Alumni Achievers: Winning the Everest – Hemant Albert Soreng, PGP 1997

Hemant Albert Soreng, an IIM Bangalore alumnus and co-founder of Rustik Travel, recently accomplished the extraordinary feat of summiting Mount Everest. Inspired by childhood memories of the Himalayas and a profound love for the mountains, Hemant’s journey was fueled by a deep respect for nature. The passing of his mother spurred him to dedicate this monumental climb to her memory, as well as to his motherland, India, and Mother Earth. With over 20 years of trekking and mountaineering experience, Hemant’s extensive preparation involved rigorous physical training and years of mental fortitude. His experience at IIM Bangalore and the unwavering support of his fellow alumni significantly influenced his adventurous endeavors. Hemant’s story is a testament to resilience, dedication, and the powerful impact of personal and environmental tributes, embodying lessons applicable to both mountaineering and entrepreneurship. (144 words)

I have very fond memories from childhood traveling with my family to the mountains, particularly the Himalayas. And each of those visits instilled in me love and respect for them. These emotions only grew with years and it transformed into a calling to go closer to them. And I did with each trek and climb over the years. Climbing Mt. Everest was a logical step in that journey. 

However, my mother’s passing away last year triggered that thought, and I decided to climb the highest mountain as a dedication to her memory. After all in her lifetime she would’ve climbed many such Everests just to raise us single-handedly after the early demise of my father.

Further, I dedicated the summit success to two other mothers – my motherland, India and our mother Earth. 

Ever since I had trekked to the Everest Base Camp way back in 2011, I have been enamoured by Mt. Everest and the climbing feats of various mountaineers through the years. So much so that I knew the climbing route by heart. It was like a dream come true when I finally got to walk through it and crossing Khumbu Icefall, Western CWM, Lhotse Face, Yellow Band, Geneva Spur, South Col, Balcony, Hillary Step and more. These were something I had only read about or saw through pictures and videos. The entire journey was memorable and esp. the camaraderie of fellow climbers and the Sherpas.

Having said that, if I were to point one particular memorable moment, then it would be on the summit. It was a clear and sunny morning and from the very top I looked around the beautiful view and the curvature of the earth.

It was overwhelming.

I have kept myself physically fit over the years as I have been an avid trekker & mountaineer, marathoner and an Ironman Triathlete. However, for such an undertaking I started intensifying the physical training one year before the expedition start date.

Following are the four components of my training program that I underwent six days a week, continuously till the expedition started.

  • Climbing Conditioning (trekking, climbing uphill and downhill with a 20+ kg heavy backpack)
  • Cardio (Running, cycling)
  • Strength Training (Weight training in the gym primarily focussing on legs and core)
  • Flexilibilty (Yoga)

Mental preparation, I believe took years. The various phases of my life riddled with failures, mistakes, risks and fighting back in these situations have made me a stronger person. 

I have more than 20+ years of trekking and climbing experience, out of which last 8 years as a trek/expedition leader with Rustik Travel, a company that I have co-founded. I have successfully completed 25+ multi-day treks (incl. 10 high-altitude treks) in high mountains and summited twelve 6,000+ m peaks (incl. one 7,000+ peak). 

Further, I am a certified Wilderness First Responder.

This experience and training has instilled in me a sense of calmness and confidence to handle any situation in the mountains.

The different phases of learning in my life esp. the formal education that I have received has shaped me as who I am today. It’s not just the two years I spent at a world class institution – IIM Bangalore, during my PGP program but the continued association as an alum has positively influenced me. I have gained lifelong friendships and relationships with fellow students and alumni. They have unflinchingly supported my various endeavours however daring or risky they might have been. Be it taking a six-month long mega road trip covering all the 28 states in India by car along with the Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India, during the pandemic or now climbing Mt. Everest. I am indeed very fortunate to have this association.

There were many unexpected challenges. Some of those are as follows:

Mid-way through the expedition, at the end of my acclimatisation rotations, I injured my knee while coming down the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. I was evacuated to a hospital in Kathmandu. Fortunately, it was a ligament strain that healed itself in a few days. It was good enough for me to go back to the base camp for the final summit push.

On day 1 of my summit push, while crossing the hot region of Western CWM to reach Camp 2, I was completely dehydrated. However, I took a day’s rest at the camp to recover and proceed ahead.

On day 4 of the summit push, from Camp 3  to Camp 4, we encountered a huge traffic of climbers along the way that slowed us down and it took us a long time to reach Camp 4. I, along with my sherpa and a few climbers from my group decided not to go for the summit push the same day but sleep overnight at Camp 4 and go the next day. On the hindsight, it was a good decision as we were well rested and had very little traffic the next day.

On the summit day, while descending from the summit, we were hit by a storm. With continuous snowing, high speed winds and very little visibility it was very difficult to descend. However, slowly and cautiously we persisted and eventually we came down to Camp 4 safely.

