By Siddhi Jain
When one finds Covid-19 has spread to the Earth’s highest mountain, the need to look at sustainable living and promoting the use of clean, renewable sources of energy, becomes crucial. This is what 24-year-old, mountaineer and adventure seeker Harshvardhan Joshi, who successfully scaled Mt. Everest in his very first attempt this year, would like to focus on.
Joshi was able to scale the world’s tallest summit, a journey that requires indomitable grit and determination despite Covid-19 hitting the region, which delayed the expedition. Rather than taking a pessimistic view of things, he prefers to look at Covid-19 pragmatically, believing it has contributed positively towards promoting the use of clean, renewable sources of energy.
Joshi’s story is one of the many stories highlighted under Seagram’s Royal Stag’s initiative ‘Make it Large Stories’, which showcases the journeys of those individuals who dream big and are fearless to chase them.
Harshvardhan found his calling in mountaineering at the age of 18. Since then, he has completed 100+ expeditions in the Himalayas. He has also climbed over 6000 metre peaks 20 times and was the lead mountain guide for the Indian Airforce Winter Expedition Ladakh, 2018. His determination to change the world by encouraging the use of clean energy in our daily lives drove him to attempt summiting Mt. Everest.
He speaks to IANSlife about mountaineering, clean energy, his early days and making it large:
Q: Tell us about your beginnings in mountaineering and outdoor sports. How did you discover this?
A: A lot of people who meet me now, think I have been an athletic person since childhood. But the truth is, most of my life I have had a very sedentary lifestyle. I was the geeky kid who was primarily into academics and loved playing video games.
I would say that my tryst with adventure and outdoor athletics started at the age of 15 when I started working in the technology space. I used to assemble and sell computers around Mumbai. The primary motive was independence and my passion for technology. It was during that time I met a few doctors from my town who were into trekking. They took me for a hike to a nearby sanctuary and incidentally, I train there every day now. These doctor friends of mine shared their stories from their expeditions to Nepal Himalayas. As a 15-year-old kid, I was awestruck. They even invited me for one of their Everest expeditions back then in 2011, but I found it very expensive (Rs 70K) and more importantly, I was busy enjoying my teenage entrepreneur life along with my college friends.
During the summer of 2015 I got to know about Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI). It seemed super-affordable and very exhilarating to go on such adventurous trips. That is when I decided to go for a trekking expedition and realized my love for travel and adventure.
Q: You scaled many shorter peaks, along with an Ironman Triathlon, racing and cycling expeditions, before finally achieving the Everest feat. What kept you going?
A: I always targeted goals that might have a significant financial bearing, but the physical and mental cost involved is far greater. It is my thirst for learning and pushing my endurance levels that sparks my motivation levels.
It makes me really happy when someone reads my story and goes for a run for the first time in their adult life, no matter how long or fast, starting that journey is the most important thing.
Q: What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your group’s expedition? Reports point to a coronavirus outbreak in the Himalayas affecting over 100 climbers and support staff. What can you tell us about the on-ground situation?
A: The pandemic hit us unexpectedly, in one of the most hostile environments in the world. However, dealing with unanticipated roadblocks is all part and parcel of scaling the highest peak in the world. While the exact data of infected people on Mt. Everest is not available to us, the situation itself was dire. Some members of my team had to be evacuated as their situation was worse than the others. What made the situation even more unfortunate was that we had no on-ground information on the situation as the modes of communication at that height are weak and rare at Base Camp due to lack of connectivity.
Q: Since Covid-19 is primarily a respiratory disease and is known to severely affect endurance, agility and core strength, what is the toll it has taken on sportspersons like yourself?
A: The conditions on Mt. Everest are not ideal for an infected person– lack of oxygen, body is under stress, no proper medical support or infrastructure and no communication. I tested positive just before I was supposed to start my summit push from Base Camp. I isolated myself as soon as I tested positive and waited it out for over 10 days until the next weather window. Fortunately, I was asymptomatic, probably, due to the two doses of vaccine which I took before my expedition. The vaccine not only saved my life but also saved the investment I had made in terms of time, money and years of preparation.
Q: You are a proponent of climate action and solar energy. How have you seen Covid-19 affect the environment? Specifically, what’s its impact on solar and renewable energy?
A: Covid-19 had helped reduce pollution levels during lockdown in 2020, but it contributed to a surge in use of single use plastics. While the world is suffering, it has made us realise that sustainability is the only way for development. Sustainable energy is a solution for most of the major problems that we face today. The beauty of sustainable energy is that it democratizes health, education, and empowers our lives.
Covid-19 has not only had a negative impact; it has contributed positively towards promoting the use of clean, renewable sources of energy. Sources claim that renewable energy solutions will provide a quicker response to the pandemic and also build strong energy systems. A new report by International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) suggests that newly installed renewable energy grids are priced lower than the traditional energy generators such as fossil fuels. With all these new developments in the bag, and a boost from the government will surely result in a cleaner environment for the future.
The campaign “Sangharsh Mission Mt. Everest” would help create more awareness about this. Awareness about solar energy has been growing across the globe, the youth too are looking at ways to make innovations using solar energy, this is my small contribution towards it. We need more responsible travellers and climate change ambassadors.
Q: Royal Stag’s ‘Make It Large Stories’ has been your expedition’s title sponsor. How does the brand value align with your personal journey?
A: I could not think of better partners for my first attempt to scale Mt. Everest other than Royal Stag. Their philosophy of ‘Making it large’ and the ‘Make it Large Stories’ initiative, built to showcase the journey of those who dream big and are fearless to chase them, perfectly captures the essence of this expedition.
With this successful attempt, I hope to empower the youth of India and inspire them to achieve their dreams while also spreading my message of building effective solutions to combat climate change with the use of alternate, cleaner sources of energy.