The view from 8,000 metres is spectacular. The clouds are wispy. Sunlight peers in from the sky, colouring the entire horizon a bright orange. It is hard to imagine how high 8,000m is. Let me make it simpler. Burj Khalifa is roughly 820m high. Put 10 of it on top of each other, like a precarious lego.
That is how high Hyderabad’s Anurag Nallavelli climbed; the 30-year-old summitted two eight-thousanders, all in one year, without supplementary oxygen or the support of a sherpa. On April 9, he successfully ascended Dhaulagiri mountain range in Nepal, a feat that was preceded by his climb to the summit of Manaslu, 8163 metres above sea level, in September last year.
But this mountaineer did not discover his passion for straddling mountain peaks till 2018.
A Slow Walk
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, Anurag moved to the US for his masters in 2015, and began working as a software engineer, a job he surprisingly continues, even on the go. His tryst with mountains did not happen until 2018. “I was living a very lazy life in the states; binge-watching shows, partying with friends, typical office work. Even as a child, I was never outdoorsy; I only played badminton because it was a sport that I shared an affinity for along with my father, as well as cricket,” he reminisces.
It was in 2018 that a backpacking trip to Arizona with a cousin made him look beyond his cocoon. “I was going through a breakup and needed a distraction; for the first time in my life, I stayed in a camp and we just spent a few days amidst nature, hiking to the falls. It was transformational,” he says. Anurag got back, but the mountains did not leave him. The mountainous terrain of Colorado and California became his home on the weekends, when he would fly in from Michigan to undertake mountain climbing expeditions.
A Steep Climb
It was the pandemic that finally allowed the techie to take up mountain climbing on a regular basis. Anurag was on a snowboarding trip in California with a friend when the US imposed a lockdown. The duo stayed at Love Creek Sanctuary, a place for rescue animals. The couple that ran it allowed Anurag and his friend to stay in their trailer for the next few months. “We told them we’d chip in wherever needed; I managed to learn a lot, and form a special bond with animals. We had our laptops that allowed us to work remotely,” Anurag adds. The sanctuary became the young mountaineer’s base, and continues to be so.
Anurag gave up his apartment in Michigan and moved around continuously, sometimes even living out of his car. Being a digital nomad had its perks; he spent a month hiking in Colorado. But it had its challenges too - the mountaineer would wake up at 4am and work till 12pm, post which he would train all evening. The real calling, though, came from Denali, the highest mountain range in North America. A Romanian friend wanted to summit the mountain and Anurag found the perfect opportunity to get his mountain boots on.
Denali and Beyond
Denali is a beast. “I was aware of the challenge and spent 6 months training at facilities in Oregon and Colorado. In May 2021, we finally achieved our goal. The expedition was expected to be of three weeks duration because the weather at Denali is unpredictable, but I completed the journey in 11 days. I had never felt more confident and comfortable with altitude,” Anurag says. With Denali under his belt, the young engineer turned his gaze to Nepal.
Mountain climbing is fraught with dangers; the absence of supplemental oxygen only makes it more arduous. But Anurag had trained for everything. “Even while climbing Denali, we had to carry our own essentials while training for higher altitudes; hiring a guide is expensive everywhere and I did not have the money. Additionally, oxygen cylinders only add to your bag’s weight. All these considerations made me decide against it. I was also inspired by the experiences of mountaineer Ed Viesturs, who wrote the book: No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks,” he adds. Anurag summitted both the mountains and was scheduled to head to Annapurna Base Camp this month. Unfortunately, his Dhaulagiri expedition left him with frostbites, putting him out of action for a few months.
Currently at home in Hyderabad, Anurag is restless; his parents continue to fret and worry, while asking him to forego these ‘dangerous activities’ and ‘settle down’. The Hyderabad techie has a different perspective. “Mountain climbing made me look beyond a materialistic life and taught me the value of important things. In the states, I see many people pursue climbing, but barely a handful out of those are people of colour. This drives me to push my own boundaries in some ways and strive for better representation in the mountaineering community.”