First Sri Lankan Man to Conquer Everest
He decided on a second attempt, or rather, to complete what he started. By now, after reading the headline, you of course would have got an idea about who exactly you would be reading about. Yes, it is none other than our very own Everest conqueror and the first Sri Lankan man to do it, Johann Peries. He achieved the feat on 22nd May, 2018 and is now at a stance in his life where he feels that he has gone about overcoming no doubt, one of the biggest hurdles a mere man would be faced with in this life.
Climbing Mount Everest is no easy feat and only a small number of people; approximately 5200 or so climbers have made it to the summit to date. It is considered one of the biggest hurdles to overcome and one that comes with putting one’s life on the line as the stresses of the journey and the unpredictability of it could mean either one of two things; you either make it to the peak or you don’t. And our own Johann Peries no doubt made it to the top!
As always, Elegant made sure that someone as special as he is deserves the exposure and the recognition that comes with overcoming such a challenge and proving to not just Sri Lanka but to the world that we Sri Lankans can do it! So, we met up with him at his own establishment, The Cutting Station at Jawatte Road to find out more about what it took for him to go at it for the second time round.
Describe yourself. What kind of person are you?
I’m fairly adventurous. I regard myself as an artist who is inspired by nature and I enjoy exploring and discovering new things.
When did this passion for climbing first evolve? And when did that feeling occur, when you decided that you wanted to climb Mt. Everest?
It all started off during school. My dad would take me climbing and we would go off discovering new places around Sri Lanka so I’d definitely say that my father inspired me to do this. So, we’d go off the beaten track and my interest only grew and grew with age and time. Eventually, I’d travel out of the country and explore the world with my friends and in 2010 I ended up visiting the Everest Base Camp. Two years later, in 2012, I visited the Himalayas again and climbed a peak and that journey was how it led me to meet my friend Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala. From there onwards, our partnership grew. We summited a mountain together; we climbed Island Peak which was 6200 metres and which was my highest at the time. This was a test to ascertain if our bodies were able to reach an altitude of over 22000 feet in order to enable us to take on the challenge of climbing Mount Everest.
Tell us about your Everest project
Four years prior to the first climb with Jayanthi, we did our research on Mount Everest. We sought assistance from climbers in other countries to study and learn the right way to climb the mountain. For our first attempt, we went as a team. It is a long process and one that is very deteriorating to say the least. There are the risk factors that come with it and for two Sri Lankans, something that was unheard of or rather, one that was never attempted. After the Base camp, there are four other camps that we need to cover but bear in mind that it isn’t as simple as going from one point to the next and continuing up until you reach the last point. It is all about having patience and being on the go and we would reach the first point then come all the way down and again go back up to the first point, then go to the second point from there and come back down again and so on and so forth. So this is why it takes a lot of time, about two months to be precise. That was the element of precision it took to ensure that we were ready at each point and it was indeed an experience of a lifetime.
So, with the first climb that I went with her, she was ahead of me and time was running with our oxygen cylinders and unfortunately, just 400 metres short of reaching the summit, my Sherpa warned me that I didn’t have enough oxygen for the trip back so I had to forfeit the opportunity of continuing to the top. I felt disappointed and especially with the fact that there was physically nothing wrong with me, I was still enticed to go for it. Knowing how prepared I was, this shortcoming helped me to prepare myself even more for the second climb and the first climb no doubt helped bring about an added sense of vigour and longing to achieve it again.
What was your biggest fear or challenge during the climb?
Simply preparing for something like this took 1 ½ to 2 years. You realize the dangers you’re facing; the reality of it all starts to make sense to the extent of writing our own wills before heading off for it. I’d really put my heart and soul into it, physically and mentally. It was a challenge trying to convince my nearest and dearest who were against my idea of going for the climb the second time round. There were many who encouraged me as well to go for it. So it was a matter of convincing the others as I knew what I would be facing after the initial experience and I was confident of making it. My biggest fear like anyone else would face, was also the feeling of not making it at all. The second climb was a bit different as it became a public climb; I had the whole country backing me and watching me from afar. And I had my moments, having to live two months alone surrounded by white and the cold in a little tent.
