On May 12, 2022, Prakriti Varshney made history. Aged 26, she became the first vegan Indian woman to scale Mount Everest. Setting out from the Everest Base Camp on May 7, the expedition team took just five days to reach the peak, following rotations through lower camps.
The final climb totals 69 kilometres, encompassing ice, snow, and a high risk of avalanches. Low atmospheric pressure makes it hard for climbers to breathe and exposure to high temperatures is a real concern when climbing during the day. Despite the difficulties, Varshney overcame all obstacles and reached the summit, with an Indian flag and vegan mittens in hand. The latter should not be considered a throwaway concern, as performance clothing frequently features animal-derived materials, such as merino or alpaca wool.
Choosing veganism for environmental benefits
Varshney has been vegan for more than five years. She originally embraced the lifestyle after learning about the devastating impact of the dairy industry on the environment. She brought her planetary concerns with her during her Everest expedition, by being cognisant of what she left behind on the mountain. She appears to be the exception, however, not the rule.
In 2019, 11 tonnes of garbage had to be removed from Everest. The clean-up took weeks, with food wrappers, drinks bottles, cans, empty toxic cylinders and more having to be removed. In addition, the bodies of four people who had died attempting to reach the top were recovered.
Varshney feels at home in the mountains
As a self-proclaimed introvert and lover of solo travel, Varshney takes her sense of self and stewardship wherever she visits, but it’s in the mountains where she appears to feel most at home. The qualified fashion designer has previously stated that travelling to mountains is her passion, which she looks to fulfil regularly. She has also noted that she would like to live in them one day, marking a change of pace from growing up in Delhi.
Back in November, Varshney became the second Indian woman to ever climb Mount Ama Dablam, in Nepal. Considered one of the most technically challenging mountains in the world, it gave her motivation to move onto Everest. The main stumbling block was funding, however.
At the time of launching a crowdfunding campaign to support her Everest expedition, Varshney was still repaying loans that helped her scale Ama Dablam. Mountaineering is a prohibitively expensive hobby and Varshney did not come from vast wealth. Her middle-class upbringing gave her access to opportunities but not the funding for her passion.
Before leaving for Everest, just over $15k had been raised to support her trip. In her campaign information, she included a section about how her veganism is a driving force in her life. She also included that completing physically demanding challenges will help break through the myth that vegans are not strong and capable.
With Everest under her belt, Varshney is now looking at new destinations. She has revealed her desire to climb all of the 8000ers (all 14 mountains globally that stand at more than 8,000 metres tall).
Joining an elite club
Varshney may not be the first vegan to climb Everest, but she is in good company. Kuntal Joisher, a climber and mountaineer from Mumbai, scaled the mountain in 2016 to stand on the summit holding a vegan flag. Thanks to his high-profile adventuring, Joisher joined India’s Veganuary ambassador programme at the start of this year. He, along with Sadaa Sayad, Soundarya Sharma and Arvind Krisna head campaigns alerting citizens of the Veganuary initiative and try to encourage their fans to give plant-based living a try.
Lead photo by Prakriti Varshney.