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I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote

- Herman Melville

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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 04, 2018

Exclusive: Interview with Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, of The Ultimate Descent

“People always asked me if I was scared.

WRITTEN BY

Marc Lambert

If I’m scared, maybe that means I don’t have confidence. And I need confidence for this adventure”. Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa certainly spoke these words like a man who knew what he was talking about. And he should, after all; this is a man who knew a thing or two about confidence.

In 2012, Lakpa and his companion Sano Babu Sunuwar cemented themselves in both Nepalese and expedition history. They stunned the adventure community when they did something no one had ever done before. They climbed Mount Everest, before paragliding from the summit, flying over the Himalayas, landing in Nepal and then kayaking 500km to the mouth of the mighty Ganges River, all the way to the Indian Ocean.

If this adventure wasn’t already epic enough, one of them wasn’t a climber, and the other couldn’t swim. Oh, and they did the whole thing without any sponsors or expedition support. Their exploits were documented in the movie The Ultimate Descent, and once their story caught the attention of the international community, they soon found themselves crowned the the National Geographic Adventurers of the year.

I remember seeing the movie at an adventure evening in London in 2012, and loving the story. Hard to believe that 6 years later, I’d be sitting having a coffee with Lakpa, both with our own Everest tales to tell.

We were sat in a small lakeside cafe in Lakpa’s now hometown of Pokhara, in Eastern Nepal. His status as perhaps the towns most famous name was clear, certainly amongst the locals, with every other person giving him a nod or a welcome embrace. The cafe owner was no different, a big backslap and a grin was served. For my part, a strong and meaningful handshake. It seemed I was in good company.

I had travelled to Pokhara after a chance meeting back in Kathmandu. I had just returned from Mount Everest a broken man, after an unsuccessful attempt to climb the famous peak, and during my recovery in Nepal’s bustling capital city, had met an old friend of Lakpa’s. I had mentioned my interest in the movie, and the adventure behind it. “Lakpa is my friend”, remarked Passang. “Travel to Pokhara, and he will meet you”. I booked my flight that day.

For me, The Ultimate Descent is the epitome of an adventure; doing something new, something a bit crazy; planning it – but not too much. Where did the idea of this ultimate adventure come from?

I’m a climber, my first Everest summit was in 2003. I was standing on the top, and started thinking that it would be amazing to fly from the summit of the mountain. It took me until 2009 to learn to paraglide, it was a British man who taught me actually. I bought a glider from Italy, and took 9 days of lessons, and ended up crashing into a tree! I didn’t have enough experience for high altitude flying, but i met Sunuwar here in Pokhara, and he had the same idea as me, to fly a paraglide from the summit! But he wasn’t a climber, he was a kayaker. We made a plan to use non motorised transport to travel Summit to sea.

By the time of the expedition, i had climbed Everest 3 times, but had actually been on the mountain 11 times, working as a Sherpa, a cameraman, sometimes as crew. But still, I am not a kayaker, Sunuwar is not a mountaineer.

In the movie and all of the international media attention that followed, much is made of the fact that you didn’t have permits to climb Everest; you had no commercial expedition, no equipment, and no support. You slept in other teams tents and used their logistical support. What was your reaction to this negativity?

Well, we are explorers, you know? We are doing something original. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary summited Everest, did he need a permit, permission? No. A long time ago the Wright brothers made an aeroplane, did they get put in jail? We wanted to show people we could do this. We were the first. Now people try and copy us, but we were the first.

So together, carrying all of your flying gear, you make a successful summit on Everest. How did you manage on the climb, and how the hell did you run off the summit?!

It was very difficult! I promised his wife that i would get him up Everest safely! He had no experience at high altitude, it was not easy. I gave him my oxygen on the summit. We flew off the summit with all of our mountaineering gear, including our crampons, we landed in our expedition suits.

There was no running space, we got lift in the glider and just stepped off! We had a lightweight glider, that would work at high altitude. We saw beneath us all the other climbers. We flew for around 45 minutes, and then we landed in Namche Bazzar.

You flew off Everest, landed, while still wearing your high altitude gear, and then entered the kayaking leg of the journey, which was the most dangerous part of the whole adventure right? You even got robbed along the way?

