At 14, Hyderabad-based Jaahnavi Sriperambuduru is a record-breaking mountaineer, philanthropist, classical dancer and an artist. This multi-talented girl speaks about reaching the summit of some of the world’s tallest mountains to Suhas Yellapantula
Some young people reach terrific heights. Hyderabad-based Jaahnavi Sriperambuduru can probably boast of having one-upped pretty much anyone when it comes to climbing. Or heights even. Why? Because, at the age of 14, she is on a mission to climb all the highest peaks of the seven continents, titled Mission7Summit. She’s also determined to use these climbs to raise funds to help educate underprivileged kids get an education.
She has already finished climbing four of the seven summits, was the youngest in the world to scale Mt Elbrus in Europe in July 2015, and most recently she was the youngest Indian (and second youngest in the world) to scale Mt Denali (also known as Mt McKinley) in North America, in July 2016. She aspires to be the youngest person in the world to scale all seven summits.
“Ever since I was three years old, I would accompany my father on different treks and expeditions, and would enjoy them immensely. From the time I was little, I have enjoyed trekking and being adventurous. I never knew what fear was and that’s how my father raised me — to be fearless. I understood that this is something that changes your whole perception and your whole thinking process,” shares Jaahnavi.
At the age of 10, she heard of the Mission7Summit challenge and wanted to complete it. With help from her parents and guides, she began training for it and in October 2014, she reached the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, becoming the youngest Asian girl to do so. “My aim is not just to reach the summit. I also learn a lot of things in the process. Climbs like these changes you as a person. You learn to be more independent and there is a survival instinct inside you that kicks in. It makes your thinking process more accurate,” Jaahnavi points out.
Going through the Motions
For any mountaineer, the feeling they get after reaching the summit will make up for all the sacrifices they made along the way to get there. It’s no different for Jaahnavi. “When I reach the summit, for a few minutes I forget the pain I went through to get there. The feeling is indescribable. It’s absolutely breathtaking and I have no words to explain it because you are on top of the world. Everything is beneath you. The clouds are moving below and you can see the entire range of the mountain,” she says.
While it’s every person’s dream to reach the top of the mountain, it’s also dangerous. Many have lost their lives by attempting to climb mountains without taking necessary precautions. Jaahnavi believes in a ‘safety-first’ approach and says all precautions are taken before starting the climb. “Before the climb, we check (atleast thrice) every single equipment that we have. Our guides undergo training before going to the mountain. We are always given a set of precautions before we start by our guides, because they are professionals. Mentally we keep our mind focussed. Because we don’t know what can happen when. So we need to be prepared and ready for anything that comes our way,” informs Jaahnavi, who’s a class X student of Reqelford International School in Hyderabad.
Explaining the troubles she faced during some of her treks, Jaahnavi says, “When I went to Denali, there was a huge snowstorm. So we had to create our own way to reach up to the next camp. When we reached the camp, we were stuck there for a week because the weather was very bad and unstable. Reaching the summit was extremely hard because of the weather conditions. While coming back too, it was really tough because the trail that we created had vanished. So, we had to create a new path again to scale down.”
“The most difficult thing in circumstances like these, is you have to bear the cold. My face was swollen up because of how bitterly cold it was. Normally when you go higher up the mountain, your thinking process doesn’t really work. So the mind and body co-ordination goes off, because the oxygen doesn’t reach your brain properly. In some cases, it can be life-threatening. Many people have lost their lives during climbs like these,” explains Jaahnavi, who’s a resident of old Alwal in Hyderabad.
Despite her pain, swollen face and frostbites, Jaahnavi marched ahead and managed to scale the summit. Ask her what keeps her going, she says, “It’s my passion. I like taking up new challenges, I like to take risks. The thing that keeps me going is that I want to show that Indian girls are not weaklings. That’s also a reason why I started Jaahnavi Foundation, which works for girl empowerment and girl education. It is still under process and we will start it soon.”
Empowering Young Women
Her decision to give back to society, is perhaps what makes Jaahnavi stand out, more than her achievements on the mountain. Through Jaahnavi Foundation, she aims to educate young girls and give them an experience of the wilderness. “I think climbing a mountain changes your whole mindset and perception about yourself. You feel like you can face anything in life and it gives you the confidence, energy and power to fight against people. Many people don’t recognise their own talent. This gives you an opportunity to identify what you’re good at and you can improve on that further,” she observes. Jaahnavi’s father Dr S Krishna Rao is her biggest support system, and he accompanies her on most of her expeditions.
“Mountaineering is said to be a buddy game. Since I’m a small girl, none of the other mountaineers are my age. The way I think and the way an elder person thinks is very different. So my father accompanies me on every trek. I have my own team which includes my father, guides and my personal Sherpa from Nepal, who has given me technical training and has been with me for four years,” she explains.
Catch up Coaching
Jaahnavi undergoes training in the morning thrice a week at the Gachibowli Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad. Her training involves physical fitness and exercises to stay mentally sharp. Her school allows her to go on her mountain expeditions and she takes special classes to catch up. “When I’m travelling, I study the syllabus online. I also take special classes to catch up what I’ve missed out on. My mother is a teacher so she helps me out with it,” explains the 14-year-old.
Beyond the Ice
Apart from being a record-breaking mountaineer, Jaahnavi is also a classical dancer (Bharatnatyam) and goes for painting classes. She says she doesn’t have an active social life but makes up for it through music and dance. “I don’t go out much but when I’m free, I listen to music. That also helps me on my treks, because when you’re on the mountain, you don’t have any entertainment, or any connectivity to cell phones, etc. At that time, I have my music with me,” she expresses.
On her Climb List
Up next, Jaahnavi will attempt to scale the fifth peak in the summit seven list, when she will climb Mt Aconcagua in South America this December. She will then set her sights on Mt Vinson Massif in Antarctica and finish off with the ultimate peak — Mt Everest.
Like with any other mountaineer, this is the one big dream for her. Reflecting on how she’s prepping for the biggest climb of her life, “Everest has been my dream and I wanted to climb it earlier. But recently, a new rule has been put in place that people below the age of 16 are not allowed to climb Mount Everest. Since I’m just 14, I’ll have to wait for two more years,” she signs off.
Talk about lofty ambitions!
Reach Out: www.jaahnavi.com