It was Umesh Zirpe’s father who first noticed the changes that trekking and mountaineering brought in his son. After the death of his mother, a young Umesh had developed many fears as a child. Today, he is the expedition leader at Giripremi, a mountaineering club, where he has scaled the terrific heights of Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse in 2013, Mount Makalu in 2014 and recently Mount Dhaulagiri and Mount Cho Oyu in May 2016.
“This was a different kind of adventure sports for me back when I was in the seventh grade. I wasn’t a very bold child and I used to get scared very easily. Once I had left my school bag in a room at my house and I didn’t go to collect it because it was dark and I was very scared. I joined a mountaineering club in school and from then on things changed,” says Zirpe with a nostalgic look on his face.
Giripremi was started by city-based mountaineers Ushaprabha Page, Anand Palande, Dilip Nimbalkar, the Late Nandu Page and Shashikant Hiremath in 1982 to promote the sport among the youth. Zirpe had been reading books by Palande and Page to learn more about trekking, rock climbing and mountaineering in the Sahyadri Hills and the Himalayas.
In 1986, after the tragic death of three mountaineers due to an avalanche at the Satopanth lake, including the Late Nandu Page, Zirpe went to give his condolences and that’s where he met Anand Palande, who requested him to join Giripremi. Since then, Zirpe has led several civilian Himalayan successful expeditions but not without facing many challenges.
“We had just come back from scaling Mount Shivling in 2007, which is one of the most stunning peaks but also very technically difficult to scale. There was a function to commemorate our efforts and I met a lady there who told me that her son-in-law had gone to the Himalayas as well. He had gone to visit the Badrinath Temple. I was really upset that she equated our expedition to a pilgrimage trek. That’s when I realised that nobody really knows the importance of mountaineering and the risks taken by climbers,” explains Zirpe.
The 52-year-old has since then worked to change the approach to this sport and increase its value. This led him to push forward the idea of scaling the Everest in 2010 with an estimated budget of Rs 3.15 crore. He believes that his greatest challenge has not been to climb the Everest but to get support from others and raise funds for it.
“It was very difficult to make people understand what mountaineering means to us. It’s not a competitive sport. People keep asking me about what I gain from climbing mountains. To them, I always say that you need to climb to the peak to know what you get from it. It’s not money or some treasure but a confidence booster knowing that you have climbed such a high feat,” states Zirpe.
He also firmly believes that a mountaineer is an asset to the nation as they are aware of the environment and respect nature. He also points out that it is a sport for any age as it provides mental and physical fitness. Zirpe and his team of 10 mountaineers also volunteered in Nepal when the earthquake happened in April 2015.
Giripremi has also started its own institute of mountaineering and aims to develop the personality of its young members by offering adventurous activities and technical knowledge. Zirpe adds, “We need to teach the youth how to take risks in life.”
What oxygen is to life is what mountaineering is for Zirpe. “I have been climbing mountains since the last 40 years. It is an essential part of my lifestyle and the mother of all adventure sports. It’s my meditation,” says Zirpe with a calm smile as he signs off.
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