‘The Mountain Kid’  Kaamya Karthikeyan

‘The Mountain Kid’ Kaamya Karthikeyan

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अगर आप इसे हिंदी में पढ़ना चाहते है

Hey Stubborn Army!

 

We are back once again with a tale of inspiration, resolve and stubbornness. We have brought you such tales earlier then but this one is inspirationally special. 

 

So how would you answer the following 

 

Were the treacherous trails leading to the Himalayan peaks your playground at the age of 5? 

 

Were you at 7 years of age training hard to scale mountain peaks which daunted many an experienced adventurer?

 

Or

Were you dreaming of scaling the Mount Everest at the age of 10 ?  

   

Well I’m sure the answer of most of us would be – ‘NO’. However there is a 12 year old girl whose answer to the above questions would be a resounding ‘YES’. Astounding but true.

 

We are talking about Kaamya Karthikeyan, a 12 year old Navy kid, who has notched up one record after the other in the field of Mountaineering and adventure. Starting at the tender age of 3, Kaamya discovered the joy of being with mother nature and the thrill of trekking which soon developed into a consuming passion.

 

Today we are going to share the journey of this young intrepid adventurer as seen though the eyes of her parents. So come join us in this thrilling story of a young girl as she journeys through white snows and learns to face the different awe inspiring facets of nature.

The Sahyadris - Kaamya’s Playground

I am Mrs Lavanya K, wife of an Indian Naval officer Cdr S Karthikeyan and proud mother of Kaamya. I am going to share our journey as a family with all of you. Everything  starting from the pottering in the backyard of our house to the setting of world records in different continents.  

My husband has always been fond of an adventurous life. He is very good in sports and also had a fascination for mountaineering. In 2007, when we were about to be blessed with our little angel, my husband was training with Indian Navy’s skydiving team for the International Naval Games. 

The naval games were to be conducted in India that year and our skydiving team went to the U.S. for some rigorous training in preparation. I fortunately got a chance to travel along with my husband along with Kaamya, who was still to open her eyes to the outside world. So in a way, Kaamya was ‘born in adventure’. 

When our little angel came into our life, she kicked off a completely new but joyous journey for us. We were living in Lonavala, the biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats (The name of this mountain range is “Sahyadri” meaning- Benevolent Mountain) surrounded by lush green landscapes and fresh air.   

When Kaamya was about to turn 3, my husband left to attend a basic mountaineering course in the Himalayas. Kaamya would frequently ask me “Where is Dadda?” and I would point at a hill just behind our house and say “He is in the Himalayas.” Thus, she started to think that the Himalayas lay just beyond that hill. 

When ‘Dadda ’ came back, just to quench her curiosity, we climbed that hill. That just opened up a whole new horizon. As a Naval Officer, my husband is only able to spend time with us on weekends. On weekends, the streets of Lonavala are flocked by tourists, so these hills became our weekend getaway. 

Every week we would find a new trail to discover, another hill to climb and Kaamya’s love for communing with nature grew with every outing. Though I was not a very outdoors person, I would accompany my husband and daughter out of concern for Kaamya. Kaamya enjoyed every single moment we spent amidst the serene landscapes of the Sahyadris and they became her playground.

“What does dadda do in the mountains?”

Seeing Kaamya’s fascination for the hills, we decided to plan on a vacation to the Himalayas, home to the most beautiful mountains in the world. We discovered Gulmarg, which eventually became like a yearly pilgrimage spot for us for a while.  

In addition to exploring the mountain trails around Gulmarg, we took Skiing courses and over the next four years advanced from the beginners courses to the advanced courses.

In 2014, we travelled to Ladakh,  accompanied by one of my husband’s friends who is a mountaineer. Though it was almost mid-October and snow falls had already started, my husband wanted to climb the peak of Mount Stok Kangri that year. 

We met Mr. Sonam Wangyal (one of the mountaineers in India’s 1965 Everest Expedition), who runs the local chapter of the IMF (Indian Mountaineering Foundation) office from his house and was the authority for giving permits to climbers for Mount Stok Kangri. 

The climbing season was almost over and Mr. Wangyal was apprehensive of allowing them to climb. We would frequently go to his house, where he would pluck fresh apples from his orchid for Kaamya while regaling us with stories from his treasure trove of experiences in the amazing 80 years of his life. Kaamya always listened to these stories with great fascination. Mr. Wangyal was a very interesting person to talk to and it is from him that  we learnt how important it is to have stories in our life to remember and pass on, and thus Kaamya, my husband and I are on our journey of collecting stories and memorable moments.

