What do you do when there’s nothing but snow around you? When you’re in a situation, where the smallest mistake could mean instant death? The answer to that is to be positive and push on; you can overcome the highest mountain, if you’re confident enough. This was just what mountaineers Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and Johann Peris did, throughout their journey to the peak of Mount Everest.
On January 29, 2017, the pair launched their book, ‘Everest; A journey with Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and Johann Peiris’. This illustrates, the teamwork, challenges hardships and success, they dealt with throughout their journey.
“When it gets really hard, what do you think about? What keeps you going? It is not just physically tough, but it’s very difficult mentally.” Jayanthi talks about her experience. She explains that it’s not a linear journey to the top. Their group had to do several rotations around the mountain and go on from different camps, before journeying on. According to her, you’re given a specific time allocation, to complete your journey from one camp to another and if you fail, you’re left with one more chance to try.
She had failed the first time and was sent to the camp below. Her task was to get from camp two to three in nine hours. “I had put everything I could, into this and I didn’t make it in nine hours.” This was where team work played a huge role, she relates. She would keep asking Johann, how he could make it in that specific time and he would say something that never made sense until one day. Johann would say, “It’s just in your mind”. That day Jayanthi knew if she didn’t make it, her expedition would end there. “I would have to go back home for safety reasons.”
“What I realised was, it’s just about telling yourself that you can do it and for me as a woman what I also realised is, people assume that women can’t do any sports. My fear was, if I didn’t make it to the summit, what would people say about girls and climbing? They’re going to say ‘ah she’s a girl; she shouldn’t be climbing these things anyway,” Jayanthi relates.
She wanted to show that girls can do anything; she didn’t want to give up just then. So she kept what Johann said in mind and pushed on. Just before 5.00 am on May 21, 2016, Jayanthi became the first Sri Lankan woman conquer Mount Everest.
Johann’s story was slightly different. “The sad thing was that there was nothing wrong with me and I was all ready to get up there. I had all the energy and when my Sherpa (guide) told me I couldn’t go,” Yohan tells his audience at the launch. He explains that his Sherpa had warned him, that he had enough energy to make it to the top, but he would not be able to return from the peak.
“I didn’t listen to him. I put my mask back on and said I’m going .That’s when reality hit me.”Yohan had to think of everything that surrounded him at that time, “I had to think of my social responsibility, I had to think about the family that I had left behind. It was a bit of pride as well, to get to the top at any cost. But then I had learnt that life was more important and I made the decision to come back,” he recalls. Sadly for Johann, his journey had to come to an end at that point.
“Having the two of us for each other really helped. Whenever we felt down, we had each other to comfort, to console and give us strength, Johann recalls. And then there was another side to the whole thing, each time they came to base camp, they had wifi. Through this they received “amazing messages” that used to come from people all over the world, encouraging them on. This and knowing that their whole country was behind them gave them the strength to keep going.
“We had this amazing team who worked with us, they worked to help us and to make this journey come true. We knew that we had a responsibility towards them too, Johann says. Jayanthi recalls the hardest part of the journey, was climbing back down. Because once you leave camp four, it’s a nine hour journey to the summit and she had a ten minute break during this. From the peak, you can’t go back to camp four, because it’s a dead zone and you can’t stay there. Camp three is out of the question too, because it’s small. Then you have you walk back to camp two so
that’s another 14 hours.
“By 8000 meters your body is dying, it’s actually deteriorating and stops consuming food, so that your heart and lungs can function. This only happens at extreme exhaustion”, she explains adding that a lot of people die on the way down. “And because you’re so exhausted one mistake is all it takes.”
After passing camp four, she would just collapse on the floor. “I could fall asleep standing.” No rescue helicopters can get through until you get to camp two and no one can carry you back, you have to walk back down, she relates.
“At this point my Sherpa was yelling at me but I knew that he knew, I had to get back down. Because people do stop. And that’s their permanent resting place. You just fall asleep and you don’t wake up again.”
Prior to their expedition, the pair recall, their biggest mountain was collecting the 20 million rupees, they needed for their journey. “People first laughed when we went to them, companies didn’t want to see us. Looking at us they thought we were nuts,” Johann recalls. “But they didn’t realise it was all up here,” he adds, while pointing to his head. “You have to be positive about things.”
Their book is priced at Rs 3000 and is available at local bookstores and takas.lk
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