Malavath Poorna didn’t care that she came from the lowest Dalit caste in India. She didn’t care that the youngest teenage girl to climb Mount Everest before her was just 16. She simply wanted to prove to the world— and to herself— that she could summit the mountain.
Poorna comes from a small tribal village where her parents work as agricultural laborers, making just $595 a year. She figured that if she could bring attention to her community through her climb, she could serve as a positive role model for other tribal children and inspire them to overcome their own obstacles.
…Did I mention that she’s only 13?
Early in the morning, on Sunday the 25th of May, Malavath became the second youngest person ever to summit Mount Everest, following only Jordan Romero of Big Bear Lake, California who summited in 2010. She raised the Indian flag high above her head and placed a photograph of Dalit leader BR Ambedkar on the peak.
“All around me were mountains. It was very beautiful,” she told the BBC over a satellite phone from Base Camp later that week.
Born of tribal laborer parents who make just six-hundred dollars a year, Malavath’s trip was sponsored by a government-run social welfare program designed to promote outdoor activities. Along with her for the journey were mountaineer Shekhar Babu, 16-year-old friend Anand Kumar, another teenage boy from a poor family in her region and 10 Nepalese guides.
Perhaps the most impressive part of her incredible story is the fact that Malavath summited the mountain from the Tibetan side— considered more difficult and dangerous than the Nepalese side where most climbers make their attempt. In order to ensure her safety, she trained in the mountains of Darjeeling and Ladakh before making her way to Base Camp on April 15th.
Physical toughness was one thing; mental and emotional preparedness was another. Three days after her arrival, a colossal avalanche swept down the mountain and killed 16 Sherpas. It has since been declared the deadliest day in the history of Mount Everest.
But Malavath didn’t let the tragedy shake her: “I was initially afraid, but the training I received helped me overcome my fear. I never thought of giving up,” she said.
“She was strong and determined to climb Everest. We are very proud. She wanted to take the risk. She said that her community will gain recognition if they succeed,” said Mohammed Ansari, technical coordinator for her team.
“We are happy that our girl has set the world record,” said her parents. “We know she will go places. She is not only bright in academics, but also in adventure.”
Of course, Malavath takes it all in stride. The hardest part of the trip, she admits jokingly, was missing out on her mother’s fried chicken.
We’re right there with you, girl.