“I needed to go … the pull of Everest was stronger for me than any force on earth.” Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the Nepali Sherpa mountaineer, who was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which he accomplished with Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953, exactly 64 years ago today.
According to Himalayan Database, 4,469 different people have climbed to the summit of Everest 7,646 times between 1905 and 2016. From the only six Mongolians who have reached the peak of Mount Everest, one is Badamgarav Gangaamaa, the first Mongolian mountaineer to reach the worlds’ tallest peak in 2011 after a failed attempt in 2006. As Tenzing Norgay had said, for Gangaamaa climbing mountain has been force that had been pulling at her since her early age.
Gangaamaa became a mountaineer out of sheer curiosity of a young girl and also by luck.
She hails from Zavkhan aimag in the extreme west of the country, which has the famous Otgon Tenger, an eternally snow-capped mountain, 4031 meters.
Remembers Gangaamaa, “Some 28 years ago in 1989 a group of mountaineers – Mongolians and Russians, had come to our aimag to climb the Otgon Tenger. I think it was by luck that they had gathered in the place where we used to live. I ran up to them and met with a tall man, apparently he was the team leader, and I asked nonchalantly if I could join them in their climb.”
The tall man was Naidan, a well-known Mongolian climber who later instructed Gangaamaa and became her mentor.
“My guru Naidan asked me ‘Do you think you’ll make it?’ and I said without any hesitation ‘Yes’ and that’s how my career as a mountaineer began and which has taken me to all the Seven Summits of the world,” proudly remembers Gangaamaa, who first climbed the 4031 meter Otgon Tenger when she had just finished her secondary school.
For a girl who was raised in the countryside and helping her parents in the not-too-easy job of tending livestock, bringing wood for fire and water for cooking from the spring, climbing up Otgon Tenger was not a very difficult task, which she accomplished without much fuss.
“It was, however, tough descending. This was my maiden climb without any proper mountaineering dress, shoes and gears, and without the slightest knowledge of the science of mountain climbing, The Russians in the team were telling me how to climb down, how to jump, and how my gait should be. Today I clearly remember their first instructions which made me take a love for mountains, although I have deep love for the nature, amidst which I was born and raised,” remembers Gangaamaa.
“I think I decided to become a mountaineer because after my first and second climb to Otgon Tenger, every time at night, while sleeping in a ger, I used to see the colorful mountaineering tents in my dreams and that’s how I think I became a mountaineer,” Gangaamaa said.
All mountaineers, however experienced they may be, never think that mountain climbing is easy. It’s years of hard work and the determination to climb and continue climbing until the last summit is reached.
Almost a decade later after Gangaamaa’s first climb up the Otgon Tenger, she climbed the Khüiten Peak in the Altai Mountain ranges in 1998.
The Khüiten Peak is the highest point in the Mongolian Altai mountain ranges, at an altitude of 4,374 meters above sea level and it is in Tsengel soum, Bayan-Ölgii aimag, situated along the Mongolian-Chinese border in the west of the country.
It’s here in the Altai Mountains that Gangaamaa practices and also has been, now for the eleventh year, working as a mountaineering guide for both Mongolian and foreign mountaineers.
“It’s the Khüiten Peak that tempered me to become a professional mountaineer,” humbly said Gangaamaa.
Once a professional mountaineer, your mind goes outside of the country to try to conquer other higher peaks around the world. And this desire was not an exception to Gangaamaa either.
In 2002 she set her foot out of the country which took her to Belukha, located in the Katun Mountains, the highest peak of the Altai Mountains in Russia. By the by, it is a part of the World Heritage Site, entitled the Golden Mountains of Altai.
Belukha is a three-peaked mountain massif that rises along the border of Russia and Kazakhstan, just a few dozen miles north of the point where this border meets with the border of China. There are several small glaciers on the mountain, including Belukha Glacier. Of the two peaks, the eastern peak (4,506 m, 14,784 ft.) is higher than the western peak (4,440 m, 14,567 ft.).
Her second foreign mountain climbing attempt came in 2004 when she climbed Mount Elbrus, which is the highest mountain in Russia and in Europe, and the tenth most prominent peak in the world. A dormant volcano, Elbrus is in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, near the border with Georgia.
Gangaamaa, with more than eleven years of experience as a climbing guide and having scaled several peaks in the country, in Russia and Europe, decided that it was time to try to scale Mount Everest, as Tenzing Norgay had said many years ago, “the pull of Everest was stronger for me than any force on earth.”
Gangaamaa, together with her female friends, since long had been longing to climb the Mount Everest and had been training and preparing for it. In 2004, after climbing Mount Elbrus, she and her friends made a plan called From Elbrus to Everest and she took the role of leader of a team of 3 Mongolian women to scale Mount Everest.
“We made a lot of preparation and started raising funds for the Everest expedition. Since I was to lead the time, I had to attend to logistics and other preparations and I had no time to raise funds for myself. But I said to myself that it was important for a Mongolian woman mountaineer to reach Mount Everest whoever it may be, and so we set down to serious preparation,” remembers Gangaamaa.
In 2006 the threesome team of Mongolian women with Gangaamaa as the team leader set their foot on Mount Everest but owing to health issue they had to abort their ascent just 168 meters away from the peak of Mount Everest.
Unshaken by her first failure, Gangaamaa in 2009 decided that she would do the Mount Everest and after two-years of hard work and training, she joined an international team and in 2011 Gangaamaa became the first Mongolian women to climb the tallest peak in the world at 8,848 meters. So far, 4,469 different people have summited Everest 7,646 times.
“At that time, I did not think I would do the Seven Summits, but once you have scaled Mount Everest, you are pulled, as Tenzing Norgay had said, to take up greater challenges, and that’s how I decided to accomplish the Seven Summits,” recalls Gangaamaa and she accomplished her dream to become the first Mongolian women Seven Summiteer.
To date 416 mountaineers from around the world have done the Seven Summits. From among them there are 71 women mountaineers who are Seven Summiteers.
Gangaamaa’s next plan is to set up an association of the World’s Women Seven Summiteers with a noble goal of drawing the attention of the world’s leaders to the most pressing challenges of the modern world – climate change, environment degradation, threats to international peace and global development.
(Photos courtesy of B. Gangaamaa)
She is making an appeal to the World’s Seven Summiteers to join her in her effort to save the Mother Nature and our common home the World from further destruction. (See the appeal below).
“When a mountaineer has climbed the Seven Summits, one has a similar feeling like an army officer who has been given the honor of the title of Army General, but the desire to accomplish more does not stop at that” reflects Gangaamaa.
Her plan under this association of global women Seven Summiteers, is to undertake an expedition from the North Pole to the South Pole and draw the attention of the world to issues that are threatening our planet.
“In 1998, when I was first climbing the Khüiten Peak in the Mongolian Altai Mountains, the glacier there was long, but when I visited the Peak recently, the glacier had become smaller by 3 kilometers,” said Gangaamaa.