Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Top of the World, by Arjun Vajpai

Before Jordan Romero topped the world at the tender age of 13, Arjun Vajpai, author of On Top of the World, was the youngest non-Sherpa summiteer of Everest. The 16-year-old climbed the mountain only hours ahead of Romero from the South Col route, and remains the youngest Indian to climb Everest. His book is aimed at fellow teens, and it tells the story of his trip to the summit of Mount Everest as a part of Dawa Steven Sherpa's Eco Everest Expedition in the spring of 2010.

This is the story of an Everest climb where everything goes right. The weather works in the team's favor, Vajpai is both in great shape and good health, and the Icefall and snow conditions are more than reasonable. Vajpai handles the altitude better than any of his older teammates, and he even finds the biggest piece of trash in their cleanup effort (a 40-kg rotor from the 1973 Italian expedition's helicopter crash). For those of you who are used to reading Everest literature, a telling paragraph states that he had his own tent in Camp II, but there was no heater in the mess tent and the food wasn't the best. Not exactly high adventure, but all good news for the climber!

There are perhaps more interesting things to be gleaned from this book than the principal storyline. Vajpai's ascent coincides with Apa Sherpa's (his team's climbing leader) twentieth ascent of Everest, who now climbs principally to bring awareness to the environmental degradation of the area. (You can read about his first ascent of Everest in 1990 in Colin Monteath's Hall & Ball, Kiwi Mountaineers.) There's a photo in the book taken from the South Col of a frighteningly snow-free Southeast Ridge, where even the two principal ascent gullies are almost bare rock. After his graduation from the advanced course with high marks, Vajpai's instructors at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering recommended he attempt Everest. Also, Vajpai's father was a friend of Jai Bahuguna, Harsh Bahuguna's brother, both of whom died on Everest in nearly the same location.

Arjun Vajpai's adventures are just beginning. Look out for his attempt on the South Pole later this year!

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