The mountaineering season of 2019, with a very short weather window for climbing, has been one of the deadliest for adventure seekers on Mount Everest. With hundreds of mountaineers queuing up the one-lane road to hit the summit, the death knell rang for 11 climbers at the high elevation this season. The images of overcrowding on Mount Everest and the news of climbers stepping over dead bodies evoked disgust and dismay in people across the globe, instead of awe that vistas of the snow-clad Himalayan peak do usually leave people with.
Among the climbers this season were two Indian Americans in their late 40s, who summited Mount Everest and returned safely to tell their stories of wonder and euphoria, anger and anxiety. One is 50-year-old Gurinder Ricky Singh of Newark, and the other is 45-year-old Rakesh ‘Rock’ Patel of Michigan.
The first Indian American to have completed 50 marathons in all 50 states of the United States, Gurinder Ricky Singh hit the summit of Mount Everest with the experience of climbing less-challenging mountain peaks including Mount Manaslu and after three years of strenuous training. A fitness freak, he had only one wish on the bucket list to be fulfilled by the time he turned 50 in May 2019.
The most precarious part of a climbing expedition to the summit of Mount Everest is what is known as the “death zone”, which includes an awfully narrow, gusty descent of about 3,000 feet to Camp Four. After safe return to Camp Four, mountaineers must climb down to Camp Two where they can rest overnight, according to Gurinder Ricky Singh.
He decided to reach the summit the day before weather was forecast to be in favor of the mountaineers. Despite a harsh weather, he continued the expedition to avoid the overcrowding of climbers on Mount Everest as much as possible. Stepping over the dead bodies on the way to the most elevated destination through the death zone added dollops of angst to his jubilant mood at the summit.
After breathing in ecstasy of a few moments on the world’s highest peak, 29000 feet above sea level, Newark’s Indian American businessman was gripped with concerns about his safe return to the base.
Gurinder Ricky Singh, who owns all the Speedy Gas Stations in Delaware and a 7-Eleven store in Newark, is looking to help others with their mountaineering goals. “Mount Everest is great, but the lesson from Everest is you have to be careful, you have to do your homework and you must have a reason.”
Unlike Gurinder Ricky Singh, the other Indian American – Rakesh Rock Patel of Michigan – is an accomplished mountaineer who boasts the distinction of having climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world. He says that none of his previous experiences is close to that of scaling up the highest peak on earth.
A resident of Ann Harbor and an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan, Dr. Rakesh Rock Patel ascended to the top after 10 weeks of climbing through thick and thin. “It was always like a fantasy. I was on the verge of tears when I reached the summit,” said Rakesh. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of breathtaking views from the top of the world is slightly embittered by the pale look of the dead bodies that he and others had to step over to make their way up the mountain.
He decided to wait to approach the peak of Mount Everest until the overcrowding of climbers subsided. Hence, he had to face much windy and snowy weather conditions with very low visibility.
Patel, who grew up in Queens that is home to the famous Ganesh Temple in New York, aspires to join the “7 Summit Club” by conquering the highest peaks of Australia and Antarctica in the days to come. He has already summited the tallest mountains in five of the seven continents. He is happy upon return to his 9-year-old daughter after more than two months.
“I think she is proud of me. I want her to pursue her dreams no matter what anyone tells her,” said Michigan-based Rakesh Rock Patel confidently.