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Everest, we’re almost there

Weather god permitting, a little more than 5,000 feet and less than 72 hours separate Jharkhand’s three bravehearts from the Everest.

Nearly 60 years after Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary scaled the world’s highest peak in 1953, the Everest has neither lost its charm nor its danger. The trio — Jamshedpur’s Rajendra Pal Singh, who is ace climber Bachendri Pal’s brother, and Seraikela-Kharsawan’s Meghlal Mahto and Binita Soren — who resumed trekking towards Camp III on Thursday after five weeks of bad weather, know this too well.

Natural and manmade trials make conquering the summit a risky affair. Snowstorms and winds apart, Everest Tourism, a phenomenon where inexperienced but ardent trekkers strike a deal with tour operators to scale the peak, led to the route’s overcrowding.

Last weekend, around 150 people — described by Western media as an Everest traffic jam — rushed to scale the 29,000ft peak. But a fierce windstorm on Saturday morning left many climbers trapped. The rush of climbers made descent much slower. They suffered dwindling oxygen reserves, illness induced by altitude and extreme cold. Around seven were reported dead.

Though a rerun of the May 20 triumph would have been great — Jamshedpur homemaker Premlata Agarwal aced the Everest on May 20, 2011 — Rajendra, Meghlal and Binita are taking no chances.

Their experience with harsh heights has made them patient and sure-footed, said Tata Steel Adventure Foundation secretary P.P. Kapadia.

On Wednesday, they stayed in Camp II, on Thursday, they left for Camp III and if the weather god plays fair, they will head for Camp IV on Friday. The final climb for Everest will most likely be on Saturday.

“These three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, are crucial,” said Kapadia, who is keeping tabs on their progress by collaborating with Kathmandu-based Asian Trekking Agency.

“He (Rajendra) has informed Dawa Sherpa of the agency that the three would start from Camp IV on Friday morning. All fingers crossed for Saturday,” Kapadia added.

The climbing teams were forced to go slow from April 15 till May 22 due to bad weather. Many fell ill or abandoned the trip or came down to recuperate.

Jharkhand’s trio held fort. They underwent an acclimatisation drill along Island Peak and scaled Deboche and Lobuche along the Himalayan range to be in form.

Most importantly, they kept their morale high.

Kapadia said they had told the climbers to come down if they so felt. “Their health and safety are our priority. But the three have taken prudent decisions. They have not been in a mindless hurry,” he said.

Rajendra, Meghlal and Binita, along with others attempting to scale the peak, also for the first time in Everest’s climbing history took a new route from Camp II to III, the traditional route being reworked due to rock fall and ice wall breakage.

Veteran Pitambar Sherpa worked out the fresh route with Apa Sherpa, who holds the record for scaling the Everest 21 times.