INDIAN WOMEN AT THE TOP OF CONTINENT, AND AT THE BOTTOM OF PLANET
The ending of the year 2009 has been amazing for the Indian women, especially for those with adventurous bent of mind. Krushnaa Patil is the first Indian women (or may be the first Indian) to scale the highest peak in the continent of Antarctica. Reena Kaushal Dharmashaktu became the first Indian woman to ski all the way to the South Pole, the deepest point of the planet Earth.
Krushnaa, only 20 years of age, achieved the distinction on 22nd December when she scaled the highest peak in Antarctica, Mount Vinson Massif at 4897m (16077 ft), with the Antarctic Logistics and Expedition team. This feat has come close on the heel of her climbing the highest peak on the planet Earth, the Mount Everest, in May, 2009 when she was just 19!(see the pic).Not only that, she has already done the highest peak in Africa, Kilimanjaro, and aims to do all the seven summits in all the continents. The others are: Mt Eldrus in Europe (5642 m), Mt Kosciuszko in Australia (2228 m), and Mt Aconcagua in South America, and Mt Mckinley in Alaska (6194 m).
Krushnaa joined her team in Punta Arenas in Chile and then flew all the way to Antarctica to reach Patriot Hills. Another short flight of 1 hour took her to the base camp. Her team established another 2-3 base camps to reach the summit with arduous snow and ice climbing and braving extreme climatic conditions of very low temperatures (minus 50 C) and piercing chilly wind.
Vinson Massif is about 1200 km from the South Pole at coordinates of 78°31´31˝ South and 85° 37´ 73˝ West. The massif lies in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains which stand above the Ronne Ice Shelf near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Reena Kaushal Dharmshaktu a mountaineer from Delhi, ended the year 2009 on a high note as she became the first Indian woman to ski to the bottom of planet i.e. South Pole. The Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition saw 8 women from the Commonwealth countries of Cyprus, Ghana, India, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Jamaica and the United Kingdom brave blizzards, crevasses and temperature below -30C as they skied over 900 km across Antarctica to the Geographic South Pole. Marking the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth, the expedition aimed to demonstrate the potential and achievements of women across the world. Reena got selected amidst a tough competition among more than 100 short-listed aspirants to become part of an all-women expedition that skied for eight to ten hours days for 40 days traversing a 915km path, braving chilly winds, sub-zero temperatures, the vast emptiness of Antarctica, and carried 80 kg of load on their backs through one of the coldest and most desolate regions of the world. Close to midnight of 30th December, Reena reached the trademark mirror ball (ceremonial South Pole) in the middle of nowhere of white continent that marks the geographic South Pole.
The expedition saw use of high-tech communication equipment when they could update the world on their progress and also send their voice message through podcast. Some of the interesting comments written by the team members are:
‘Although I have not really skied before, I felt it very much in my element, totally happy’ Reen from India
‘It is difficult to get my legs to do what I want them to do, especially when there are so many different kinds of snow out there. But I'm not cold and I'm not scared of the snow.'
Kim from Jamaica on skiing for the first time.
'It felt like I was kayaking back home, gliding rhythmically over the calm waters as the sun rises - absolute peace and quiet joy. Although the snow was blowing relentlessly into my face when I was skiing, once you focus and get that rhythm going, you just shut everything off, it felt so......... free. Of course those moments lasted only momentarily before I stumbled, being totally new to skiing, but I am marking an increase in the frequency and length of those amazing moments. It's going to be even more magical on our way to the South Pole!'
Lina from Singapore on skiing for the first time.
'We had an experience with the loo. If someone had asked me a week ago if I would be doing something like this I'd have said, 'Are you nuts?''
Athina from Cyprus on sub-zero camping.
'Unpredictable weather ; hate it, love it, cherish it. Just like you would on the mountain, a rough uphill climb, then comes the summit, then the adrenaline rush down the steep slope. Absolutely Fantastic. We ended our nights to a hot cup of soup, creamy pasta, and a nice hot drink, and bonding around the hot stove. Skiing past beautiful views of the icy plateau, you can't help but request breaks to take (TONS of) pictures of the view. Aniza from Brunei on the mini-expedition
"I thought the hardest thing would be the skiing but actually the hardest thing was keeping track of three layers of clothing. I'm used to wearing one layer of clothing and I can't loose that because I'm wearing it. This was something totally new."
Kim from Jamaica.
‘Today I realized that there is one reason why you should not be happy about not having too much body fat: because in this environment for this number of days you will realize that the body uses every part of it.’ Sophia
‘It is not like old days; now we have dehydrated meals and protein shakes where once they relied on seal blubber and eating dogs.’ For Christmas celebrations, the girls had, what else, but freeze dried chicken tikka masala!
‘I think a highlight for a bunch of us 7 women that have been depreived of shopping a long time was going to the small South Pole shop and being able to buy some little souvenirs.’ Amazingly, the Amundsen-Scott station of the US has a small shop there. At McMurdo, another US station, the expeditioners can even buy condoms.
‘It is very exciting here because obviously it is the lead up to New Year. We have already celebrated one new year which is South Pole time new year but we are looking forward to celebrating new year at least 7 times over the next 24 hour period. One for each time zone that we belong to so there is a lot of celebrating to be done.’
Not only her family and friends but whole India too becomes proud of her achievement.
For 38 year old Reena this achieving this feat was no simple. There were several barricades on her mission like first she has to arrange huge loan to fund her and then she had to compete with all top mountaineers of world as by the time she was finally selected she had edged out 116 aspirants to get the right to represent India in the eight-women Commonwealth team expedition. Similarly getting sponsors was no simple as everyone including government & private companies has shown no interest. Finally her family had to take loan from bank. This has now marked her achievement more unique.
Her husband who is also a classic mountaineer himself has incidentally climbed Mt Everest thrice and has congratulated her on successfully completing such an arduous journey. Reena is based in Delhi and is a freelance outdoor and mountaineering instructor.
Hats off to the spirits of Indian women!
(photos credits: IANS and www.kasperskycommonwealthexpedition.com)