My first Himalayan trek to Annapurna Base Camp in 2019 was one of many firsts—buying the gear, getting to know the sherpas and fellow climbers, the jaw-dropping experience of seeing the majestic and glorious Himalayas. The Himalayas remind us of our irrelevance in the bigger scheme of things and how insignificant our problems are. Trekking grounded me and gave me perspective.
Bitten by the Himalayan bug, I found myself back in March 2023, this time headed to the Everest Base Camp with school buddies. This trip left me in a more reflective frame of mind. I’d had a lot on my mind as we started, but by the end of the 10 days, clarity emerged.
Building an enduring company or navigating life’s challenges takes resilience and perseverance. Nothing of value is built without sacrifice and grit, and the challenge is always within.
Here are some of the lessons I learnt on the mountain.
When it seems impossible to go further all you need to do is take another step. You keep doing that and when you look back it’s exhilarating to see the progress you have made.
At the end of an eight to 10-hour high-altitude trek, there were times when I was really, really tired. Eyes half-closed, laboured breathing, trekking poles clattering on the boulder-ridden path and self-doubt creeping in. At that time, simply telling myself “just another step” was clarifying. When you are surrounded by darkness and confusion, the simplicity of living “one day at a time’ is what makes it possible to get through the difficult time.
The most important decision you make is who joins the climb with you. There is no way you can navigate life’s adventures alone. There will be good days and bad. There are days you need to lead and days you make space for others to show the way. With everyone focused on improving themselves daily, the team got better and faster at navigating the heights. Most importantly, when you hit a wall, it’s the collective that cajoles and urges you past it.
Our impromptu breakouts to the “Naatu Naatu” song and the daily huddle, where someone shared a prayer, a joke, a vulnerability, or simply stated the day’s objective, helped us bond well as a team.
Don’t build expectations for a perfect outcome because you don’t control anything, except the input. We started planning our trip six months before, but the two who came up with the idea did not make it. Two other friends who had plenty of reasons not to show up made the trip.
Till the last minute we were not sure who would make it to Lukla in Nepal, the closest airport to start the trek to the base camp. Do everything you can to make a difference but accept that you can’t control outcomes.
A question I’m often asked is, How do you prepare for EBC (Everest Base Camp)?
The answer we got from Shailee Basnet, who summited Everest as part of Nepal’s first all-women team, was “it’s all in the lungs and legs”. And when you have to choose, listen to the lungs. Controlling your breath, that’s how you prepare for EBC, or for anything difficult. Step by step. Breath by breath.
You never know till you jump in with both feet. Typical pre-trip questions and anxieties include “Have I done enough training?”; “Should I take Diamox to handle the altitude?”; “Do I have the right gear for -15 to -20 degrees Celsius?”. Well, you can never be sure. The only way to find out is to go for it. Having a positive frame of mind is crucial. Trust your preparation and training, your team, your equipment and back your ability to make good decisions along the way.
On the trip some of us fell sick. Grinding through it for 36 hours was the only way through. I would be lying if I said I enjoyed that part of it. Those days, I just gritted my teeth, cursed and prayed. No pictures, no stopping to take in the breathtaking views, just a struggle to see the day through. My takeaway: Keep moving; it’s not over if you are still trying.
I still remember the 60 minutes I spent at Annapurna Base camp in 2019, mesmerized by the gigantic massif. The serenity and internal calm I felt was deeply moving. I will cherish that memory for life.
During this trek to Everest Base Camp, I was wondering if I would get to experience that sense of spirituality again. As we began our return from EBC, I turned to bow to Everest. As I stood up, I saw the sun’s first rays roll over Everest’s summit. The warmth and brightness of the morning sun started from my forehead and inched downwards till I felt bathed and connected to the grandeur of what I was witnessing. My daughter’s health had been on my mind for the past 18 months but in that moment, I saw a clear sunny path ahead and I just knew that things were going to be okay.
Sharing experiences with folks you love and trust provides the splash of colour to your memories. Authentic relationships that are built over time are priceless. Eventually, these relationships are the only things that matter.
On this trip I had school and college friends, each of whom I had known for 37-49 years. The daily banter and sledging, the helping hands, the comfort of giving up without judgment, the after-party craziness, all priceless indeed.
Leadership lessons are all around us. The mountains show us the insignificance of our daily struggles and inspire us to dream bigger. Remember the best view comes after the hardest climb.
Mohit Bhatnagar is a managing director at Peak XV.