My husband was able to convince Mr. Wangyal for the permission to climb Mount Stok Kangri that year. It was just him and his mountaineer friend along with a guide. We accompanied them to the basecamp. Kaamya with some conviction in her innocent voice asked “Daddu, when am I going to climb the mountain?”. Very soon my husband said and little did we know that it would actually come to pass very soon.

Though they could not reach the summit that year, it was a remarkable experience for my husband. He would return as the leader of the Naval expedition the next year and summit both the Mount Stok Kangri and Mount Kund along with his team.

While my husband and the Naval team trained for the expedition, Kaamya and I would accompany them for regular walks and weekend treks. So gradually our endurance and expertise improved.

When my husband went on his mountaineering expeditions, for Kaamya it was as if he had just disappeared for a while and she would often ask me what her father did in the mountains during his absence. I really could never give her a satisfactory reply, so one day I said to her “lets find out ourselves” and thus began an amazing journey of adventure and discovery.

The Himalayan Odyssey

So to satisfy the curiosity of my daughter, we embarked on an adventure into the Himalayas.

Having walked and trekked with the Naval Mountaineering team often, we were in good physical form and well versed with the rudiments of trekking.

Keeping Kaamya’s young age in mind, we decided to start with a trek to Chandrashila (13000ft) in Uttrakhand, which was considered to be of easy-moderate difficulty, and we took a trusted team with us. 

Kaamya at just 7 years meshed into the environment of being in a team very well and effortlessly became a part of the group.She would look up at the mountain peak with a stubborn look and say “I am coming to meet you at the top.” Being out in the wild open spaces, away from the cares of the routine life, gave her a sense of freedom and we all bonded a way which would not have been possible back home.

When we reached the summit, the vastness and majesty of the mountains all round us was humbling and spellbinding. The trek was such a remarkable experience that it called us back again the next year. This time we were accompanied by our close family and friends on the trek to Har ki dun (13500ft) but we wanted to test our endurance and especially how Kaamya responded to the fatigue, so we continued our journey to Kedarkantha (13500ft).

It was a straight 10 days of living outdoors in the mountains. Though there were villages and the people were very hospitable, yet it was quite a challenge for an 8 year old. Kaamya just responded to every challenge so playfully that I never felt she was facing any difficulty. As the altitude increased and we went up steep inclines, she would focus on conserving her energy and would save all her stories for when we called it a day. At the end of that trek she was already a seasoned trekker.   

That’s how the Great Himalayas became a friend to our tiny one because she had courage no less than that of the Great Himalayas themselves.

Everest - The Splendid Dream

In 2017, the Indian Navy was going for an Everest Expedition and my husband was training hard as part of the team. He had a rigid training schedule and Kaamya being the keen learner she is, always tried to be a part of the training to learn more and more. 

Kaamya one day asked her dadda “Can I come with you to the base camp to say goodbye?”  to which he replied “You can, but only if you prove it to me that you are ready for such an adventure!”. That just lit a fire inside of her; she started training as vigorously as she could. 

She was already going for regular runs but now we modified her training to exercise other muscle groups as walking and running used different muscles. She was now training for 6 days a week, with 2 days each of cycling, running and walking. 

Kaamya and I came up with a plan to prove to ‘Dadda’ that we are ready to accompany him. We planned to go for a hike to Roop Kund (16400 ft). This was a straight 3000ft higher than our previous treks, but seeing Kaamya improving physical levels and motivation I felt we were ready.

When we went for the trek, being in the Himalayas again was like a homecoming. The weather was also merciful and we enjoyed every moment in the journey. The higher altitudes and the rarified atmosphere did present some challenges but Kaamya was unstoppable. We reached the summit within the timeframe we had planned and Kaamya’s enthusiasm kept me motivated too. 

After coming back, we had a certificate proving that Kaamya is ready for Everest Base Camp which is approximately at 17000 ft. Unfortunately, my husband couldn’t make it to the naval team going for the expedition. We were a bit unhappy with the situation but as parents we decided to keep our word. 

That is what we wanted to teach to Kaamya, to always keep her words and stand by them. As she had fulfilled her part of the promise and it was now our turn to keep our word.

