GR Radhika on Everest summit: 'I thought of turning back, but realised it took the same risk'

The first South Indian woman to scale Mount Everest, GR Radhika from Telangana, recounts her climb to the top of the world

Manasa Chennapragada June 05, 2016 08:24:50 IST
GR Radhika on Everest summit: 'I thought of turning back, but realised it took the same risk'

GR Radhika is literally and figuratively on top of the world! Having scaled Mount Everest and returning home to Anantapur, she is the toast of her town.

Radhika is an additional superintendent of police in Adilabad district, Telangana. She set a new record on May 20, by reaching the peak of Mount Everest at 9.40 am. She also happened to be the only woman in the 10-member team that set out to scale Everest.

Radhika is a mother of two and climbed the tallest mountain in the world from its northern side, said to be a more difficult proposition for climbers. She took 36 days to climb a height of 8850 metres.

Radhika was initially a government lecturer, who later cleared the police exams, going on to become a Deputy Superintendent in 2007. She has earlier served in the anti-Naxal Greyhounds team and is currently posted in Adilabad district. She is also the first Indian woman to conquer the Kun mountain in the Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015, a 7077 metre tall peak, said to be an utterly gruelling climb. She holds the record as mentioned by the Indian Mountaineering Federation.

In 2013, Radhika climbed the Golep Kangri peak near Kargil, upon finishing her mountaineering courses.

Radhika spoke in detail to Firstpost about the exhilaration and despair of embarking on the biggest adventure of her life so far and how she overcame obstacles that kept cropping up. Watch her interview below.

What was it like to climb Mount Everest?

Climbing Mount Everest was a really awesome and thrilling experience. It cost around Rs 32 lakhs by taking two sherpas and it took 45 days from Kathmandu because, we have to get acclimatised first, we cannot go straightaway to the base camp. Gradually we have to increase the height and our body has to get adjusted to those increasing height. For this we had to stay in Kathmandu for a few days and then later we started to Lhasa. I used to communicate through WhatsApp. I didn’t use any international sim cards as it was very costly. I used to get free WiFi in the hotels I stayed in and from there I used to communicate. In China, Facebook was banned and Google was also banned so I downloaded WeChat and communicated through that. In my childhood I used to be adventurous — I used to climb trees, walls etc. But I never considered mountaineering as a hobby.

In 2012 when I went to Mount Kailash (Kailash Mansarovar yatra), I did not hire any porter or pony whereas the rest of our team hired them. I travelled the entire way on foot. From the day I entered China, everything was on foot. Looking at my stamina, one of my friends suggested that I go for a mountaineering course, as she had already done that course. That was the first time I heard about the mountaineering courses in India.

In 2013 I did the basic mountaineering course from Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering at Pahalgam, located in Jammu Kashmir as part of an advanced mountaineering course. I climbed mount Golep Kangri which was 5985 metres — that was my first expedition. Any person, after doing the mountaineering course, will dream of climbing the world’s tallest mountain which is the ultimate goal. Even I thought of doing it but it was very expensive.

How expensive is it to climb Everest?

Climbing Mount Everest is not only financially expensive but also needs a lot of stamina. It cannot be done overnight. I had to gradually increase my stamina and experience. So I decided that every year I have to increase at least 1000 metres. So, in 2013 I climbed Mount Golep Kangri. In 2014 I went with an all-women expedition sponsored by the IMF (Indian Mountaineering Federation) to Mount Menthosa in Himachal Pradesh. It is 6443 metres. Out of 11, I was the only South Indian and among them only 7 could reach the summit and I was one of them. In 2015 I thought of going to (Mount) Kun located in Kathmandu-Kargil Zanskar range. It is 7077 metres and only myself and an American were able to reach its summit. I became the first Indian woman to climb it.

Then I seriously thought of climbing Everest. In 2016 I approached Police Department and I met the DGP, took permission from the Government and everything happened in a fortnight. I got permission from Telangana Government to represent the Telangana Police. Regarding the use of bottled oxygen, I used it because it was my first venture. I can’t risk my life so I didn’t dare to climb without the oxygen bottle. If I had done it earlier, then I could have tried (without the oxygen bottle).

How daunting was the weather during the climb?

My first climb was during a part of the advanced mountaineering that is to Golep Kangri. The only problem was the cold — being from South India, I was not accustomed to that weather. It was a major problem for me. Regarding the procuring of equipment I didn’t purchase any, as everything was very costly and I didn’t have any sponsors. Also being a government employee, I can’t go for any sponsors, so whatever I required I hired from IMF (Indian Mountaineering Federation) which gives on a rental basis for all my expeditions. For Everest, as I was fully sponsored by my police department, I purchased whatever was required. My experience of being the first Indian woman and the world’s second woman to climb Mount Kun was really thrilling.

Firstly I didn’t know this until I came back to IMF. In our team, there were 6 members — five Indians and one foreigner. Everyone dropped out at some point. Even I thought of going back, but when I saw the way through which I have come, I realised that it will take the same risk to go back. So, I thought, why can’t I go up? Then I started, alongwith the American. There was a 15-minute gap between us — he reached first and me later. Collins works in NASA. We completed with the help of three sherpas.

As for training men and women separately, I didn’t experience that in Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering. But I heard in HMI (Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering, Darjeeling), they have women batches separately. I don’t think there is any problem in getting trained along with men. In fact, I think men sometimes help. If it’s all-women then we have to carry all the ropes and equipment etc. I didn’t find any gender disparity in mountain training. I don’t want to comment about who is better in mountaineering, among men and women. Men have more strength, sometimes it helps during mountaineering if a woman falls. Still I don’t want to comment on that.

I don’t have any role model, I trust myself. I just learnt the techniques and started. Everest might be a cakewalk from the south side but not from the north side. I don’t know about the south side, but I heard that it is like a highway where a lot of people climb and sometimes there is a rush over there. But that is not the case with the north side.

If we climb from China, it is really very difficult to climb. South side camp 2 is 6400 metres whereas in the north side, the advanced base camp is 6400 metres and the world’s highest camp is located in the north side – it is called camp 3 and is located at 8300 metres. Here, all our tents were at the edge of the ridges and we were gasping for oxygen. We had to climb the entire night and our summit started at 10 am and next day morning at 9.30 am I reached.

For the first time, we can’t risk going without a guide. If we want to go without a guide we should know the route first. If you go in a group then there will be some backup for you. Suppose you are not able to reach on time, then there has to be someone to provide you extra oxygen, something that I experienced in my team. Things won’t happen as we expect, something might go wrong. If you are experienced, then you can go alone.

I would suggest climbers go through a company because I heard the story of four Bengalis from the south side who went with a Sherpa. Inspite of his suggestion to come back they went ahead and their oxygen levels started depleting there. The sherpas left them and after that only one was saved. The north route is Chinese and there was no any delay from the Chinese government. We reached there on 9th itself though we got permission for the 13th so we stayed for a few more days in Lhotse.

My basic interest was to get into civil services, but I couldn’t qualify. I got a government teaching job. So, I took it for the time being and when I qualified in groups, my first option was to become a revenue officer and second choice was police officer. I got police officer and joined as DSP. After joining the police force I was in the teaching profession indirectly, as I taught police constables for four years.

What is your next dream?

I am a skier. I did skiing and if everything permits I want to go to Antarctica, either to the North Pole or the South Pole. I want to do first degree skiing in the future.

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