Kuntal Joisher – The Mountaineering Prodigy

Prrems Conversation over a cuppa

Kuntal Joisher, software engineer by profession, mountaineer by passion, and adrenaline junkie by choice. The journey from a 110 kg not-so-prominent individual to a fitness enthusiast and cyclist propelled Kuntal to mountaineering to fulfill his adventure quota. Following Veganism brought in the much needed positivity in his life. Being a hardcore Vegan, Kuntal does not even use woollen clothes.  From a leisure walk in Shimla to undergoing the rigours of climbing Mount Everest, Kuntal defines adventure.  This led him to successfully climbing the 8th highest mountain in the world and the rest is history. He is the second Indian to summit Mt.Manaslu after Arjun Vajpai who summited in October 2011. Let’s take a ‘peak’ into his story.

Only a small number of people can, in all honesty, claim to be awestruck and inspired by their bosses while actually proving it. Kuntal Joisher is one of them. The eventful day when he saw his lean 55 year old boss walk into the office with a cycle on his shoulder was the day he was determined to make a change in his lifestyle. A change that drove him to his passion, giving everyone the hope to follow their dreams. He took up cycling and restricted his travel only on his two-wheeler to transform the 110 kg individual into a fit and healthy man. The cycling routes of Santa Monica, California were etched into his memory. The ‘cycling to work’ dream that we all have, was his reality until one day, he had to return to India. Slowly, that dream fell prey to the potholes and odd traffic of Mumbai. His life took a U-turn. Kuntal made a perceptible change. The lean, muscular man was transformed into a 100 kg individual in no time. Life went on for him, just like every other being’s. Binging, Office, Marriage was the path he set for himself. Gone were the days where even going 500 meters without a cycle was a sin. Then came 2009. 2009 did have something noteworthy for him. The beginning of a new life. The start of a new story. 2009 gave him Shimla.

Kuntal and his family packed their bags to go and experience snowy regions in Shimla. A week-long vacation in the hub of paradise seemed good enough for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. The first day passed; no snow. Second day; no snow. Third day, fourth day…. They followed suit. Up until the sixth day, there was no sign of snow in Shimla. Having had enough, Kuntal decided that if the snow did not come to him, he would go to the snow. On the seventh day, they all came to a conclusion to travel to a far off location to Narkanda. From Narkanda, the pack migrated to Hatu Peak, which is a snow clad mountain 3400 meters above sea level. The snow was right at their feet. Trip successful. The ’15 minutes’ play session went on for another 15 minutes and another and another until it was 4 hours, till they reached the summit of the peak. The euphoria that Kuntal experienced was enough for him to begin his path towards chasing this feeling. What he used to see in pictures, he saw right in front of his eyes. Kuntal finally found his calling.

He took this emotion back home and was determined to follow up. He began his research into mountaineering and the likes. He took weekend trips to Himalayas and mesmerized by the beauty, he frequented the place more often. Seeing Mount Everest only in documentaries and movies, he contemplated that it was high time he made a move to the highest peak in the world. He started his trek to the base camp and saw the beautiful mountains, as if it were a dream. One look and he knew what his plan would be for the next few years.

Kuntal started his real preparation for climbing to Mount Everest back in 2011. He enrolled himself in a course of Mountaineering at Patagonia where he was made familiar to the nitty-gritties of mountain climbing.

Prrems Conversation over a cuppa

The course gave him real time experiences of what he would be potentially facing on a mountain and was most certainly one of his toughest endeavours being a newbie. Being the first Indian at the course gave him a feeling of confidence not just for himself, but for his country. Of course it was hard; Kuntal was able to count the near death experiences he had in just the first 15 days! This was when his credence in himself started wavering.  More than the physical training, it is the mental prowess that counts. The abilities that he overestimated soon became his weakness. Fast forward to 2012 when he completed a number of expeditions and got his share of successes and failures. One vivid expedition that is stuck with him forever is when the mountain was hit by a blizzard for a stretch of 5 days. More than the physical test, it leaves you with the mental supremacy that every mountain climber needs.  It led him to enroll at the Everest Boot Camp

Prrems Conversation over a cuppa

The boot camp is an expedition, run by Peak Freaks, which determined your strengths as a mountaineer and whether you were ready to climb the highest mountain peak in the world. Prior to the camp, he went on 4 more expeditions where he successfully summited and took part in the camp. Kuntal proved his capabilities and knew that it was time to take the plunge.

The most astonishing part is that the CEO of the company in which he then worked, was already a fan of Kuntal’s driving force. So much so, that he agreed to sponsor the whole “Everest” climb. Brings back your faith in humanity, yeah?  Kuntal went forth with signing up for the climb. When one decides to climb a mountain, one cannot wake up and say that I am ready. It requires a lot of training for even professionals to perfect. Kuntal knew this and preparations started at full force. He hired a personal trainer off the internet for his body who designed the entire training regime keeping the expedition in mind. Luckily for him, the hired was a mountaineering guide himself so he had firsthand knowledge of what helps and what does not.  Eventually, Kuntal made it to the Everest but as they say, nothing worthwhile comes easy. Facing an avalanche on your first expedition to Mount Everest is deemed to scare you to some extent. Sixteen sherpas were lost in this natural disaster and the expedition was cancelled. This did not kill the spark in Kuntal. He went on to prove that his willpower is strong cannot be subdued easily.

The mountaineer was not keen on revisiting the Himalayas just yet, instead, he found his way to Mount Elbrus, Russia. Mount Elbrus is a dormant volcano as high as 5600 meters and one of the Seven Summits.

