At just 22, Pithoragarh’s Sheetal Raj has become the youngest woman to climb Mount Kanchenjunga.
The third highest mountain in the world, Kanchenjunga lies partly in Sikkim and partly in Nepal. Born in a village in Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, Sheetal has always been fascinated with mountains. She started climbing at a very young age.
Her parents initially thought it was just a hobby of hers but when she wanted to do a professional mountaineering course, she faced opposition. But she convinced them and then joined Darjeeling’s Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in 2015.
After her course, she applied for an expedition to Mount Everest but her application was rejected postponing her dream of scaling the Himalayas. In the meantime, she completed an ONGC sponsored expedition to the Satopanth Glacier, which lies on the Indo-Tibet Border, making her one of the five members of IMF to be chosen.
She spoke to Hindustan Times in detail about her Kanchenjunga expedition. “The expedition takes place in Nepal. Once we reached Hapur Khola, we started our trek to the base camp. It took us 15 days to finish that,” she said. Sheetal and her team made the first attempt to scale the summit on May 12. “From base camp, we had travelled up and crossed camp 1 and 2. We were at camp 3 when we suddenly heard a loud explosion and the ground beneath our feet started trembling. We got to know an avalanche had hit.”
When the expedition leader suggested they stop the climb due to bad weather, Sheetal was crushed. But the team waited for the weather to clear and began their ascent again later.
“We reached the top at 3.30am on May 21. I felt like I was home, but it was too dark to see anything. We waited for the sky to get light. When finally the sun rose, it was surreal to watch. On one side, we could see India, on the other, it was Nepal and in front of us was the China border. The experience was surreal,” she says.
Emboldened by her success, she is now planning to climb Mount Everest and is looking for sponsorship for the same.