It's safe to say that when it comes to climbing Everest, software programmer Kuntal Joisher has not had the greatest timing.
For several years now, the 35-year-old software programmer and Los Angeles native has been trying to become the first vegan climber to conquer Mount Everest from the Nepalese Himalayan range. His goal is to not only prove the physical power behind a plant-based diet, but also to represent the billions of animals slaughtered each year for food and clothing.
"As an ethical vegan for over 12 years, I want to inspire others to learn about vegan lifestyles," he writes. Such a journey not only includes fueling his body with plant-based food to the summit, but also using animal-friendly gear in the process. The only thing he can't seem to find a quality alternative to is full-body, goose down feather suits that are worn on summit day.
“Imagine if you summited holding a vegan flag, wearing a down-filled suit,” he recently told The Washington Post.
In April 2014, after years of training, Joisher finally found himself at Everest base camp. As he was preparing to advance on the mountain, an avalanche occurred in the treacherous Khumbu Icefall section, killing 16 sherpas and cutting short the climbing season. Joisher, undeterred, vowed to return stronger and more prepared. Just over a year later, on April 25, the man on a mission of compassion once again found himself at base camp in the midst of another disaster.
"The ground started shaking," Joisher writes in his blog for The Huffington Post. "I could feel it. I tried to tell everyone what I had just felt. Everyone dismissed me. And then, the ground started shaking harder. This time everyone took notice. I shouted, 'Earthquake!' as we all exited the tent. The entire ground was shaking like I'd never felt before."
In his harrowing account, Joisher says that initially there was more concern for those camped high up on the mountain, with very little thought given to the very real possibility of a devastating avalanche at base camp.
"And then the earth stopped shaking," he writes. "For a moment we were relieved, until our worst nightmare came true with the loudest noise of our lives. We instantly knew that an avalanche had occurred somewhere, but not sure where."
It was then that Joisher and his expedition party realized that the threat was advancing towards them from behind, a moment horrifically captured on film.
"We turned around to find ourselves face to face with a huge white cloud, possibly the largest thing I had ever seen in my life, approaching us at an unreal speed," he writes. "We had no time to react or think through next steps. The only thought that was able to cross my mind in that moment — this is the end of life."
Joisher adds that the enveloping cloud of snow felt like "someone had put a plastic bag around my face." Were it not for his good friend opening his hard-shelled jacket for him to come inside and breath, he says that he likely would have suffocated.
"Those first molecules of air entered my lungs, making me feel like a newborn baby taking his first breaths," he writes. "Fitting, seeing as I had received a second life. I knew it then, and I will know it for rest of my life, that I will forever be indebted to Jost for his generosity in dire circumstances."
Despite being involved in yet another tragic climbing season on Everest, Joisher tells the Washington Post that he will return again to finally realize his dream.
“I will come back to the expedition next year,” he said. “That gives me more time to search for a practical, vegan-friendly suit for Everest summit day.”
Related on MNN:
- The inspiring letter carried by climber killed on Everest
- Experience Hillary's ascent of Everest like never before in 'Beyond the Edge'
- How you can help earthquake victims in Nepal