What was the most essential piece of luxury that you allowed yourself during your climb, if there ever was one, and why?
Under the difficult circumstances there the most luxurious thing I had on me I’d say was my hot water bottle. Temperatures go down to minus 20 at the Base Camp so the hot water bottle becomes a real comfort to hold on to. We were provided with all other comforts; three hot meals a day and other amenities but on the go, we had military style food pouches to heat and eat out of. And the higher up you go, you lose your appetite but I needed to keep my energy and forced myself to eat and regain my strength in the process.
How different was the second climb for you when compared to the first ascent?
The key point for me was being aware of the challenges ahead the second time round. I was more than prepared for it and I decided to enjoy the climb without thinking of the dangerous aspect of it.
What kind of preparation did you undergo in anticipation of your Mt. Everest climb?
As I mentioned, the research was important so I ensured I was knowledgeable on any changes that would have occurred within the time span from the initial climb and looked for the right equipment that would assist me on my climb. This was how I stumbled upon the Higher Altitude Training Mask for example. The mask cuts your oxygen supply while training at lower altitudes which acclimatises your body even before you set off on the climb. So I stored up with relevant equipment such as this whilst also changing and adapting myself both, physically and mentally.
In terms of fitness and health, how systematic and organized are you when it comes to climbing?
I had to make certain sacrifices no doubt, when preparing for the challenge ahead. I cut myself out from a social life which was a commitment I had to make. I went on a proper food plan. There was to be no drinking and no late nights for example. For six days a week, I would wake up at 4am and work out and again, do the same in the evening. This was the routine for 1 ½ years. I really got into it full on and I also dedicated my weekends travelling to places such as Nuwara Eliya for training purposes. One of these trainings also included me travelling to Switzerland in 2017 to climb Mont Blanc.
As a Sri Lankan climber, did you feel any setbacks when it came to finding the right type of equipment, support etc. prior to climbing Mt. Everest or any other mountain?
Certain climbing equipment or the right type needed for a project such as this were not products one can simply purchase online. So for the first climb, I and Jayanthi had to go on a special trip to the USA to purchase the right equipment. The second round too I visited the USA to collect gear. Getting the ideal equipment for a climb of this calibre is very important and I did not want to take any chances. Climbing was not a common practice amongst Sri Lankans and now, we see gradually many people getting into this activity. But, yes, it is a challenge finding the right type of equipment and support for this type of endeavour, especially for a Sri Lankan.
What was your main goal with climbing Mt. Everest and what advice would you give a climber who aspires to climb the Everest?
For any climber, Mount Everest is the ultimate dream. For the 5200 or so climbers in the world who have made it, it is such a small number when compared to the world’s population. It is an amazing achievement and I feel completely fulfilled having gone ahead with the highest goal. It isn’t just about climbing a mountain but about overcoming difficult issues and changing ones mind-set in life. One important message I’d give is as simple as not giving up. Failures become a stepping stone for success and the feeling you get is if I can overcome this then I can overcome anything.
The experience has given me a lot of satisfaction and an urge to inspire others. There are different aspects to finding out for yourself if you can climb Everest. Not every climber is able to do this. The first challenge is to realise if you’re able to do it. Then comes the issue of funding. Whether you’re doing this on your own or getting sponsored, the fact remains that in order to realize it you need to have faith in yourself.
When we initially sought out funding, there were corporates who didn’t even want to see us, not believing that two average looking people can climb the Everest and who thought that we were crazy to even go ahead with something like this. So, it isn’t just about climbing a mountain but it is also about conquering the little mountains in our lives.
Finally, what can we expect next from Johann Peries?
Well, apart from running a business in Sri Lanka as well as abroad, I am now focusing on my next climb with Jayanthi and that is to climb the next highest mountain outside the Himalayas, the Aconcagua in Argentina. I look forward to that.
Sri Lankan of the Year 2018 – Johann was also the recipient of the Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year – Special Honorary Award 2018.
Text by Sara Pathirana
Photography By: Arantha Sirimanne