(December 30, 2021) At 2 am on September 28, 2021, mountaineer and software engineer Anurag Nallavelli left Camp-4 to summit Mount Manaslu — the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 meters above sea level. He climbed all night in snowy weather with barely any visibility. As he entered the death zone, he “came across” a cafe that was surprisingly “ busy.” On his way to the summit, he saw a Canadian climber’s corpse being dragged by four people. “What the heck?” he wondered as he finally made it to the summit. With that he achieved the unique feat of summiting Mt Manaslu sans supplementary oxygen and sherpa (local guide).
In the death zone (term for an altitude when oxygen pressure is insufficient), the mind and body behave differently and trick you into seeing things that don’t exist. The cafe that Anurag “saw” was unreal. The dead body was real, though.
“After I made it to the summit and back at Camp 4, I just laid down and cried. Those images of the dead climber haunted me. I felt helpless and drained, emotionally and physically,” recalls Anurag.
Climbing is meditative, and mountains make Anurag feel alive. “When you are high up in the clouds, you get to see the world from a different perspective. There are no distractions. As you go up in altitude, the air is thinner and every step is difficult. Overcoming hurdles and making it to the top and back safely, empowers you,” he tells Global Indian.
How a software guy turned mountaineer
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, mountain climbing was nowhere in the realm of imagination for this software engineer at Ford Motor Company in Michigan. Back in 2018, Anurag was going through a rough patch – a painful break-up. One April evening, his cousin asked him to join him on a backpacking trip. Anurag had never backpacked, and his first altercation with the mountains was at Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. In the wilderness for three days, a realisation dawned — he needed to keep busy, and stay away from distractions. Thereafter, the 29-year-old was a changed man who chose to live life on the edge, literally.
In 2020, he was to go to Nepal to trek to Mt Everest’s base camp with a friend, and visit his parents. However, the pandemic struck, and his plans went awry. So, he took a month off from work and went to Colorado on a 500-mile trail. “I met other hikers, camped with them and that journey was life-changing. I moved to Oregon to do more,” informs Anurag, who finished his schooling from Narayana Concept School in Hyderabad.
Mount Hood in Oregon was his first adrenaline rush, using ice tools while tarrying through the tough route (Pearly Gates/Old Chute). He later climbed Mt Hood as many as 11 times and Mount Rainier twice — all in the peak of winter.
“My climbing partner’s dream was to climb Denali and we decided to attempt it without a guide. Before Denali, I underwent altitude training in Colorado and even stayed in Leadville (at 10,200 feet, it is the highest city in the US) to acclimatise. We climbed some peaks above 14,000 feet during my training in August 2021,” says Anurag, who went to college in Canada. Eventually, he and his friend climbed Denali in June 2021. “I felt stronger, physically and mentally, and then wanted to try something more challenging,” says the techie, who moved to the US in 2015 where he did his Master’s in information technology from Southern New Hampshire University.
The Himalayas call out to him
He planned to visit the Himalayas, and attempt to summit an 8,000-metre peak. “As a kid, I was always fond of the Himalayas. Stories of the presence of Lord Shiva always fascinated me. But I had just returned from Denali and could not financially afford to pay for a full-support expedition which cost $20,000. I decided to take only basecamp support as it was going to be a 30 to 40-day expedition,” recalls Anurag, which took care of logistics and food. For everything else, he was on his own. Not having a sherpa is not the norm in these gruelling expeditions. “I read a book No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks by Ed Viesturs and David Roberts. Viesturs was the first American to do all 14,8000 m peaks without supplemental oxygen. That book motivated me to experience the death zone without using supplemental oxygen,” says the ardent climber.
Finally in September, he did the impossible by conquering Manaslu sans supplemental oxygen and Sherpa. “I have made up my mind to climb without supplemental oxygen, no backup if something goes wrong. If I feel unwell during climbs, I would rather come down, instead of using oxygen to summit,” says Anurag, who also scaled Pico de Orizaba, the highest point in Mexico and third highest peak in North America besides the 20-plus 14,000 feet peaks while training for Manaslu.
The self-taught mountaineer has no formal training. He has been working in the US since 2015, and has his own set of physical and mental exercises – hiking/climbing peaks with a 50-60 pound (23-27 kg) backpack, rock climbing twice a week and biking at 10,000 feet elevation, camping in bad weather, cold showers, and sleeping on the floor.
The techie’s home base is an animal sanctuary in California. “This is my happy place,” quips the mountaineer, who is currently reading Nimsdai’s Beyond Possible. A big movie buff, before the US, Anurag worked at VFX Studios in Hyderabad. “I worked as a compositor for over a year, and worked on a couple of Telugu movies.”
Next on his list is Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Makalu back-to-back with no supplemental oxygen in March/April 2022. “I have already begun training for it,” informs the February 1992 born, who considers ace shuttler PV Sindhu as his favourite Global Indian.