‘Straight out of a dream’: Shelton teen realizes goal of hiking on Mt. Everest

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — Saina Dalvi’s dream of climbing Mount Everest began when she was 8. Five years later, the dream became real.

Last month, the 13-year-old Shelton Intermediate School student made the trek — alongside her mother, Pallavi Raje-Dalvi, and two friends — some 18,000 feet above sea level to Mt. Everest Base Camp. Located along the border of Nepal and Tibet, Mt. Everest, at just over 29,000 feet, is the world’s highest mountain and part of the Nepalese Himalayas.

“It felt amazing,” Saina said about the achievement, which she said has been a goal since her mother’s first trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp five years ago.

“Being at Mt. Everest Base Camp was incredible,” Saina added. “Everything you looked at looked like it came straight out of a dream. Although it was cold, the view was beautiful which made it worth it. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and I am honestly very proud of myself.”

Pallavi Raje said this was a 10-day, high altitude hike.

“As you gain elevation, the battle is not with your body but with your mind,” Pallavi said. “You must keep a positive attitude and take it one step at a time.

“I feel very proud of her, not only for achieving what she set out to do, but also because she was a constant source of inspiration to several hikers on the trail,” Pallavi added. “Her attitude and positivity are contagious.”

Saina called the hike challenging, but the experience was enlightening.

“Every day we walked from one village to another,” she said. “Each village had its own charm. The views were breathtaking. I don’t think the pictures do it justice.”

Saina said a typical day on the hike was to wake up, get ready and quickly eat breakfast at the teahouses. There, they usually served tea — ginger tea was her favorite — and a simple breakfast. Then they would head out on the hike.

“When we get to the next teahouse, we usually have some more tea and rest by playing cards, mostly a local card game that the locals taught us,” she added. “We would also chit chat with hikers from all over the world, which was really cool to me, and stood out as the best thing on the trip. I met many people from places like Germany, Britain, Slovakia, and even a couple people from all over America.”

One distinct memory of the trip, she said, was, on the third day at Namche Bazaar, she and her mother just opened the windows in their room and watched sunrise on the mountain.

“That is one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen,” Saina said.

She said another memorable experience was visiting the monastery in Thyangboche, which is more than 200 years old.

“We watched the monks perform the ritual,” Saina said. “The architecture and design on walls of monastery were stunning. Each picture had a story to tell.”

Saina said she was fascinated by the culture.

“Our guide was a local and he told us lot of stories and cultural beliefs,” she said. “The food overall was pretty basic, but what stuck with me was that most of it was grown right there. Everywhere we went we felt very welcomed in our heart.”

She said the last three days of the trip were spent climbing, and temperatures were quite cold. She said the group pretty much slept with their full hiking gear on, including jackets and hats.

The last day of hiking was the longest and hardest day, she said. The group started the hike at 5:30 a.m.

“As you can imagine, it is freezing at 5:30 a.m. in the mountains at 17,500 feet,” she said. “Within about five minutes of starting our last trek, the water in our hydration packs had started freezing. That meant that we had to plan ahead for getting a simple sip of water.”

An hour into the hike, the cold started taking a toll on her physically.

“I was in tears. My hands were freezing,” she said. “I took my hand out of my glove to get a drink of water, but I just barely was able to use my hand, I physically couldn’t move my fingers to put them into the glove. I think that was my lowest point in our whole experience.”

But when the sun emerged, the group’s mood changed, and each had a new inspiration to continue.

“After that, my mind had a goal and one goal only — to make it to Everest Base Camp,” Saina said. “I realized there was no point in giving up right then when I was so close to reaching my dream of five years.”

She said the hike was rugged and difficult because the group was gaining 400 to 500 feet of altitude every day.

“As we climbed up, the thinner air added to the difficulty because it’s hard to breathe,” she said. “But throughout the hike, I tried my best to stay positive and cheer others on. Although this hike was difficult, it was an experience that I will never forget.”

She said she was moved by one scene, when she witnessed a 10- or 11-year-old girl carrying her younger brother, maybe 5 or 6, on her back to school through the mountains.

“Our guide told us that there was no school in their village, so they walked six or seven miles each way to go to a school,” Saina said. “I am grateful to all the resources we have available as kids here but would love to do something for the Sherpa kids.”

Pallavi said her family loves hiking, and Saina has been hiking since she was four years old.

She said the family hikes places like Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Washington and others around Northeast. The family has even done some “14ers,” which is what hikers call mountains 14,000 feet above sea level or higher, in Colorado.

But Pallavi knew Saina was truly dedicated when she made the trek at Lincoln Lafayette, N.H., which is 9.3 miles and rated as difficult.

“I was amazed,” she said, adding that Saina “loves the mountains and always has positive energy to spread.”

Saina said she remains in shape by working out with her gymnastics team at Next Dimension in Trumbull and as part of the intermediate school’s cross country and track team. To prepare for high altitude of Everest, she said she went to Colorado last summer and climbed Mt. Evans, which is a “14er” to help her acclimatize herself to thinner air.

She also remains busy as part of the school drama club and robotics team. Outside of school, she also performs Indian classical dance and teaches some children in a small village in India.

“From here, I aspire to hike other bigger hikes like Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Kilimanjaro,” Saina said. “Also, I’ve been looking at some hikes in Europe like Tour du Mont Blanc in France and Samaria George in Greece that look absolutely beautiful.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com