At 10.00 am on 25 September 2017, Aparna Kumar reached the summit of Mt Manaslu, the 8th highest peak in the world and unfurled the tricolour to become the first Indian woman to scale this inhospitable mountain in Nepal.
In 2016, she became the first woman IPS officer to scale the highest peak of the world — Mt Everest. She is the first IPS/All India Service Officer to climb Stok Kangri (20,182 ft) in Ladakh. She is the first All India Service Officer (male or female) to scale the highest peaks of six continents out of the seven summits. Likewise, she has many more firsts in her kitty.
At the dizzying height of 8,163 metres (26,758 ft), Manaslu is the 8th highest peak in the world and one of the 14 peaks in the world that rise above 8,000 metres in altitude. It is part of the Himalayan range which is home to 10 of the 14 highest peaks of the world called “eight-thousanders” because they rise above 8,000 metres (26,247 ft) in height.
In addition to these, there are over 50 Himalayan peaks that reach an elevation of over 7,000 metres (23,000 ft) making Himalayan range the highest mountain chain of the world.
Located some 65 kms to the east of Annapurna, Manaslu towers over the Gurkha Massif in Nepal. Manaslu gets its name from the Sanskrit root Manasa which means “Mountain of the Spirit”. It is known to the locals by its Tibetan name “Kutang”. The long ridges and glacial valleys surrounding Mt Manaslu offer approaches from all directions.
But, the summit calls for a very steep climb in the final leg. Kumar is a 2002 batch IPS officer posted as DIG with Uttar Pradesh Police with additional charge of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) in Lucknow at the time of scaling Mt Manaslu. She has since taken over as DIG Indo-Tibetan Border Police at New Delhi.
A native of Bengaluru, she is in her late thirties and a mother of two— daughter (Spandana) and son (Neelkantha). Her husband, Sanjay Kumar, was the District Magistrate & Collector of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh till recently. He has since moved to Lucknow as Special Secretary, Revenue Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh.
For someone who started the basic mountaineering course in 2013 and underwent the advanced mountaineering course in 2014 rather late in her life, Kumar has made long strides in rapid succession. After trekking and climbing in Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh, she set her eyes on the Seven Summits. These represent the highest peaks in the seven continents of the world. Out of the Seven Summits, Aparna has scaled six in a record time of 21 months.
Soon after completing her advanced mountaineering course, she reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (5,895 metres/19,340 ft) on 30 August, 2014. This was followed by summit of Carstensz Pyramind, Indonesia (4,884 metres/16,024 ft) on 7 November, 2014; Aconcagua, Argentina (6,962 metres/22,840 ft) on 14 January, 2015; Elbrus, Russia (5,642 metres/18,510 ft) on 4 August, 2015; Vinson Massif, Antarctica (4,892 metres/16,050 ft) on 17 January, 2016; and, Mount Everest via North Face, China-Tibet (8,848 metres/ 29,029) 21 May, 2016 in rapid succession.
The conquest of Mt Everest took three attempts as her first attempt was called off due to avalanches in 2014 and the second attempt in 2015 had to be aborted because of a massive earthquake which wreaked havoc in Nepal.
With a beaming smile on her face and a great sense of achievement, Kumar, declared that “conquest of Mt Manaslu was one of the greatest uplifting experiences of her life”, as she landed at the New Delhi Airport after conquering the eighth highest peak in the world.
“It was a tough climb… what with the inclement weather and minor accidents…but, in the end, everything went off well and we summited on 25 September, 2017. I think it is a proud moment for India; for Indian women and women all over the world; for IPS cadres as well as Uttar Pradesh Police; and, Uttar Pradesh as a state.
“I am glad that I managed to scale this hostile peak in my very first attempt and unfurl the Indian tricolour on the top of Mt Manaslu.
“I am indebted to my family, friends and numerous well-wishers for their good wishes and prayers that have helped me to survive and succeed in my endless passion for mountaineering.” said Kumar.
Believe it or not, she has scaled six of the seven summits, which represent the highest peaks in the seven continents of the world, in a record time of 21 months. She had to abandon the Denali expedition earlier this year due to hostile weather conditions. If she had climbed Mt Denali, she would have completed the seven summits in June 2017.
As she waited for a suitable window for her next attempt to conquer Denali, she got this sudden impulse to climb Mt Manaslu. After two reconnaissance missions by H W Tilman in 1950 through the northeast face and a Japanese team in 1952 through the eastern face; and, failed attempts by two Japanese teams in 1953 and 1954; Mt Manaslu was finally conquered by Toshio Imanishi, Gyalzen Norbu Sherpa, Kiichiro Kato and Minoru Higeta of a 12-member Japanese team in May 1956 via the north face.
After a long lull of 15 years, another Japanese team could summit in May 1971 through the northwestern spur. Since then expeditions of Koreans, Austrians, Spaniards and people from other parts of the world have tried their luck in scaling this peak.
For the Manaslu expedition, Aparna landed at Samagaon (3,380 metres) in Nepal by helicopter on 9 September, 2017. Then came an acclimatisation hike from Samagaon to the Base Camp (4,910 metres) which served as a self-imposed endurance test for her. The Base Camp attracts heavy snowfall due to cloud condensation.
After a night’s rest, she hiked from the Base Camp to the Cramping Point (5,200 metres) and returned after she hit bad weather. The trek from the Base Camp to Camp 1 passes through Manaslu Glacier which is heavily crevassed. Unlike “crevices”, which refers to small cracks or chinks in rocks, crevasses are deep fissures in glaciers which are crossed over by tying together ladders and placing them horizontally from one end of the crevasse to the other.
The climb from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is a very steep one involving vertical climbs prone to active icefall. Camp 2 forms the technical section of the climb located at the top of the Serac section on a flat area. At 6,400 metres, it is sheltered by a series of ice cliffs. After that Aparna descended to the Base Camp and waited anxiously for a suitable window to reach the summit.
On 24 September, the team launched itself for the final summit. Climbing from Camp 1 to Camp 2; and, from Camp 2 to Camp 3; the team reached Camp 4 on 24 September 2017.
The trek from Camp 3 to Camp 4 was the longest and the most challenging one with steep climbs and blue ice. Kumar was delighted to learn that the summit was on. She launched herself for the climb to the summit with her Sherpa Ang at 4.00 am and reached the summit at 10.00 am on 25 September 2017.
She unfurled the Indian flag and the flags of Uttar Pradesh Police and Provincial Armed Constabulary at the summit and became the first Indian woman to scale Mt Manaslu.
In Nepal, mountains are revered as deities and, in deference to local sentiments, the climbers stop short of a few feet of the actual summit. For her it was quite an adventure and a thrilling experience which brought infinite satisfaction and happiness.