We crossed Grade 5 rapids, big drops, I had no training. And I couldn’t swim! I trusted Sunuwar like he trusted me on Everest. We kayaked non stop for 28 days. We took a little bit of food and supplies with us, but we would take it in turns to find more food, one of us would stay with the kayaks while one went into local villages in secret, so we didn’t draw any attention.

Many people were watching us from the side of the river, always asking us to stop, but we never stopped, we were so tired. One day we had to stop in daylight, we decided to make camp and some men came and told us to leave, so immediately we got back on the water and paddled another 5km down river. We stopped again, and slept for a bit. Suddenly, 10 men arrived, and took everything. They were shouting “where is camera, give us money’. Luckily we had hidden the cameras in the kayak. But they took all of our money and told us they would be coming back again. We quickly got back on the river, but they followed us in a motor boat, but we were faster than them on the shallow sections of the river.

We paddled on until it was dark, and made camp using the moonlight to see. We managed to hide until 5am, they found us again. So we left. They followed us for many days, they were hunting us. We had to pick fruit from the trees to survive.

So you kayak for 28 days, and you end up in the middle of the one of the biggest rivers in the world, The Ganges. Two small kayaks on this huge expanse of water, how intimidating was that?

There were huge ships were on the Ganges, sailing from Calcutta, giant boats. But the locals were only interested in us, always asking us where we got the kayaks from. “You sell us your boats” everyone was asking to buy them from us!

We have a GPS, but we know which way to go, we just follow the river to the Indian Ocean. But for me, it was strange, it was very difficult for me to breath. Just like you at altitude, with breathing problems, i had low altitude sickness. I couldn’t sleep, I was very sick. It was very uncomfortable for me, right until we reached the ocean. We were looking at our altimeters, telling us zero meters, but we still had a long way to paddle!

We reached the ocean, but we had to start thinking about how we got ourselves, and our kayaks, back to Nepal. We are two Nepali guys, and the border guards are asking many questions. It’s hard to explain how we have come all the way from Everest!

This expedition was the first time that a truly Nepalese team had done something so ground breaking; it didn’t involve Western climbers or an international team. Do you think this fact has helped to inspire other Nepalese to seek out adventure, to push boundaries?

Many people have now wanted to do something like this, many people have been inspired, we see people bicycling, rock climbing, mountaineering, without the need for international support. It is very positive.

But i’m not finished, I would like to climb another high altitude peak and fly from the summit, a commercial flight. Maybe in the future, I would like to introduce future climbers to the idea also, maybe take some clients with me, give them the opportunity to fly.

The conversation then turns back to Everest; this year there have been a record number of summits, the mountain is more accessible than ever, many of his friends are Everest Sherpas, and Lakpa is happy to see the high level of training, the good quality of gear that ultimately prevent deaths on Everest. He is keen to give me advice, to let me know that my recent attempt on the mountain shouldn’t be seen as success vs failure. 

The number of people climbing is not a problem, if things are safe. I would like to climb the mountain again, and you should too. You need to be prepared, mentally and physically. People will always tell you it is impossible, but wait and see, one day these things can happen. One year, you did not make it, next year, you might do. But always think positively.

You don’t have the story of the summit, but you have to make the stories happen. I didn’t have the story of the expedition, but finally i made it happen. You only need time, and a positive mind, to have an adventure.

We finished our lakeside lunch, and it was Lakpa’s turn to ask the questions; “What is your plan for the rest of the day”, “nothing” I replied. “Great”, he said, “then let’s go fly!”

Marc and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa

Make sure you read more about Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa’s companion in a previous article, The Flying Prince of the Himalaya, Sano Babu.

You can find your own adventure at outdoorvoyage.com

Marc Lambert is a UK based mountaineer, skydiver and aspiring adventurer with a passion for expeditions and challenges, the more remote the better. Keen photographer and story teller through a lens. Instagram: atlas_diaries

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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 06, 2018

Breaking Stereotypes: Meet India’s Action Heroes

The origins of Rushes dates back to two years ago when the format was conceptualised to throw light on the adventure lifestyle community within India.

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

TheVibe Originals presented the opportunity to articulate this lifestyle. Since then, a very compelling series has come about which explores the backstories of a few handpicked extreme sports athletes who pursue their respective rushes.

Produced in association with Mercedes-Benz India, Rushes breaks stereotypes by bringing India’s action heroes in all their authenticity via a branded content series as opposed to having it celebrity-endorsed.

