Despite suffering a horrific accident while climbing Kilimanjaro, Member Ash Roy’s passion for scaling mountains remains undimmed.
I started climbing when I was about 7 years old. There was a very big hill where I lived in India. My father taught at the university and on the other side was a massive steel plant and right next to it a freight train depot, with trains loading and unloading coal and iron ore. What child wouldn’t want to see all that from the top of a hill?
After I started working in the United States, I had this interest in climbing again after I saw the fall colors in the Catskills. It was gorgeous. I then climbed up to Cusco and down to Machu Picchu [in the Peruvian Andes]. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t satisfying enough.
So, in 2002, I decided to climb Kilimanjaro [in Tanzania]. That’s 5,895 meters. You climb in four days and come back down in a day and a half. The climb up and the glaciers, which are half-melted now, were incredible. But on the way down, at around 3,000 meters, one of my [trekking poles] slipped and I fell. I smashed into a rock and severely injured my left knee.
When I got back to New York, I went to see the doctor and they fixed my knee. After three months, it started to swell up. I saw the doctor and he said, “It’s a staph infection and we’ll have to amputate your leg.” I said, “That sounds like a very severe option. What else can we do here?” He said they could try some experimental surgery, and so they took my calf muscle and moved it to my knee.
My immediate reaction was that I wanted to get back to training so I could climb again. I have the kind of personality that looks at how I can bounce back. About 10 years later, I realized that you can never fight the mountain. In some sense, you have to obey the rules of nature.
I went through intense physiotherapy for about two years. Then I started to get into fitness because I knew I would need to compensate. Five years later, I went to Ladakh in the Himalayas, which was always the target. We did some climbing from around 4,500 meters to 6,000 and change. The vistas were phenomenal. It was scary coming down because I wasn’t sure if my knee would be OK.
In 2008, I moved to Japan, and you have a ton of climbing options in the Japan Alps. We now climb every summer and in the fall for the colors. The 3,000-plus-meter Hotaka range has some of Japan’s most challenging peaks.
But the trek I recommend to everyone is the Milford Track. It starts near Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. It takes four days and they only allow 40 people a day to do it. It feels like walking through a Lord of the Rings film set.
Climbing is not about conquering the mountain. When you climb, you go through pleasant and harsh terrain and weather. I have always been fascinated by the raw beauty of nature and the solitude, so I escape to the mountains from time to time. It helps me clean the slate.
As told to INTOUCH’s Nick Jones.