Prrems Conversation over a cuppa

This trip opened his eyes to different cultures and people and gave him 360° view of a completely different location. Coming back to India, contemplating which natural elevation he would ascend next, his eyes fell onto an article by Stephen Venables in a prominent British newspaper. Stephen Venables, mountaineer, writer, broadcaster and public speaker, was the first Briton to climb Everest without  supplementary oxygen. A true pioneer in this field, he is the only individual to summit Mount Everest all by himself. Not just that, while creating this record, he took the toughest route known to mankind to climb up the top. With no Sherpa to assist him, he lost his finger tips due to frostbite. However, he would not see it as a loss. It is a victory in its own way. He conquered all negative premonitions and earned the respect of every mountaineer. This led him to being a household name in the industry. Venables went on to write about Mount Manaslu and how one can consider it a potential trail rather than overcrowding Mount Everest. Mount Manaslu is an 8000 meter mountain where one can climb from sea level to summit. You drive from Kathmandu which is at 1400 meters to a village called Arughat at 500 meters from where one starts the climb. It is a different feeling and that made Kuntal want to experience it all the more. Only a handful of Indians have climbed this mountain, maybe due to it being called a “Killer Mountain” because of the avalanches or because they are just fixated onto Mount Everest.  He felt the Killer Mountain would be a challenging climb and he went on to mentally train himself. The strongest assets of a mountaineer lie in his/her physical attribute and mental prowess. Being in shape from Mount Everest required him to just maintain it. When people avoided, he accomplished. And as you know, the rest is history. His flag is still fluttering on the Manaslu summit.

For a human like Kuntal Joisher, adventure runs in his blood. It is a lifestyle that he has adopted. He says “Adventure is a way of life”. Not just mountain climbing, but anything that gets his adrenaline pumping is adventure. Climbing a mountain, one wrong step could cost you your life. With every step you take, your heart resounds within its cage. At such moments, your mind is absolutely blank and that is adventure. The man is definitely addicted to the clarity up in the mountains, connecting with his soul away from the city’s rat race. Being an atheist, adventures are his idols. He believes that his extremist personality thrusts his passions and helps him achieve what he sets his mind onto. Be it veganism, mountain climbing, whatever it is, he had to give it his all. A trove of knowledge, Kuntal has seen his share of extremes in the mountaineering sector. Having experienced a fellow mountaineer, Jost Kobusch (22 years old) climb a mountain independently without oxygen, sherpas or even ropes, the definition of extreme keeps widening itself. Along with him, Kuntal escaped a sure death while attempting to climb Everest in April 2015. A 7.9 earthquake followed by an aerosol avalanche caused havoc at the base camp killing 18 mountaineers and injuring more than 70. In such situations, people with a strong presence of mind and absolute training would know what to do. Jost saved Kuntal’s life by letting Kuntal breathe from ambient pockets of air inside his jacket as the avalanche cloud hit them and sucked all the air out of the environment. These tiny instances show you that however divided two people might be by race, the human race will stand united in times of need. However, over 10,000 people were killed in Nepal, and about half a million left home-less. This was not a mountain climbing accident, but a tragedy of unprecedented levels. This also meant that Kuntal and his team had to abandon their attempt to climb to Top of the World! Kuntal was featured prominently in this video which went viral and received 23 million views, and has also written about his experience on The Huffington Post.

Near death instances are a daily routine in a mountaineer’s schedule. The fear of death is what keeps one from performing. The moment you stand and laugh in the face of that fear, it will cease to exist. Kuntal too has faced his share of fears. Childhood might not have been too kind to him. A school trip had him rappelling and in a matter of seconds, he fell backwards. Luckily for him, there was an instructor to hold him away from his death. Upon knowing how close he was to the potential end of his life, the fear of rappelling set in his mind. For those who do not know, rappelling is the core of mountaineering. Years passed by with Kuntal swearing by his life that he would not do anything even close to rappelling until he decided to climb Everest. Training was not easy for him, in 2010, when he was preparing himself for Mount Everest. He had to face what he faced years back, and mind you, history did repeat itself. One more time in his life, he was losing control. The panic would have gotten the better of him had it not been for a voice from above saying that if he continued this technique, he would die. Wrong form while rappelling could have killed him. This is when it struck him, that if he does not face his fear, the fear would envelope him and his soul. Taking control of his actions, he realized that there was nothing to fear at all! Kuntal is a standing example of what happens when you manage your panic and fear. Now, he can even rappel in his sleep, he is that good! Fears are definitely important; they are what keep you alive. However, one cannot let fear be a baggage to bring you down and not live your dream. That is the moment one needs to eradicate the disease.

Having going to the world’s most beautiful places where not many people have access to, Kuntal’s passion to share picturesque views led him to follow his photography dream. As a child, the camera was his toy. A little photographer in the making had no idea how this passion would help him in the future. This toy accompanied him well into adulthood where he was the master of the auto mode. Only when he started playing around with the camera in one of his trips to the Himalayas did he realize what power he possessed in his hands. Starting his journey into photography by capturing a flame, the fire in him has yet not been doused. Overwhelmed, he went on to learn more of the device to enhance its powers and share his memories with the world. He possesses an entire gallery of images capturing his treks. The orange tips of sunkissed mountain peaks, snow clad valleys, beautiful sunsets he has experienced it all. Here is his photo exhibition online gallery.

Kuntal has spent last several months raising funds for non profit organisations working towards rebuilding Nepal. He held exhibitions of his pictures of Nepal Himalaya in Mumbai and Los Angeles and raised over 16000 USD for the cause. The proceeds from the exhibition were donated to The Himalayan Club,  Empower Nepali Girls, and Nepal youth foundation. These organizations are working on projects to rebuild Nepal, and reach out to the most impoverished children in Nepal and rehabilitate them. Another reason behind holding these exhibitions was to inspire the audience to fall in love with Nepal, and to go on a vacation in Nepal and contribute to Nepal economy and bring much needed funds into the devastated country.

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