12MA Reader Story: 12 Minute Athlete Kuntal on Top of Mt. Everest

We absolutely love hearing your guys’ stories on how you’ve conquered a big goal in life or changed your view on health and fitness in a big or meaningful way.

Which is why I was so blown away when a few weeks ago, Kuntal’s email landed in my inbox:

“My name is Kuntal Joisher, and I am a 12 Minute Athlete 🙂

Earlier this year, in May 2016, I stood on the very top of the world – summit of Mt. Everest, and became the first Vegan in the world to do so (as far as I can tell). 

This was my 3rd attempt. My previous two attempt in 2014, and 2015, weren’t really attempts as both had to be abandoned due to earthquakes and avalanches that killed over 40 people and injured more than 100.

Thank you for creating such a wonderful app that helped me create a Top of the World Body and Mind!”

Kuntal is a 36-year old vegan, mountaineer, adventure photographer, and when he’s not climbing or shooting in the Himalayas, writes software living in Mumbai, India.

He has an incredible story, and has learned some powerful lessons along the way—lessons that apply to any goals in life, even if it’s not your biggest dream to climb Mt. Everest. Here’s more about Kuntal’s story, I hope you find it as inspiring as I did:

Krista: What’s your athletic background? Have you always considered yourself athletic?

Kuntal: I come from the Gujarati community in India, which is not known for their athletic ability. I don’t think there is a single person who has done anything that remotely resembles athletics or endurance stuff. Forget that most people in my community don’t even take stairs if it’s a short distance!

And I was the similar until I moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and got passionate about cycling when I saw my mentor walk in to work with a cycle on his shoulders. I was inspired. I bought a cycle right away and over next few years the cycle became a part of me.

Then I moved to Mumbai and the terrible roads, traffic and pollution meant that I became sedentary and unhealthy again.

Today I can climb a local mountain with ease, 200 floors without breaking a sweat, do 100 burpees without a problem, and of course I just climbed Everest too 🙂 So I went from being a 110 kg guy who couldn’t walk for half a kilometer to being the guy who became the first Vegan to stand on Top of the World!

Krista: Making it to the summit of Mt. Everest is incredible. Tell us more about it!

Kuntal: I knew from early on that I need to be in the best mental and physical shape of my life if I want to climb the mountain.

I trained hard for 6 days a week, mixing cardiovascular, strength and functional training, and HIIT training, like 12 Minute Athlete workouts. A few examples of my training days would be stair climbing 300 floors up and down, running 20 kilometers, hiking for 18 hours and so on.

A big aspect of succeeding on big mountains is mental toughness. I think the key to attaining iron like mental toughness is to put yourself in difficult situations and confront and overcome your fears. And so I spend significant time of the year climbing mountains in the Himalaya.

I can’t spend all the time in the Himalaya, so when I was at home, I continued to do mental training. For example, I went on long and hard treks without drinking any water or eating any food. It’s smart to train for these situations.

Krista: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your training?

Kuntal: I actually tried to climb the Everest already once, but unsuccessfully. My biggest weakness was home sickness. Yes you folks read it right. I would go on a climb, and about half way through I would think about my father, my wife, and come up with excuses to go home. The rest of my team made it to the top.

Back then I actually knew I wasn’t ready so I had to change that. I started to emotionally detach myself from my family and friends. I would go on climbs and I would rarely call home. Even while I was at home I just switched off completely from my family life. I had zero personal life. ZERO.

Several times I would feel as if I was going to pass-out. But I was becoming mentally strong. Finally within a span of 2 months I climbed to the top of three 20,000 feet+ summits and I knew I was ready to climb Everest. This was 2013.

And since then my training has only got tougher, and I don’t remember having a serious relationship with anyone in my family. ANYONE. And now that I have climbed my dream mountain I realize the cost that I’ve paid. I didn’t die. I didn’t lose fingers. Heck I didn’t even have a burn on my face. Of course I wouldn’t. I had trained harder than most people, at least I would like to think so. And now that Everest is no longer in my life, there’s huge amount of emotional emptiness. And I feel this is the price I paid to climb Everest.

Krista: Did you end up taking many risks?

Kuntal: Reaching the top is optional, however getting back down alive and in one piece is mandatory. Most mountain climbing accidents happen when people are descending. There are people who value reaching the top more than their fingers or toes. So they get to the top but lose their fingers and/or toes.

It was very clear before starting the expedition. There’s only one life, one body, one set of fingers I have. And there is no way I would sacrifice that for Everest, even if it meant abandoning the climb. So, the hardest and the most challenging part was to stay focused and come back down safely in one piece after reaching the top.

Krista: What were you thinking once you made it to the top?

Kuntal: I was just 20 meters away from reaching the Mt. Everest summit where I could see climbers taking photos, prayer flags fluttering in strong wind, and Mingma Tenji Sherpa, my dear friend, my mountain mentor, standing and waiting for me to step foot on the summit!

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. Crying out loud. Tears of joy were flowing in copious amounts. And for the next 6-8 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. Literally! I had lived this day in my dream for last eight years!

Krista: What was your “why” that inspired and motivated you to take on such a huge goal?

Kuntal: I first fell in love with mountains in 2009 when my wife Dipti and I decided to go on a vacation to Shimla, which is located in Indian Himalaya. We had one simple objective – we wanted to see snow. However, there was none when we got there, and we waited for six more days, but no luck.

On the last day of the trip we decided to go about 80 kms north of Shimla to a place called Narkanda because a friend told us that you would definitely find snow there. After a long picturesque drive on the old Hindustan Tibet highway we finally reached the place – a quaint Himalayan town. Finally, there was snow! Both Dipti and I were ecstatic. We were like small kids in the candy store. We played in the snow—angels, snowballs, all those things.

And if you ask me why climb Everest? I’ll quote the legendary english mountaineer George Mallory:

“People ask me, what is the use of climbing Mount Everest? and my answer must at once be, it is of no use. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”

Krista: What would you tell people who think that they can’t do whatever their dream is anyway, so why even bother trying?

Kuntal: If a 110 kg guy living a sedentary life with no background whatsoever in endurance or mountain climbing, can transform his life and climb to the very top of Mt. Everest, there is nothing that is impossible.

It’s important to find your personal Everest, whatever it may be, and then go on a journey to climb it. And there are no shortcuts to the top. Training hard, staying patient, and never giving up should be your mantra.

And reaching the top is important, but do enjoy the journey as that’s where all the learning and transformation is happening!

Krista: Such awesome advice! Thank you so much for sharing your story and proving that no matter what your goal is, you can get there with hard work and patience. You absolutely rock!

Has 12 Minute Athlete changed your view on health and fitness or impacted your life in any way? Get in touch at [email protected], we’d absolutely love to hear from you!

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