Ain’t no mountain high enough for this vegan climber

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on January 15, 2018

Heights of veganism

Kuntal Joisher has scaled the Everest, drawing entirely on veggies, fruits and nuts

So where do you get your proteins from, bellowed out a voice from the audience to Kuntal Joisher, who had just shared his exhilarating experience of climbing Mt Everest to a FIAPO (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations) gathering.

Kuntal is said to be the world’s first vegan mountaineer to scale the Everest, a feat that bust the myth that meat and dairy are necessary for any strenuous activity, let alone climb a mountain. Vegetarian foods, including vegetables, fruits, lentils, nuts, grains, seeds, spinach, etc., give you your proteins, he says, responding to the oft-asked question.

After an eight-year obsession, reaching the Everest summit meant scaling more than the world’s highest mountain. Standing on the Everest with a “Vegan” placard was a moment of triumph for veganism, he says, “as the voice of animals resounded on top of the world”. (Vegans do not consume/use any animal product meat, dairy products, or fur, leather.)

On a personal note, it was his third attempt, the last two derailed by natural disasters. The third attempt too was not without its heart-skipping moments.

About 200 meters to the summit Kuntal saw vegan mountaineer Paula (who has climbed six summits) facing problems that mountaineers encounter at such altitudes. Kuntal recounts how he literally willed Paula and himself to complete the climb: “I went back to why I was doing this, it was for the animals; it was for Dad (who is ailing),” he says.

The significance of that sub-conscious drive becomes clear, when you see the backlash against another vegan mountaineer Maria Strydom, who had died while climbing down from the mountain. Kuntal was told later that a “vegan” mountaineer had died. “She had died of altitude sickness. How does veganism have anything to do with it,” he asks, questioning the criticism of their diets.

Science has yet to figure out what causes altitude sickness. But mountaineers on other diets (that include meat and dairy products) do not get as much “bad press” when they die in similar circumstances, he says. “Paula and I make it to the top of the Everest and back down without a problem, but there's no press!” he adds.

Working for Los Angeles-based Callfire, Kuntal says the company is supportive and even sponsored one of his trips. For the once 110-kg Kuntal, a Gujarati with no family history of sport or mountain climbing, a holiday in Shimla turned his admiration for Sherpa Tenzing Norgay into an obsessive “craze” for the Everest.

A poster-boy now for vegan fitness, Kuntal does not engage in criticising other diets. Instead, he seeks to inspire people through his actions, even as he eyes other difficult summits.

Published on November 11, 2016

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