 

In May 2017, Kaamya and I left our home again, though without her father who could not get leave due to official duties. We flew to ‘Lukla’, a tiny airport which is considered one of the most dangerous airports, but the beauty of the landscape around was breathtaking. 

We started our climb to the Base Camp amidst a very different culture. Everyone around us had the ‘Dal-Bhat’ power, because they had ‘Dal-Bhat’ for almost all meals. Kaamya got along very well with everyone. We were seeing new terrain and new types of vegetation every day. It was almost like a live geography class for her, where the teachers were the locals and the Great Himalayas themselves. 

I was confident of her abilities and she had learnt to carry herself very well. So I was not very worried. With each step our bond with nature strengthened. On reaching the Base Camp, we got a chance to meet the Naval team and it was like a family reunion to see them again. A 9 year old in the Base Camp was a unique event and everyone was curious to listen to her stories. Kamya became the second youngest person in the world to trek to the Everest Base Camp, but it was never about setting records. It was more about raising a ‘good well rounded person’ and mountaineering enabled us to do so.

The Record Breaking Birthday Gift

After her success on the trek to the Everest Base Camp, Kaamya’s motivation levels rose further and we were also of the opinion that she was ready to graduate from a trekker to a mountaineer. In the mountaineering community, Mount Stok Kangri is said to be ‘The University’ for trekkers to become mountaineers. 

So for her 10th Birthday, we planned to take her to ‘The University’. But first we had to intensify her training regimen and also overcome some technical difficulties. Mount Stok Kangri is 20000 ft high, and is not the usual playground for  10 year olds. It was a serious business. Her feet were too small for the available sizes of ‘Crampons’ (Mountaineering Spikes for walking on ice).

Somehow we would have to innovate and engineer some equipment to her size. Once again we went knocking on Mr. Wangyal’s door for the permit. He was a bit hesitant too because his own grand-daughter who was 14 had been unable to summit.

Kaamya’s confidence and our confidence in her somehow convinced Mr. Wangyal once again. The promise my husband had made 3 years ago was on the verge of fulfilment. He was already well versed with the terrain and difficulties because of his previous experiences. 

We started the trek and reached the basecamp from where we would have to summit and come back in a day. We started our ascent at 11 PM in the night because we had to summit before the sun started melting the snow, which would make the climb very difficult.

The climb went on for hours and hours and every slope we surmounted felt as if it was the summit. After a certain point fatigue started to set in and I even told my husband “You tricked me into this”. I was so tired with the continuous grind though I had been on so many treks. He just said a line “If we go back from here, what impact will it leave on Kaamya’s mind.”

The mere thought of Kaamya seeing me as a loser just gave me adrenaline rush to carry on with the climb with renewed fervour. Kaamya, our 10 year old, was plodding along with dogged determination and nary a crib or complaint.

Reaching the summit was  a spectacular moment for the three of us as a family. Kaamya didn’t care that she had become the youngest in the world to summit a 20000 ft high peak; rather she hugged me and was very elated that I made it to the summit. 

On the trek back, Kaamya went faster than us with the guide and we reached the base camp about an hour later. I immediately looked for Kaamya and she was sitting in the kitchen , enjoying her hot Maggi in the bitter cold , while solving Sudoku. 

She sat there as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Her father went to her and told her that she had made a world record and she just said “Yes, I know Dadda.” and then went into complete silence. We felt as if she was giving us a signal that she is ready for every challenge that comes her way. 

Mission ‘SAHAS’

The year 2017 marked Kaamya’s growing fascination and love for mountaineering; she was just absolutely ready for everything that came her way and was raring for new challenges and new horizons.  Our belief in her abilities was enormous and we were all set to gradually go towards bigger challenges. 

While doing some research, we came to know about the ‘The Explorers Grand Slam’ which is a mission to climb the highest peak in all seven continents and ski to the North and South poles. We decided to take it on.

We decided to name the endeavour SAHAS because it literally means ‘Adventure’ in Sanskrit. We planned to complete them all by 2022, so as to become the youngest in the world to achieve the feat at just 14 years of age. The current record is held by Marin Minamiya of Japan at 20 years of age and only 63 mountaineers the world over (including just 14 women) have completed the Explorers Grand Slam till date.

Through this mission we want to motivate people to learn the lessons of a life of adventure and sports. We want to encourage Indian Women to aspire for and to achieve everything they want to. Kaamya’s achievements at this tender age should inspire anyone believe in themselves and have a burning desire to make it to the top.

Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa)

The year 2017 was life changing year in Kaamya’s life and another wonderful opportunity would present itself. After reaching the summit of Mt. Stok Kangri , Kaamya had become famous in the mountaineering community. 

We got calls from different parts of the country congratulating us for her feat. One of the calls was very special; it was from the mentor of the youngest Indian Everest climber. He was very magnanimous and when he came to know about our project SAHAS, he told us that his team which was going for an expedition to Mt. Kilimanjaro(18652ft), the highest peak in Africa.

As my husband was busy and we could only afford the expense of two people on the journey, we decided that I would accompany Kaamya. The team members of the expidition, though strangers were very hospitable. They were amazed and inspired by Kaamya’s abilities and determination at this young age. 

Kilimanjaro had its own challenges attached to it. It was not very easy to sustain the climb  after 14000ft because the temperatures were not very stable. Still the gods were kind and we were able to reach the rim of the volcano in good time. This summit was exhausting but also gave us motivation to move forward to the next challenge.

Mt. Elbrus (Russia/Europe)

After embarking on mission SAHAS our life became a constant journey. We would summit one mountain and then start preparing for the next. Our next goal was the Mt. Elbrus (18514ft ). After reaching the summit, Kaamya and I  were going to ski down from the summit.

It is a common misconception that once you have climbed higher mountain peak, one lower in altitude will be a simpler climb. The truth we learnt is that every summit and every expedition comes with its own peculiar challenges. 

For Mt. Elbrus the first challenge was finding a suitable ‘touring ski boot’ which she could use for skiing down from the summit. However there are no touring ski boots made for 11 year olds because generally they don’t do tour skiing. Also language was an issue because Russians guides are proficient in mainly their own language, so Google Translation became our saviour. The third problem was the food. At high altitudes one loses one’s appetite and the food there was so bland compared to what we are used to.  Thus feeding yourself was very difficult to give adequate nutrition to the body. 

When we reached the summit, Kaamya had to change her boots on the top of the mountain and everyone who was standing there was looking at a  11 year old removing her shoes in freezing temperatures. 

The route down was enjoyable but very risky. Kaamya was connected to the guide with a safety rope, so that if she slipped or fell into a crevice she could be recovered. That is something that mountaineering teaches you, you have to trust someone with your life. 

Kaamya did slip at a place or two but overall she did very well. When we reached the base, I heaved a big sigh of relief. The three of us shared a moment of glory because she also had become the youngest to ski down from the summit of Mt. Elbrus.

Mt. Kosciuszko (Australia)

Mt. Kosciuszko was more of a break that you take when you are tired of the serious stuff. It is not very high in altitude but it has very windy conditions that make a concern. 

This time Kaamya and I were once again the partners. I had to drive 230 Kms to reach the city from where the trek started. Kaamya became my navigator and though I had never driven so long a distance on my own, the drive on a freeway with a minimum speed limit of 100 Kmph was an amazing experience.

The day we climbed Mt. Kosciuszko, we were the only two people on the peak, because everyone had turned back due the windy conditions. We decided not to turn back because first a second chance was very tough to get and secondly I believed in Kaamya. On the summit we tried to take a combined selfie but only managed break my phone. So we clicked each other.

Now Kaamya had become the youngest to climb the highest peaks in three continents but now it was time for some serious business.

Mount Aconcagua (Argentina- South America)

Mt. Aconcagua(22837ft) was one of the toughest summits. It was an uphill task in every sphere, be it financial, physical or emotional. We required a lot of preparation for this step. Also this time my husband had to accompany Kaamya, so he had to also be sure that he could manage Kaamya on his own. 

In 2019 , in the course of preparation for the big gun , Kaamya and her father climbed Mt. Mentok Kangri(20554ft). Kaamya has 3ft long hair which could pose a problem while climbing so her father had to learn to be able to manage her hair and the art of making a ponytail. This was a brilliant and amusing bonding experience for them. 

(The rest of the story is narrated by Kaamya’s Father )

The attempt on Mt. Aconcagua brought many challenges with it. As it is far south of the equator, temperatures can fall very low.  Also the weather is unpredictable due to the influence of the proximity of the Pacific Ocean. There were also legal issues too. 

The flight to Argentina was 40 hour long and then we drove to the city of Mendoza. There a thunder clap hit us. Our lawyer told us that we would have to take a permit from the local court. 

