Vegan mountaineer Kuntal Joisher has completed a personal ambition and made history by summiting Everest for the first time. This time he has ensured that every part of his kit – however small – is vegan.
He’s climbed the world’s highest peak before, and while he was a dietary vegan at that stage, he used clothing and equipment that fell short of vegan standards.
Since the last climb Kuntal has discovered ‘Save The Duck’, a company who worked with Kuntal to develop suitable clothing. He has also designed his own mittens which were made with the help of a local tailor.
Kuntal explained to us that from these items “to gloves, to thermal wear, to socks, to boots, to even my toothpaste, my sunscreen, all the way down to my hand-sanitizer – every piece was Vegan.“
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the attempt was the weather conditions, which were very much against climbers. Also, Kuntal was making the attempt from the North side.
“This season has been historic on the North side with insane winds and colds throughout the season and a summit window of only 2 days – 23rd and 24th May” explained Kuntal. “In a way, I’m happy that I chose the Tibet (North) side, which is known for its notorious weather – wind and cold, since it allowed me to demonstrate that Vegan food and gear can work in some of the most hostile conditions on the planet. Not just survive, but actually thrive.“
This was far from an easy climb, which took in North Col at 7000 metres.
“Now, North col itself isn’t a tough objective at all, however sleeping on top of it turned out to be the toughest ever 8000er night for me. Winds were absolutely beyond imagination quite often turning into small local tornadoes. Our tents were well shielded by a big serac wall and still our tents got constantly battered. Every few minutes I would hold onto one side of the tent and my tentmate the other.
“And then a huge wave of wind came and the entire tent crashed on me. The wind wave was still strong meant that the entire tent was sticking to my face and my tentmates. It was super claustrophobic situation and it continued for a bit and then the wind relented. At that point i tried setting up the tent from the inside but it was useless as the tent poles were broken. And just as I was trying to do that the next wave of wind came again and the whole claustrophobia situation occurred again.
“Just had to wait enough for the wave to pass. This time around once the wave passed I shouted to my friend, guide, mentor climbing Sherpa – Mingma, and initially not knowing our situation he said can you manage for a few minutes. And just then the next wave hit. Another thing was that I was wearing my one piece suit and was inside the sleeping bag. During this entire ordeal even though our tent was half torn I never felt cold once. Thanks to the nice sleeping bag and Save the Duck suit – both synthetic of course.
And then once the wind relented, I asked Mingma to come out and take a look at our situation. He did and realized that we were in terrible shape. He right away helped us move to his tent before the next wind wave hit. All just in time. Next couple of hours we spent together with Mingma and Norbu, until the first light hit and then we got ready and decided to get the heck out. A crazy night for me, and thanks to the amazing Sherpa team we made it out safely. “
Of course, Kuntal also had to fuel the undertaking.
“At base camp, and advanced base camp – I usually eat freshly cooked meals. I work with the cooks to veganize every single meal – for example – pizza without cheese. I have to ensure that the pizza bread is made purely from flour, salt and water. I also ensure that the pizza sauce does not contain any animal ingredients.
“Another example – Vegetarian set meal. I make sure that the lentils are fried in oil, and not butter which is typically the case. So on and so forth, I ensure that everything I eat is Vegan. Also I sit down with the cooks and make them understand why I’m doing this. Once they know my animal rights angle they are very supportive of it. My hope is that when the next bunch of Vegan climbers go climbing with the same agency they won’t have to face these same problems. They would just have to say – ‘We are Vegan’, or ‘We are like Kuntal!’ “.
He also took a version of meal replacement powder Nutrimake which has 700 calories a packet and a suitable balance of macro nutrients.
“I ate this powder every single morning along with my regular breakfast making for almost 1200-1300 calories at the start of the date. The blend of vitamins and minerals helped boost my immunity, the generous dose of fiber kept my bowels functioning well, and a great profile of protein helped me with muscle retention. I was the only climber on the team who didn’t catch any kind of infection, and I attribute that to addition of Nutrimake to my daily regime.”
Deaths on Everest are well documented, and climbers frequently lose fingers and toes. Kuntal was in touch with us from Katmandu and seemed in surprisingly good shape form someone who had made history.
“I’m doing pretty solid” he said. “I am pretty specific about ensuring that I eat enough well-balanced Vegan calories on the mountain such that I don’t end up shedding too much body mass. Due to a late weather window the climb went on for over 45 days and the last 4-5 climbing days have been fairly intense more so due to so many accidents and deaths on the mountain – I had to focus extra hard to make sure I stayed safe and got back to the base camp in good solid shape, and I did.
“I went from Advanced base camp to Base camp a distance of over 20kms and height loss of 1300 meters in less than 4 and half hours.”
He’d also found vegan burgers, pastries and pizzas.
Kuntal, who works as a computer programmer, has previously assisted Great Vegan Athletes on the technical side with our website. In conquering the world’s highest peak without any assistance from animal products has also demonstrated that there are no limits to achievement as a vegan.