Conquering Everest: Kunnar Karu at sTARTUp Day 2024

At sTARTUp Day 2024, Kunnar Karu shared his inspiring journey to the summit of Mount Everest. His speech was about perseverance, determination, and pursuit of one's dreams.

A journey begins in the Death Zone

"Welcome to Mount Everest. We are now at Camp Four, officially called the death zone. There is only one-third of the oxygen we can breathe in Tartu," Kunnar described the extreme conditions at 8,000 meters above sea level.

Despite a storm predicted to hit at precisely 6 PM, Karu and his team decided to proceed with their climb. "The only good thing about this storm was that it started exactly at the time it was promised to start," Karu remarked. However, the storm's exact timing did little to alleviate its dangers. "Nobody climbs with a storm in the Alps. I would never go out to climb in such a storm. But on Mount Everest, things are different."

As they stepped out into the raging blizzard, Karu recounted an internal struggle. "There is one big goal: to survive. And the aim to survive was not pushing you up; it was pushing you down. But there was another aim, which at that moment had more power: the idea that you had prepared for 20 years, climbed over 500 peaks around the world to be at this level to summit Mount Everest." This duality of purpose—survival versus ambition—drove him forward even as the storm raged on.

Battling the elements

The climb through the storm was grueling. "It's dark, it's a snowstorm, it's freezing. You don't see almost anything. You can hardly see the person in front of you," Karu recounted. The team was alone on the mountain, relying on their strength and determination. "We were the only team who was hoping on the weather forecast and who thought we were strong enough to survive the storm."

At midnight, they reached the first flat spot on the summit push, known as the balcony. Here, they made a critical stop to change oxygen tanks. "We left the half-full tank there in case we needed some extra oxygen on the way down," Karu explained. This strategic move was crucial for their survival, providing a lifeline for their descent.

As they moved on the climb became even more treacherous. "Climbing on the Ridge meant that we would be even more in the wind, and it would be even more freezing." Karu described a moment of internal dialogue: "Kunnar, you have been in the storm many times. You know what to do here. You know how to survive." This shift in mindset supported his aim to survive.

By 2 AM, the storm began to subside, and the first rays of the sun appeared. "I didn't feel so bad anymore, and this gave me a lot of motivation to continue," Karu said. The stunning views from the Ridge—Tibet on one side, Nepal on the other—were breathtaking.

However, the journey was far from over. The coldest part of the night was yet to come, and they faced extreme cold even with the best mountaineering equipment. "You are almost at 9 kilometers, and it's freezing, like in Antarctica," Karu noted. Despite this, the sight of the summit kept them going. "You see the real summit is maybe two hours away. It looks super near, but it takes hours."

Reaching the summit

The final steps to the summit were agonizingly slow. "Making every step was like a never-ending disaster," Karu recalled. As he neared the top, he realized his oxygen tank was empty and he had no more oxygen with him. Remembering Nirmal Purja's words, he pushed on: "Once you give up, you die."

Finally, Karu reached the summit, but the emotion was not one of triumph. "The emotion was that I am still alive. Once I changed the oxygen tank with the new one, life became much better because I was not freezing, had enough oxygen, and was on the summit of Mount Everest."

The descent from Everest was equally challenging. Karu emphasized the importance of staying focused even after achieving one's goal. "Many people forget that coming down is even harder than going up," he warned. His team descended rapidly, fueled by the motivation of their success. "We went down super fast and reached Camp Two, 6,000 meters, in just a couple of hours."

However, the descent was marked by somber reminders of Everest's dangers. "At Camp One, we encountered the bodies of climbers who had perished. This wall of negative emotions reminded us that even if you feel good, you are still in the death zone."

Despite these challenges, Karu's experience on Everest was a source of motivation. "For me, getting to the summit and being there for one hour gave so much motivation that I felt like a brand new electric car with a fully loaded battery."

Lessons for entrepreneurs

Karu stressed the importance of having clear goals and the perseverance to achieve them. "You need to have a good dialogue with yourself," he advised. "I've learned how to cheat myself, to convince myself that going forward is easier than going back."

He also touched on the financial challenges of his expeditions, drawing parallels to the struggles startups face. "In the end, it cost around €50,000." Looking ahead, Karu's ambition continues to drive him. He aims to climb the highest peaks and volcanoes on each continent. "My next mission is to climb the highest peak in Antarctica and the highest volcano in Antarctica," he shared, despite the significant financial challenge of raising €100,000.

Kunnar Karu's keynote at sTARTUp Day 2024 was a powerful reminder that everyone has their own Everest. "Your Everest can be a small thing toward what you are going and towards what you make a lot of effort." Whether in mountaineering or entrepreneurship, the key is to find the goals that motivate you and to pursue them with dedication.

The Tartu 2024 ambassador, Kunnar Karu, conquered the summit of Mount Everest in 2023 and brought the European Capital of Culture, Tartu 2024, to the top of the world.

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