The Outdoor Journal is introducing the following Indian extreme sports athletes as a sampling of exciting talent that will soon arise from the high-potential region in the future.

Kiteboarding in Tuticorin with Arjun Motha and Jehan Driver

What makes Tuticorin an important place of interest with regards to kiteboarding?

AM: The wind has brought people to Tuticorin for centuries in search of spices and pearls. The wind blows here for 300 days. The town is located in between India and Sri Lanka. Tuticorin is in the heart of Gulf of Mannar and had served as a natural port and a safe haven with its bays and safe seas. It has flat lagoons, waves, coral reefs, marine life and most importantly amazing wind for kite surfers and sailors. Making it an ideal spot for wind worshippers. Tuticorin is one of the spots in south-east Asia to have wind throughout the year drawing the attention of many kiters here.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

AM: India is only scratching the surface of the global adventure scene. There is so much raw potential and talent here. There’s so much natural diversity geographically in our country and when coupled with human skills and raw talent, the growth could be explosive. This is only the beginning stages in the birth of adventure sports in India. Nevertheless, it is guaranteed to be growing rapidly and being recognised globally for its potential. India has many undiscovered athletes and raw talent pushing limits and finding their rushes. India will soon be one of the top destinations for adventure and water sports churning out top athletes.

What makes Rameswaram an important place of interest with regards to kiteboarding?

JD: After touring the entire coastline of India we found this piece of paradise! One of the only places where we receive both the North East & South West trade winds where the peninsula allows for ideal conditions for Kiteboarding. With around 300 days of wind to play with we decided to live here & call it home. Flat water lagoons, reef breaks and isolated beaches make the region an awesome learning ground for beginners as well as experienced riders.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

JD: It’s like a bunch of clouds floating around that never met, any guesses to what happens when they do? The scene of adventure sports has always been well developed in India and it is still growing. Thanks to social media the awareness is spreading and acceptance is also growing at a rapid pace.There was a time we had to import physical maps to navigate our own backyard but now with Google earth the world is a different place. We never knew if there were more slackliners in the country but through social media the community connects. Similarly there are more kiteboarders/mountain bikers/surfers, etc in India than we know of.

Follow Arjun Motha on Instagram

Follow Jehan Driver on Instagram and Twitter

Extreme Kayaking in Rishikesh with Bhupendra Singh Rana

“Extreme kayaking doesn’t show any mercy and has next to no room for an error.”

What makes Rishikesh an important place of interest with regards to extreme kayaking?

Rishikesh is my hometown and the river Ganges is my playground. This is where I started my kayaking career which to me is a good enough reason for me to call Rishikesh a very special place! Rishikesh is also the hub of extreme sports (known as the yoga and adventure capital of India) and kayaking was born on the river Ganges back in the early 80’s. Rishikesh is the place where the river Ganges comes out of the Himalayas (higher ground to the plain ground). Rishikesh has the best river sections where you can get into kayaking while providing a platform to step up your game to extreme kayaking. Heading upstream to the river Ganges valley there are endless rivers from high volume to steep creeks and even waterfalls. The overall experience in Rishikesh is very fulfilling. Enjoying a cup of chai while watching the sunset over the Ganges is unreal. Also, interacting with the very friendly local river community makes Rishikesh a very special place for me!

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

As I said Rishikesh is the adventure capital of India so I can not think of any other state other than my home state Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand is the best mix of a calm lifestyle – you can practice yoga to extreme sports such as mountain climbing or downhill extreme kayaking. Uttarakhand is one of those states where you can do adventure activities year around while other states might be available for few months out of a year.

I love extreme kayaking but I’m also well aware of what it takes to be a pro. I keep fit, educate myself on the areas, rivers, advanced rescue training, advance medical training etc.

  1. I’m a certified Yoga instructor who has taught yoga classes in India, Norway and Africa.
  2. I’m a nationally certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
  3. I’m a Trained Wilderness First Responder

Education is the key. The majority of our local kayakers are getting into the sports at an early age but compromising their academic education. Not many people know that I’ve earned my degree in English literature, Indian and world history and political science.

My main goal is to pass a positive message to the community to know what it takes to be a pro at any sport especially rivers. Water is nature’s most dynamic and powerful element. Extreme kayaking doesn’t show any mercy and has next to no room for an error.

