Want to climb Mount Everest? Keep Rs 70 lakh aside

Jul 24, 2016, 09:35 IST | Anusha Subramanian

Besides the physical effort, what makes an Everest climb testing is how much it costs. Often, money comes from bank loans and personal favours

It isn’t difficult to imagine why mountaineers are outraged by false claims of the now infamous constable couple from Pune — Dinesh and Tarakeshwari — of summiting Mount Everest. Given the extremely high cost — both financially and physically — it stands to reason that anyone who actually reaches the top of the world’s highest mountain has earned that honour.

The sunrise from behind the Everest. Pics/Kuntal Joisher
The sunrise from behind the Everest. Pics/Kuntal Joisher

mid-day had first exposed the couple in its June 29 edition. A police probe was ordered, the report of which is awaited.

While the intense physical endurance training required is fairly well known, the money involved in this extreme sport is not common knowledge outside of mountaineering circles.

The golden sunset on Everest
The golden sunset on Everest

“The cost could vary from $20,000 (Rs 13 lakh) to more than $100,000 (Rs 67 lakh),” says Alan Arnette, renowned climber and motivational speaker, who started climbing at the age of 38.

Most climbers take personal loans from banks, friends and family and some even mortgage property to achieve their dream of getting to the top. “The difference is in what kind of experience the climber is seeking and also the level of safety he or she wants,” Arnette says. Low-end agencies will provide you with the basic requirements, and one could be compromising on gears and safety. High-end companies provide everything, including experienced guides who are internationally certified, but come with a high price tag.

‘Loans from banks, friends, family’
Satyarup Siddhantha, the climber from West Bengal, who lives in Bengaluru and whose picture the Maharashtra constable couple morphed, quit his job last year in order to climb Everest. His company would not give him three months leave. In the last two years, he has spent nearly Rs 32 lakh on climbing. He says, “I took personal loans from banks, friends, family, credit cards and ready credit options at banks to fund my climbs.”

“The summit pictures were not just a photo-op for me. From being an asthmatic child to climbing Mount Everest, it has been a very personal battle. And, then Makalu Adventures goes and morphs my photograph and gives credit to the Rathods. It’s an insult to my struggle,” says Siddhantha.

Rafiq Shaikh, the police constable from Aurangabad, who reached the Everest summit on May 19, 2016, and made the Maharashtra police proud, has spent Rs 45 lakh in the last three years, pursuing his passion. He raised funds through personal loans from family and friends, a police welfare loan and a police society loan. Kuntal Joisher, who hails from a middle class Gujarati family, has, in the last two years, spent approximately Rs 37 lakh, through a combination of loans from family and savings, to climb the Everest.

Paula Leonard from the US says, “I am a nurse and I paid for the climb from my savings. This was my third and final attempt and I have already spent $100,000 [Rs 67 lakh].”

Arnette says, "Funding the climb is always harder than actually climbing the Everest. I self-financed my first three attempts (2002, 2003 and 2008) but was sponsored for the fourth in 2011, when I reached the summit." Arnette has self-financed 28 of 37 major expeditions since starting at age 38.

Not just the climbing cost, the cost to train is even higher. There is intense training required for 12 to 18 months, which costs around $8,000 [Rs 5,36,000].

While some climbers manage to bag sponsors, it is not easy considering the risks involved in climbing. It is extremely rare for corporate entities to come forward to sponsor a climb. Mountaineers joke that
climbing might ultimately not be as difficult as raising the funds.

‘Rathods asked everyone for money’
Climbers say the Rathods knew this and made every show of raising a huge amount of funds for the climb.

Police sources in Pune say that prior to the expedition, the Rathods approached all senior inspectors and the zonal DCP for monetary help for their Everest climb.

One of the officers, requesting anonymity, says, "I loaned them a large amount of money. Then a Good Samaritan from Hadapsar and Wanawadi jurisdiction gave them R75,000. As both were passionate about mountaineering, we thought they were genuine and helped them."

When news of the couple’s claim being fake emerged, it raised the hackles of other mountaineers. Furious climbers have said the Rathods made a mockery of a climb that is serious and dangerous.

Some climbers say it is this huge financial burden that sometimes puts tremendous pressure on climbers. It could also be one of the reasons the Rathods faked their feat. The guarantee of a loan waiver that comes with a record feat is probably what caused them to fake it, a mountaineer said.

"Also, when funds are low, many opt for cheap companies, which increases the risk not only for themselves but others as well," says Captain Ankur Bahl, who only climbs with the Western companies for the stringent standard operating procedures they maintain.

Joisher says, "There needs to be a mindset change as far as mountaineering in India goes; that the summit is not the ultimate achievement. It’s all right if you do not summit. You can always come back and climb it later if you are serious about it."

What most people don’t know is that climbing comes at great personal cost, too. "I sacrificed time with family and friends. I avoided relationships because all of my time was spent on training," says Paula. Siddhanta had to quit his job. It’s the story of most serious climbers.

What the Rathods spent
Dinesh Rathod and his wife Tarakeshwari may have spent Rs 65 lakh in the last two years on their Mt Everest expedition. Here’s an approximate break-up:

>> Peak fees and permit: $11,000 each (Rs 13.4 lakh as per the dollar exchange rate of Rs 60). Last year’s exchange rate as they were to climb last year but it got cancelled because of the earthquake. The Nepal Govt extended the permit)

>> Agency fees for the climb: In 2015, the Rathods paid Makalu Adventures Rs 34 lakh for personal equipment and other fees, kitchen staff bonus, personal Sherpa cost and other bonus. In 2016, the Rathods had to shell out another Rs 9 lakh each (the cost had come down as they did not have to pay for the permit).

>> As is understood from Mohan Lamsa, MD of Makalu Adventures, the couple is yet to pay Rs 93,000 for hotels bills in Kathmandu.

DISCLAIMER: mid-day and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.

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