Of Second Attempts & Meeting God: BM Sharma on His Everest Journey
BM Sharma’s Everest triumph came just 2 years after he saw 21 of his co-climbers die in a failed attempt.
BM Sharma, popularly known as Breeze Sharma, became the first Indian defence civilian to summit Mount Everest in May 2017.
But even as the 43-year-old Indian Navy employee descended the world’s highest mountain amidst much public and press aplomb, the journey of his summit was marked by a desperate struggle to survive threatening winds, blood-freezing temperatures, and a failed attempt during the Nepal earthquake two years ago, which claimed 21 of his co-climbers.
“The mountain does not respect your experience,” said Sharma, while speaking to The Quint, following his return to Mumbai on 25 May after the summit,
It does not care who you are, how much you’re worth, who your high-flying contacts are or how hard you’ve trained. It’ll let you conquer itself, show you the inexplicable beauty it holds atop its peak; but if you place one wrong foot, it’ll send you snowballing to your grave.Breeze Sharma
Close Encounter With The White Grave
Sharma, a native of Rajasthan, had a close encounter with the white grave in 2015, his first attempt to summit Mount Everest.
Only a few days away from the peak, Sharma got buried under a massive avalanche triggered by the Nepal earthquake.
Before the avalanche, while at the Everest base camp, he could see the peaks of two neighbouring mountains tremble. He saw the snow atop them move, collapse, and accelerate down the slope, entraining more snow, and forming a gigantic avalanche. The encampment, at the time, was hoarding a thousand persons – climbers, sherpas, cooks, vendors, and the enormous mass of snow swept through all of them.
It felt like I was trapped under a mountain of snow. I was breathless, and when I finally pushed myself out, I saw a battlefield-like scenario around me. There were bodies everywhere I looked – some injured, some dead. Blood had stained the snow red all around us; tents had been swept away; and the voices, the voices only screamed panic. I was grateful I was alive, but I couldn’t turn away from that human debris around me.
“All of us survivors immediately initiated rescue efforts, digging people out, trying to find the first aid kits, carrying people to safety. But it was difficult; the damage was mind-numbing. I picked up several bodies; a girl died in my arms. She was not the only one. The avalanche claimed 21 lives and left over a hundred injured,” Sharma added.
The Second Attempt And The ‘Death Zone’ Danger
Since the Nepal government called off the expedition following the earthquake, Sharma’s permit was extended for two years, and in May 2017, he reached Kathmandu for his second attempt. All was looking up for him.
Only a year ago, he was invited to participate in the Badwater race in North America, the world’s most difficult foot race, where he eventually became the fastest Indian. And now, he was back at the Everest base camp, ready to accomplish his dream of 23 years.
Sharma said that his journey till the ‘Death Zone’ at 8,000 metres on the mountain was a relatively comfortable one, but things started to get awry soon after. Even as mountaineers are advised to proceed to the peak (which is approximately 500 metres away) within two to three hours of reaching the Death Zone owing to its life-threatening conditions, Sharma, his Sherpa and a few other trekkers were stuck there for 28 hours.
“We had checked weather reports from at least five international sources, and all of them had predicted winds at 10 to 15 kmph at 8,000 metres. But when we reached the Death Zone, we were confronted by winds blowing at 90 kmph. It was overwhelming, the strength of the air’s movement. The temperature, which is usually around -20 degrees, had plummeted to -45,” said Sharma.
It was impossible to head towards the peak, so we decided to stay put, and set up our tents. But the tents threatened to give away too. They couldn’t stay stable because of the winds, and we had to practically hold them down. Our energies had drained out. The oxygen is extremely low at such an elevation, and our bodies were struggling to tackle the altitude. Plus, we were living off coffee. But finally, the next evening around 7 pm, the winds started easing. Our sherpas suggested that we immediately head for the peak, and we started the summit an hour later.
Triumph, ‘This is God’
At 6.42 am on 20 May, Sharma reached the peak after a climb of 10 hours and 42 minutes. He first caught his breath, and then looked around, turning in circles to capture a panaromic view. Wherever his eyes went, he could only see snow-capped mountains kissing the sky, and at a distance, the sky meeting the earth. He mounted the Indian Navy flag he had carried with him, clicked pictures, and through his heavy oxygen mask, exchanged silent smiles with his fellow climbers.
“This is God,” Sharma said to himself atop the world’s tallest peak, “This is what runs the world.”
And now that he is back in Mumbai after his unforgettable 28 minutes at the Everest peak, he revels in the same. “Since 1997, I’ve climbed 23 mountains before Everest, and every time I inched closer to a peak, I felt I was moving closer to the Almighty. That’s how I decided to summit Everest. It is the highest peak in the world; I wanted to see if I did meet God there. And when I reached atop it, I could feel an outburst of energy, and more importantly, an exchange of energy. God, to me, was in that moment, prominently evident in all that white beauty.”
‘Used to Close Shaves’
When asked if he was deterred from making the Everest summit following the 2015 avalanche, which was an extremely close shave, Sharma promptly replied in the negative.
He is used to close shaves, he said, narrating an instance from 2014 when he was bit by a Russell’s viper during an expedition 18 kilometres off Manali. Although it is believed that a person can survive only for three to four hours after the highly venomous snake bite, Sharma was administered anti-venom six hours after the sting, and lived.
In another instance in 2011, his navy transport vehicle collided head-on with another heavy vehicle, and yet, he miraculously survived.
I have seen death very closely. I have felt fear for life, real fear. But I also know what lives beyond that ugly fear, atop those gorgeous mountains. And if I have to make a choice again, I will choose the mountain over fear again; perhaps, even the avalanche.
(Puja Changoiwala is a journalist, and author of the critically-acclaimed true crime book, ‘The Front Page Murders.’)
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