There are many lessons I learnt from this expedition that I related to as a mountaineer and an entrepreneur. Some of these are:

  • Process

Training and preparation plays a big role. Doing repetitive tasks or activities day in, day out,  that one may find boring is key to gaining excellence and muscle memory in this case. And it helped me throughout the expedition.

  • Experience

I owe my successful summit largely to experience.

My trekking and climbing experience over the years gave me the confidence in this expedition to climb through the various terrains and address any challenge or situation, however bad it may have been, along the route. As an entrepreneur, with experience I have developed more patience and skills to solve various difficult problems. 

  • Taking Risks

Both mountaineers and entrepreneurs take unusual risks in their respective fields. However, one has to take calculated risks that doesn’t result in failure or fatality in this case. There were many situations during this expedition where I had to take such risks but always kept in mind that these were not unnecessary and rash.

  • Decision Making

During the climb, I had to make quick decisions based on the various factors such as changing weather, traffic jams, my injury and more. Quick and precise decision making is a quality that is very much applicable to entrepreneurs in various dynamic situations, a constant factor hallmark in the startup ecosystem.

  • The Journey

The journey is long, painful and challenging for both mountaineer and the entrepreneur. Therefore, it is very important not to be burdened with the goal or destination and instead enjoy the journey, as I did during this expedition. 

Climbing Mt. Everest is a 2-month long expedition. The summit push from and to the Base Camp itself takes 7-8 days, with around 8-11 hours of walking and climbing every day. And the final summit day is excruciatingly long around 20-22 hours of continuous climbing in freezing cold. It is very easy to lose focus and make mistakes. 

Over the years, I have developed a process for continuous motivation during these long and difficult climbs. These are “hooks” or memories that I think of while climbing. These are happy memories from my life. These are memories from various difficult periods in my life which I overcame and emerged stronger. These are memories specifically from my previous climbs where I have been in similar situations. 

These are memories where I was attempting something challenging for the first time and was successful like my first marathon, or my first swim in the ocean during Ironman Triathlon or my first peak climb, each one an Everest on its own when attempting the first time.

All these were mainly mental blocks that I had overcome in the past that was an immense source of motivation and confidence. During the expedition I was thinking of all these hooks to clear any doubts and push myself into thinking that if I have done those, I can surely do this and summit safely.

While descending there were other hooks that emerged such as the motivation to get back home in Bangalore fast, to take a hot shower, sleep in my own bed and have a masala dosa with hot filter coffee 🙂

When I reached the summit, I was not exactly elated with joy, neither did I pump my fist in the air. I was just relieved. I had finally reached the destination after 10-11 hours of continuous climbing in that cold windy weather. I knew that reaching the summit means that I had just reached halfway through my journey. When I come down back to the base camp safely, is when I will reach my destination and achieve this goal.

Therefore, on the summit, I was focussed on taking the pictures fast and soaking in the ambience, and then quickly descend.

Having said that, on the summit, I took photos holding pictures of people and institutions such as IIM-Bangalore, who made me who I was today. My way of expressing my gratitude from the top of the world. 

Further, I dedicated this climb to the mothers. 

Firstly, to my mother who passed away a year ago. 

Secondly, to my motherland, India. She has shown me an infinite kaleidoscope of diversity of culture, language, food and more. Inspite of the chaos, challenges and sometimes scarcity given endless opportunities. I may travel across the world many times over, but I always long to go back home, India.

Finally, to Chomolungma (Goddess Mother of the World)/ Sagarmatha (Goddess of the sky) for allowing me a safe passage to the summit and back. This journey has reinforced my belief in the conservation of natural resources and sustainability, something that we have started working through Rustik Travel in the field of sustainable travel. Through Rustik Foundation, we would try do just that, more focused, for our Mother Earth.

Throughout the expedition, while ascending and especially while descending, I was very much wary of the knee injury that I had got a few days earlier, and that it could flare up again anytime, if I was not careful. Therefore I was extra slow and cautious so as not to get injured again. 

However, it was the emotional and mental depression that I experienced at times mainly because the following incidents.

During the summit push two climber friends from my group lost their lives. 

One of them I saw being rescued, while he was unconscious, being dragged down while I was climbing up from Camp 3 to Camp 4. 

The other one, along with his Sherpa fell off the ridge after summiting. I came to know of this accident as I had just started on my final summit push. 

Both of these incidents weighed on my mind pulling me down mentally, and I was climbing up.

While descending from the summit, I crossed three climbers in various sections of the route, who were struggling and we tried to help them the best we could in that situation. However, I came to know much later that they couldn’t make it. While it’s not doubt or fear, but it’s the feeling of helplessness that still plagues me, forcing me to think that maybe we could’ve done more at the time.

Shut the noise around of what others think about you. Just believe in yourself. Train hard and prepare well. And follow it through execution.