Bachendri Pal
Adventure Divas
Everest Summiter Bachendri Pal

Bachendri Pal, India’s first woman to summit Everest, is a dreamer and a rebel from way back.

Growing up number three of five in a modest household near Uttarkashi, she was the one who snuck out to wander the nearby Garhwal Himalayas, and the daughter who persisted with her education despite her parents’ initial reluctance.

“I was determined not to take a back seat in the Pal family and to not only do what the boys did, but do it better,” she wrote in her memoir “Everest: My Journey to the Top” that appeared in the book Leading Out.

At school, she was regularly singled out for punishment for various infractions.

She was hooked on the outdoors early on. “The exposure to nature made me independent and fearless,” she wrote. She had her first harrowing mountainside moment as a schoolgirl, when she was stranded overnight with some classmates without food or water. The experience only heightened her love of the mountains.

She excelled in school and sports, earning her masters degree in Sanskrit. After school, she figured it was time to help out her cash-strapped family, but, regardless of her academic creds, she couldn’t find a decent job.

In the early ‘80s, she applied to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, where she was tagged “Everest material.” Her training there opened the door for teaching opportunities, but not enough to head off family discussions of marrying her off to bring in some extra cash. Facing that prospect, she talked the director of the National Adventure foundation into hiring her and six other women to run an adventure training school for women and girls.

After a grueling series of “selection camps” for India’s “Everest ‘84” expedition, Bachendri learned that she had made the cut, along with six other countrywomen and 11 men. What she lacked in experience, she made up for in grit. She spent weeks training — trudging up a hillside near her home hauling rocks, running, swimming and stretching.

The expedition flew to Kathmandu in March ‘84 and shortly after arriving, Bachendri got her first glimpse of Everest. “We hill people have always worshipped the mountains,” she writes. “My overpowering emotion at this awe-inspiring spectacle was, therefore, devotional.”

They started their ascent in May. By the middle of the month, the party was sleeping at Camp III, some 24,000 feet up, when Bachendri was jolted awake.

“I was hit at the back of my head by something very hard, and simultaneously, I heard a very loud explosion,” she remembers. “I thought it might be a burst oxygen cylinder we had kept outside our tent, but suddenly I felt that I’m crushed under a very heavy load, so then I realized it’s a very big avalanche, and I was really waiting for the death.”

The climber sharing her tent slashed his way out with a knife and then helped dig her out.

Most everyone had been injured — Bachendri had a throbbing lump on the back of her head — and many members of the party were forced to retreat to basecamp due to injuries or fried nerves. But Bachendri elected to continue.

“At that time,” she says, “I really realized that women have that power, the tolerance, the patience — what we call this women power — to keep going.”

She joined a new group of climbers to attempt the summit — she was the sole woman — and 1:07 p.m. on May 23, she stood atop the hard-won, pinhead of a peak.

“When I was on top, my whole hopes were on getting back safely. I could not enjoy on top. So I was there for 45 minutes, we placed that small image of the goddess on top and something given by the friends. And we took photographs of each other, with our Indian Nepalese tricolor flag, but my whole conscious was, ‘Will I be back safely, to get to camp.’”

More than 15 years and many expeditions later — including several to Everest — she’s still climbing, and urging along others at Tata Steel Adventure Foundation, where she runs a training camp to build teamwork and survival skills.

Eventually, she wants to start her own training camp.

“Whatever experience I have gained, I want to share this with the younger generation, for character building and to be courageous, to be independent, enterprising, and to have belief in themselves, to know their full potential, to be resourceful, not to look always for shortcuts and soft options.”

From the Interview

“While climbing a mountain, I come to know about myself, what scares me, and how I deal with my confidence and my determination. I consider nature is not only a great teacher, but as a great purifier… it simplifies the problems, and purifies our paths.”

“Initially it was very difficult for me, I come from a small village, so taking mountaineering as a sport, it was unusual. So, to step out in the beginning from that small village was very difficult.”

“The biggest risk in life is not to take risks.”


Coordinates: India

Bachendri Pal

Summiter



Coordinates:

Uttarkashi, India


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