they really need to make it to the top is training and personal attention. I would love to take productive initiatives for the youth of the nation while promoting sports. The youth of our nation are a simmering volcano; a powerhouse of energy which needs to be channelized in a positive direction.
We do need better infrastructure and facilities in our country along with proper motivation and guidance towards sports. I feel things are getting better by and by. We are doing better in the major games. Teams from rural backgrounds are winning laurels abroad. All of that makes our country very proud. Personally, one major obstacle that I faced before embarking on my expedition was the lack of sponsorship. It was an Everest of sorts that I had to scale in order to make it to the mighty peak. Through hard work and substantial evidence of my mettle I was able to earn sponsors from well renowned companies and organisations.
Q) What’s next on your cards? How do see mountaineering in your future?
A) I have a long way to go and that is the most exciting part of life so far. I plan to conquer all the 7 highest peaks in the seven continents of the world. I will leave my mark all over the earth and the world giving my country reasons to stand tall and proud. I want to state a famous quote by Swami Vivekananda from whom I have learnt a great deal that ‘Never be afraid of anything. You can do marvelous work. Be a hero. Arise, Awake and stop not till the goal is reached.’