“We saw last year on Manaslu and this year on Shishapangma that even the easiest mountain can become the most difficult one, depending on the weather condition or different circumstances,” Anurag Maloo tells me. “Mountaineering is not a race, it’s your own individual journey with the mountains you go to. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others, whether it’s the 14 eight-thousanders or the Seven Summits or whatever. People shouldn’t feel that kind of a competitive mindset.”
The Indian mountaineer was referring to the avalanches in fall 2022 on the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal, in which the Nepalese Anup Rai and Dawa Chhiring Sherpa and the American ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson were killed. On the other hand, the avalanches of last Saturday on Shishapangma in Tibet, in which the US-American Anna Gutu and her Nepalese mountain guide Mingmar Sherpa as well as Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the USA, and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa lost their lives. Others on the ground – such as the Pakistani climber Naila Kiani – had reported a real race between the two U.S. climbers with hard bandages. Both wanted to be the first woman from the USA on all 14 eight-thousanders.
Anurag Maloo had narrowly survived a fall into a crevasse at an altitude of around 5,800 meters on the eight-thousander Annapurna I in western Nepal last spring. He was rescued from the crevasse three days after he disappeared. However, his life had still been hanging by a thread after that. Three weeks after his rescue, Anurag – still in critical condition – was flown from Kathmandu to a hospital in the Indian capital New Delhi for further treatment.
Maloo is currently recovering from what is now his sixth operation, a skin graft on his thigh. The climber had suffered severe frostbite during his days in the crevasse. Several finger limbs had to be amputated. “I’m learning to deal with it and mobilize my fingers and thumbs because I lost the mobility of my right hand,” Anurag describes his current physical condition to me. “But my internal organs are stable. My heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain – everything is working well.” He can’t complain, he says, but is “grateful to be alive, back and recovering.”
It was “definitely a miracle” that he survived his fall into the crevasse on Annapurna I and the following three days until he was rescued, the 34-year-old says. I ask him how he felt there in the cold solitude. He doesn’t know, Anurag replies, “The only thing I remember is falling into the crevasse. That’s it. I’ve lost the memories of the three days in the crevasse and the seven or eight initial days of hospitalization.”
In the meantime, the Indian climber has also spoken to some of his rescuers, such as the two Polish climbers Adam Bielecki and Mariusz Hatala, as well as Chhang Dawa Sherpa from the expedition operator Seven Summit Treks, who had coordinated the search and rescue by the Nepalese-Polish rescue team. They informed him firsthand about the difficulties and details of the rescue, Anurag says. “I am so grateful and feel blessed.”
Humility before the mountain
Did the Annapurna accident change his view on life? “What the incident taught me: Really live every moment you have,” Maloo says. “Being happy in the here and now is the most important thing. That’s why, even in recovery, I try to always stay positive and keep that positive mindset.” And his view of mountaineering? He’s learned that every mountain is different and has its own challenges, Anurag replies, “You can’t take any mountain lightly, just as a fun opportunity to climb it.”
Rather, respect and humility before the mountain are necessary, the Indian climber says. “I am very grateful that Annapurna protected me, took care of me during those three days and sent me back,” Anurag Maloo says. “And I am grateful to her for letting me experience how close life and death are.”