The local court was uncertain of their jurisdiction in the case so they refused. We then had to appeal to the higher Argentinian judiciary to request the junior court to take the case. After that the icing on the cake was that since it was summer, the court would open for only half a day.    

The judge we faced thought that I was probably forcing Kaamya to attempt the summit, so she sent us first for a medical examination, then on to a child psychologist and then to a sports medication expert. The Argentinian media started covering Kaamya’s story of “ How a little Indian girl had come to climb the Mt. Aconcagua and the Argentinian system was denying her the opportunity to glory”.

After a tussle for two weeks , the judge changed and to our good luck, the new judge was a mountaineer himself, so we were finally granted a permit.  Though by now we were running out off time, our visa was ending, my leave from the navy was running out as were our finances.

On top of that, Kaamya saw the entire rigmarole we had to go through as I could not leave her alone as we did not know anyone or the local language.

The team with which we had planned to summit had already gone and now I had to arrange for a new team.  However when you wish for something enough, the universe conspires to give you what you wish for.  We started our climb and the climb to camp 2 was challenging but still we safely reached there. 

On the way to camp three, Kaamya started feeling cold. When she told me, I told her to exchange gloves because I had a thicker one. Due to the exchange of gloves we had to stop a few times. The guide who was already apprehensive of Kaamya being able to do the summit asked us to return. We told him everything was fine but he refused to listen and we had to return.

Our tents were already transported to basecamp, so we had to come all the way down once again to the basecamp. This incident was a setback and I was also disheartened, but Kaamya stood strong. When the authorities talked to Kaamya in private she put forward her desire to achieve the summit so strongly and convincingly that they their approval for another attempt.

The team we went to camp 2 with came back after the summit, told Kaamya that “It was better that you turned back. It was very rough up there.” This coming from someone who had summited Everest was disheartening. 

However Kaamya was determined and highly motivated to achieve the summit, and we managed to get ourselves a new guide. The guide we got was summiting after a gap of 2 years because he had a fall from the summit and had been in a  coma, but now had come back. He also had a will to prove his name and Kaamya and me also had the will to take on everything. 

Eventually the challenges were overcome by the sheer iron will of the 12 year old and we finally reached the summit. 

By then it was Feb 2020 when the Covid 19 situation had just started to worsen. If we had been even a week later, we might not have been able to come back to our own country. 

It felt as if by sheer good luck the pieces of the puzzle fell together and helped us achieve our aim.

The Next Journey Uphill

Today as a result of the ongoing pandemic, further expeditions for Mission SAHAS are in a hiatus, though Kaamya continues to train rigorously for the next phase whenever it may come. In the meantime Kaamya has been giving talks on various platforms both in person and online. 

She has become a source of motivation to a lot of people and we hope that she can inspire more and more. Though now for every step towards mission SAHAS, we will have to gather some support because of the increasing financial implications and limited resources that we have. 

Kaamya now has got an audience, her achievements have caught the eye of even the Honourable Prime Minister who mentioned her in ‘Mann ki Baat’ in Feb 20. We are looking forward to expanding the audience and garnering support to help in making Kaamya the youngest in the world to accomplish ‘The Explorers Grand Slam’ by 2022.

Our message to all parents

We were never focussed on the records; we always wanted to raise a ‘good person’ and a ‘better citizen’. Mountaineering was just a tool and there are other tools but the focus shall always be on giving a good human being to the society. 

Kaamya is a 5th grader in Piano and a  2nd grader in Guitar and also has a good academic record. She has become an all rounder. We always tried to teach her to be able to schedule everything the way she needs. 

The most important thing is to “Give your little one every opportunity you can , in whichever field they take interest in”

So guys this was the story of the ‘Mountaineering Prodigy’. Her focus, determination, desire to excel and love for adventure will surely have struck a fire in the hearts of many of us. She and her family are a remarkable example good parenting and how the parents kindled the spirit of adventure in their child, stoked the latent talent and are going out of their way to help their child achieve a remarkable feat.

Let the fire that burns within Kaamya be inspiration for you to go out and do all the adventurous things you always dreamed about but never pursued.

We will be back to you with a new tale that will inspire your passion and zeal. Till then 

Stay Passionate, Stay Subborn

Get in touch with Kaamya Karthikeyan

Talk Show With Kaamya K. and Her Family

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