What can mountaineers who reached Everest at age 21, conquered the highest peaks of seven continents, and traveled both ends of the earth – the North and South Poles – challenge themselves?
Well, a lot if you are Tashi and Nungshi Malik. Because even as the world huddled indoors during the pandemic, the outdoor siblings, 29, took part in the 100% Women Peak Challenge, in which more than 700 climbers from 20 countries climbed the mountains. 48 Swiss peaks of 4000 meters in March.
Nicknamed the Everest Twins, the sisters, who live in Dehradun, a town in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, have a résumé that might make Edmund Hillary envious. But as part of their success, the twins faced dangerous times and financial hardship to fund their hikes, as well as hours of rigorous training, cardiovascular conditioning, yoga and meditation, as well as ‘a strict diet to build their strength and endurance.
“To climb Antarctica’s highest peak, Mount Vinson, in addition to strong alpine climbing skills on snow and ice, we needed considerable strength, endurance and tolerance at high altitudes. “says Nunghsi, who is 21 minutes older. “Just because we exercise regularly doesn’t mean we could automatically climb the top of the coldest continent in the world.”
The love of the sisters for the mountain helps, of course. “We love the challenges of the mountains,” says Tashi. “In fact, we thrive under pressure. In the mountains, we make last minute decisions and these are times we always enjoy, even though they can often be death-defying experiences. “
The twins remember how on their last ascent from Camp 4 to the summit on their ascent of Everest, Nungshi’s mask regulator stopped working. “The moment she found out about this, she gave up,” Tashi says. “And as her Sherpa was also going berserk and yelling at her, she almost turned around. But at that point, I made sure she didn’t, as we had dreamed of climbing Everest together. I motivated her to continue and together we set foot on the top of the world.
“As twins it’s hard to see ourselves as totally separate from our ‘other half’ because we like to have a companion and an ongoing mentor,” says Nunghsi. “We’re both best friends and in the mountains it’s really important to have someone to count on. The trust we have and the bond we share have brought us this far. Sometimes when I give up, my twin helps me cope.
The sisters say they discovered their passion for the sport in 2010 when their father, Colonel Virendra Singh Malik, enrolled them at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Dehradun. Their experience of moving from one Indian state to another and reorienting themselves in a new environment during their father’s various postings in the military further helped them overcome their fear of the unknown.
“We were exposed to adventure from early childhood because of our father’s love for the outdoors,” says Nungshi. “We tried parasailing at age 7, tied with a shawl behind our father’s back. Rafting and skiing followed soon after, ”she laughs.
During their mountaineering class, the twins reveled in group energy, physical and mental challenges, and the sense of greater self-discovery associated with completing strenuous tasks. “It was so different from the epitome of classroom learning and less demanding physical activities that our schools / colleges offer,” says Nungshi. “And being girls in male-dominated classes really boosted our pride and sense of accomplishment. “
Impressed by the twins’ courage and motivation, the instructors often urged them to climb Mount Everest and began to jokingly call them “the twin Everesters.” This seeded the idea of conquering the mountain in the minds of the duo. “The ascent of Everest symbolized our ability to dream big and achieve it by combining passion and commitment. As Sir Edmund Hillary said: “We do not conquer the mountain, but ourselves,” says Tashi.
While the sisters consider climbing Everest their “greatest achievement,” they cite climbing Denali, Mount McKinley (6,190 meters) in Alaska, through extreme weather conditions a week in the North American channel in May and June 2014 as their most difficult assignment. “While Denali isn’t technically difficult, the lower half is filled with crevasses, while above 14,000 feet are steep slopes of up to 50º. [angles] on the ice and lots of dangerous and exposed sections, ”says Tashi.
Plus, unlike Everest, where you can get help from the Sherpas, on Denali you’re on your own. No wonder then, unlike Everest, which has much higher success rates, that only 35% of climbers manage to climb Denali. “The total weight between equipment, food and other supplies can be up to 300 pounds [136 kilograms] between two climbers, ”explains Nungshi. “At the low altitude of 7,000 feet where the climb first begins, some climbers find it too tiring for their body to carry 150 pounds. [68kg] between their backpack and their sleds and give up the climb. “
In addition to tackling real mountains, the duo say they had to climb two other “invisible mountains”: finding funding for their extreme adventures (“a nightmare in India”) as well as the “mountain of the genre” in one country. where the chances are great. stacked against women.
“Unlike many other sports, in India there is almost no funding for activities like mountaineering,” says Nungshi. “Very few people can believe that we climbed Mount Everest with vintage rental gear from the 1970s.”
Discrimination on the basis of sex has only complicated the task. “Indian society sees mountaineering and the outdoors as boys’ business; girls who do it are frowned upon, ”says Nungshi. “Then there is the high risk to life and physical integrity, which in the case of girls is a much greater concern for parents. Our parents were often warned by relatives: “What if the girls hurt themselves or lose a limb, who will marry them?” “
However, in addition to physically pushing the twins, their climbing experiences also triggered a profound inner change. “It has helped us see life as a whole because we realize how fragile and precious life can be,” says Tashi. “The narcosis of altitude, the adrenaline of climbing and the fascination of high mountains push us to constantly push our limits. Climbing to the top is synonymous with an inner journey. “
If the twins weren’t mountaineers, who would they be? “Dancers,” they say in unison, laughing. “Strangely enough, as we discovered the first one by default, we realized that we were also passionate about dancing. So if for some reason we weren’t exposed to mountaineering, we probably would have become famous dancers by now. “
Update: November 28, 2021, 3:18 a.m.