Ankur Bahl - 'Oldest Indian' ever to climb world’s 7 highest summits

Most people, at his age, prefer a life of leisure. But, Ankur Bahl, at the age of 57, has become the 'Oldest Indian' to climb the seven summits - the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Ankur, who is a retired Merchant Navy officer from Delhi, is proving to the world - both young and old - that age is no bar!

Conquering the heights of the seven highest mountains of seven continents is regarded as the world's biggest mountaineering challenges. On August 14 this year, the climber marked his imprint atop Carstensz Pyramid and hoisted the Indian tri-color after achieving his dream.

In 2016, when he scaled Everest, the highest mountain in the world, he was 55. He became the third oldest Indian to achieve this feat. Even now, Ankur is showing no signs of slowing down. At the age of 57, he skied to the last degree of the South Pole in January this year and became the oldest Indian to do so.

In fact, he is aiming to ski to the North Pole which would complete another challenge, that is, the 'Grand Slam'. The Explorer's Grand Slam involves doing Seven Summit, and skiing to the North Pole and the South Pole.

Talking to Jammu Links News, Bahl says, "Going to the top of the mountain is only half the job, because you've got to come down. Returning safely and in one piece, is what matters the most. Until you come back to the base camp, you can't tell yourself that you've done a summit."

Dream come true: At the top of Kilimanjaro, his first summit, along with his wife.

At the age of 50, he started his Summit expedition with Kilimanjaro in 2011, along with his wife. By 2016, he had completed the Seven Summit list of Bass, when he reached the top of Kosciuszko, but decided to go for another peak, Carstensz Pyramid, from the Messner List. Now, he takes pride in saying that he has climbed all of the eight peaks, which very few people would attempt.

"Climb Kilimanjaro, was a part of my bucket list. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to go for Seven Summit," Ankur says. He owes the climbing instinct in him to two of his teachers, Gurgayal Singh and Sheil Vohra. Gurdayal Singh was his geography teacher and a part of Indian expedition to Everest, who would tell stories that excited him to explore the heights himself. Deputy Head Master, Sheil Vohra, who was lovingly called 'Bond', took him on his first trek to Goumukh, at the age of 13.

According to the Messner version of the Seven Summit, the highest mountains are Everest (8848m, Asia), Aconcagua (6961m, South America), McKinley or Denali (6194m, North America), Kilimanjaro (5895m, Africa), Elbrus (5642m, Europe), Vinson (4892m, Antarctica), Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid (4884m, Australia). The Bass version replaces Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid with Kosciuszko (2228m, Australia), retaining Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Vinson, Elbrus in the list.

Taking Indian flag to the heights: Ankur and his team after conquering Everest.

 

Here is an excerpt from his interview:

How do you see your life after you started with mountaineering? Is there something that the mountains teach you?
Definitely. I see my life in two phases - before and after. The journey through nature is very relaxing, satisfying and spiritually uplifting to me. The person ends up feeling that materialistic things have really no value. The experience one gains while climbing will always remain with you, whereas materialistic things provide you with a transient experience. I've learned how to live and enjoy, each day, in a better way.

Have natural factors like deadly avalanches given you second thoughts?
I was stuck in an earthquake on Everest in 2015 which abandoned the journey, but that also couldn't set me back. I've been very focused on what I want to do. I was not worried because I work to minimize all the possible risks involved. While climbing, you should ensure that you've got the least chances of getting caught up in any kind of disaster.

How do you manage your family and expeditions?
I and my wife, Sangeeta Bahl, who is also a mountaineer have been together in some of the climbs. My parents have been a great support. They have looked after my children and business while we were away. My elder son is a lawyer, and now, on his own, while the younger son is in a boarding school.

How has been the mountaineering experience with your wife?
We enjoyed climbing mountains together. She got injured while our journey to the top of Denali, and we decided its better not to go together. Someone has to be alive and back at home to take care of the family. So, while we still go on to our climbing journeys, we chose different times. We've become the 'oldest Indian couple' to scale the Everest.

What all preparations you need to do before starting a climb?
I train six days a week, do some yoga and exercises to remain fit throughout, both physically and mentally. You need to invest a lot of time and money for every climb, since each one of them is different and requires a plan. It is not like one day you decide I'll climb a mountain. It is months and months of preparations that go behind a single climb.

You've inspired many people towards climbing and exploring nature. What message do you have for them?
Anyone can climb mountains, but should have a disciplined and focused approach. You should be trained well for each mountain to maximize your chances of success. Staying fit is of utmost importance. Completing the climb, that is reaching the top and coming back safely, should be the primary goal.

Mountaineering ain't easy: Ankur with his team, scrambling on rocks of the Carstensz Pyramid, his 8th summit.

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Author

Harry Walia