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“The last rays of sunset were falling on Everest – it was burning golden. It was as if Everest was on fire. It was like getting an intense high – but without drugs.”
Kuntal Joisher became the first vegan to summit Everest in May last year – the culmination of many years’ ambition.
He says: “I’ve been fascinated by Everest since I was a teenager. At that point I had no clue what it takes to climb Everest – I just wanted to stand on top of the world.
“One day in 2009 I was on a chance trip to the Himalayas with my super-supportive wife. We hiked to the summit of a small peak called Hatu Peak. That was it. I realised that mountains were my calling.
“And since that day, I haven’t looked back.”
A lifelong vegetarian, it was at university that Joisher was exposed to the cruelty of the dairy and leather industries. He quickly went vegan, and describes his transition as ‘opening the floodgates of change’ within himself.
Joisher says: “In the next few years, I got rid of prejudices I held such as homophobia, racism and sexism.
“These introspective years were some of the most fruitful of my life, and made me the person who I am today. It all started with taking a stand for animals!”
Joisher says: “I understood that climbing the tallest mountain in the world would be one of the toughest challenges, and that I needed to be in the best physical and mental shape of my life.
“I trained hard six days a week, using a mix of cardiovascular training, strength and functional training, and high intensity interval training. Examples of workouts I did were climbing flights of stairs 300 floors up and down, running 20km and hiking for 18 hours.”
On top of the physical training, he says the mental training was extremely important. “I think the key to attaining mental toughness is to put yourself in difficult situations to confront and overcome your fears, Joisher says.
“So I spent a significant portion of the year climbing mountains in the Himalayas, but at home I continued doing mental training. For example, I went on long hard treks without drinking any water or eating any food.
“The idea is that things can go wrong when climbing a mountain such as Everest. You can get lost, or run out of food and water, so it’s smart to train for these situations.”
Reaching the top of Everest was an emotional moment for Joisher, who says: “For the first time in 40 days I felt emotional. I felt relieved. And then I have no idea what happened – I just started crying out loud.
“And for the next ten minutes as I made my way towards the summit I couldn’t stop crying. I had finally made it to the top of the world. I had lived this day in my dreams for eight years, and then it became reality.”
He says maintaining focus during his descent was difficult – but essential in order to get back down ‘alive and in one piece’.
“My climbs are a way of spreading the vegan word, of showing that it is possible for vegans to climb big mountains, and to break stereotypes about plant-based diets,” says Joisher.
But he has another cause dear to his heart.
“About 15 years ago my father was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia – a form of dementia that shares degenerative characteristics with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Even though my dad is alive today, he doesn’t recognise me or even remember my name. He doesn’t have the ability to make new memories. After experiencing the effects of the illness on my father, and the rest of our family, I decided to use my journey to Everest as a platform to raise awareness for this crippling disease.
“All through the hardest times on my Everest journey, at points when I had not an ounce of energy left in any cell in my body, I never lost sight of my goal.
“Every time I’m in a difficult situation in life or on the mountain, I always think about my dad, and all the dementia patients in the world, and all the caregivers, and that inspires me to go beyond all limits.”