Wingsuit flying in Jaisalmer with Udit Thapar

What makes Jaisalmer an important place of interest with regards to Wingsuit diving?

While flying over the desert in Jaisalmer, there is a unique view. The desert seamlessly merged into the sky at the horizon. The light during sunsets is amazing. It’s a feeling you can’t get anywhere else.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

Adventure sports are on the rise as a whole. People are travelling for adventure. The Indian people have an appetite for adventure that is only going to grow. We are not just opening doors in the field of adventure but also slowly conquering the scene.

Follow Udit on Instagram and Twitter

Downhill Biking in Valparai with Vinay Menon

“Coming up-close with wild elephants and bison on the ride was the masala in my tea!”

What makes Valparai a place of interest with regards to downhill biking?

I like to drink tea and to ride dirt. Valparai has both! Perfect to get Dirt-tea down the hill! Good trails everywhere with tea plantations touching the horizon, Valparai will wake you right up for your ride! Coming up-close with wild elephants and bison on the ride was the masala in my tea!

The vast number of trails streaming down the hillsides of Valparai will give you unlimited descending options.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

Current state of adventure sports in India? It’s spreading like wild fire! With its growing number of athletes, equipment availability and a more accepting population, adventure sports is gaining popularity in India, I feel.  With exposure to the international scene through various mediums such as social media, an enthusiast can follow and practice adventure sports easier than before.

Follow Vinay on Instagram and Twitter

Underwater Photography in the Andamans with Sumer Verma

What makes the Andamans an important place of interest with regards to Underwater Photography?

The two best destinations in India for underwater photography and scuba diving are the Andaman Islands and the Lakshwadeep Islands. Lakshwadeep have natural coral reef islands, and the Andamans volcanic ones. Both are at a large distance from the mainland country, are relatively unpolluted and have clear waters. The unique geological conditions, clarity of water and relative remoteness make it a perfect destination for scuba diving and underwater photography.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

India is a growing market and the potential is encouraging. Thanks to social media and emerging communication, there is far greater exposure to sports. Skydiving, MTB, whitewater rafting, kayaking, slacklining and fly fishing are all finding an audience. These also offer an opportunity to the youth to pursue them with greater earnestness, and they are interested. A decade strong platform has now been established and thanks to our diverse topographies — a lot can be done. We need further administrative support and inclusion of these sports for a bigger impetus.

Follow Sumer on Instagram and Twitter

Slacklining in Bhedaghat with Samar Farooqui

What makes Bhedaghat an important place of interest with regards to slacklining?

The geographical features make the place unique. The Jabalpur marble rocks are iconic and epic. The features, the landscape and the water allow the huge potential for some really fun and epic lines.

What do you think of the current state of adventure sports here in India?

India, with regards to Adventure sports, is at a potential turning point. So far we’ve been really behind in Adventure sports here in India. With regards to skills, safety measures and equipment. It is not easy to find high-quality gear in India, so that usually has to be imported. Our import duties are ridiculously high. This high import duty is making it hard to practice safe adventure sport in India.

Most of the adventurers are using outdated gear in India. Stuff that was being used a decade ago in the west is our current standard. Very few actually bother to go out and stay current with the new equipment that comes to the market. I think we’re at a good point, to begin with, but plenty of work still needs to be done. We need more support from the laws and the lawmakers, we need more support from corporations and philanthropists.

Follow Samar on Instagram and Twitter.

On the project as a whole, Asad Abid, Executive Producer, The Vibe Originals said “We hope more progressive mainstream brands take a lead from a brand such as Mercedes-Benz, to reach out to TheVibe community and makes our formats and community stronger. We hope to make further seasons in the future.”

Follow Asad on Instagram and Twitter

Speaking of the initiative Michael Jopp, VP, Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz said, “India is a country of diversity not only in the form of different landscapes that you can visit across the country but also from the varied pool of talent that it houses. Our association with TheVibe and creating Rushes was with the idea of celebrating these beautiful people and places of India. The content features a very emotional story wherein passion and dedication of these local heroes are showcased with their abundant talent and vigour towards one dedicated adventure sport. The same passion and dedication is what we strive to put in our cars and give our best to the customers.”

Footage Courtesy is provided to TheVibe.

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