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Scammed at One of World's Highest Mountains - Baljeet Kaur on Her Nightmarish Expedition

Hallucinations, self-slappings, and a lot of grit - this expedition had it all. Indian mountaineer Baljeet Kaur was scammed atop one of the world's highest mountains. Many declared her dead, but this is how she returned from the dead.

By Pavitra Utgikar
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Baljeet Kaur - The Probe Baljeet Kaur | Photo courtesy: Baljeet Kaur

“I slapped myself repeatedly, thinking I would come back to reality. I was abandoned and conned at around 8,091 metres above sea level. With sleep-deprived mind and body under extreme harsh weather, the line between life and death blurs, won’t it?” asks Baljeet Kaur.

Kaur, the prominent Indian mountaineer from Himachal Pradesh, recently scripted history after she became the only Indian mountaineer to scale four 8000-metre peaks in less than a month. But her recent expedition to Mount Annapurna was nothing less than a nightmare.

Indian mountaineer Baljeet Kaur speaks to The Probe’s Pavitra Utgikar about her nightmarish expedition to Annapurna mountain, one of the highest mountains in the world.

Baljeet Kaur was found alive on April 18, after she went missing near camp IV of Mt Annapurna while descending from the summit point. “They thought I was dead and out. But somehow, I managed to finish my expedition.” An aerial rescue team had located Kaur, struggling to descend the mountain without supplemental oxygen.

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Baljeet had hired a Sherpa in the beginning for her expedition but speaking to The Probe; she alleges that the first Sherpa had disappeared from the scene after he chose to service another client who had offered him more money. “The problem is that when you go on these expeditions, you are on your own. There is no accountability in the mountains. The Sherpa I had hired initially had just disappeared, and I was told he left for Kathmandu. I called and requested him to return, and he said he would. I waited for two days, but he didn’t come, and later I learned that the Sherpa had left because a foreign client had given him more money. Then there were three more Sherpas who were there with me and helped me till the end of the summit.”

What followed was an arduous and nerve-racking journey for Baljeet. “Another Sherpa came later to help me, but I was so exhausted by then. My mind was manipulating me. When I reached the summit point, I started seeing people who didn’t exist. I saw oxygen plants. I slapped myself multiple times, started motivating myself, and somehow mustered the courage to move forward,” reminisces Baljeet.

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Named after the Hindu goddess of food and nourishment, Annapurna is the world’s tenth-highest mountain and tops the list of the world’s deadliest peaks. As of 2022, 365 people had reached the summit of Mt Annapurna, while 72 had died attempting to climb it. Last month, Irish climber Noel Hanna, who had climbed Mt Everest 10 times, died during the Annapurna expedition. Indian mountaineer Anurag Maloo, a resident of Rajasthan who went missing in mid-April after falling from around 6000 metres while descending Camp III in Mt Annapurna, was found alive, rescued and brought back to Delhi recently.

Baljeet says the best way to complete an expedition successfully is by starting from ground zero, undergoing basic training, and acquiring the needed skills. To start over from ground zero can be scary, yet it is the most blessed character we can hold on to. “If you are scaling such a deadly mountain, you need to be physically strong and mentally fit. You need enough money, a good agency, and a reliable Sherpa. The golden rule is not to look for shortcuts and start from ground zero.”