It’s not uncommon for Ashik Ashokan and Ashok Kumar to be mistaken for brothers – they even have similar sounding names. But they might as well be after the immense challenges they’ve faced, and conquered, together.
Knowing each other since their junior college days, mountaineering almost seemed like it sprang out of nowhere.
“It was a random phone call with Ashok,” Ashik explained. “He said ‘Hey, you want to go and do something exciting? Why don’t we go to Nepal and do a trek?’”
And just like that, they took their first steps towards finding greater meaning and purpose together as Heart2Climb.
Ashik and Ashok formed Heart2Climb as they share the same burning passion for giving back to society and helping those in need in marginalised communities, and mountaineering was the one thing both of them felt they could do to make a difference.
RISING UP TO THE CHALLENGE
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, however. School and life did get in the way of their climbing endeavours, but they always found a way to do it.
Ashik firmly believes that people will do whatever it takes for something they truly care about. “A lot of people say that they don’t have time to do this or that, but I think people are just lying to themselves,” he said. “If you really like to do something, I’m very sure you will find the time to do it.”
After successfully climbing the highest volcanoes in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America, their most recent adventure this year in February brought them to the world’s highest volcano, Ojos Del Solado, which lies on the edge of Chile and Argentina in a remote area of the Atacama Desert. It already sounds like a daunting task to scale this 6,893m volcano, but neither of them were fazed.
“I do a lot of ultramarathons, running 50km to 100km, and I swim a lot as well,” Ashok says. “When you’re climbing a mountain, you’re pushing for at least 12 to 14 hours, and when you’re running ultramarathons you’re pushing 16 hours at least. There’s a lot of endurance involved, and I guess my body is acclimatised in that sense.”
Ashik is no slouch either in the physical fitness department, though he does muay thai instead of endurance sports like his partner and suggests fellow adventure travellers can do the same. “Muay thai builds my mental strength to a large extent, and a huge part of climbing a mountain is the whole idea of mental endurance,” he adds.
CONQUERING THE WORLD
Scaling this volcano would bring the 27-year-olds closer to their goal of completing one of the world’s most difficult challenges, the Seven Volcanic Summits, where they climb the tallest volcanoes in each continent.
With the ultimate goal of putting Singapore on the map as the first Singaporeans and Southeast Asians to do so, their excitement and passion was palpable.
“I still remember the moment very clearly,” Ashik fondly recalls when they first decided to attempt this challenge. “We had just completed a 220km Himalayan trek in Nepal. We were drained and resting at a lodge, when suddenly Ashok screams about a 5,000m peak in Iran.
“‘We’re gonna climb that!’ he said. Next thing we knew, we found ourselves in Iran climbing Asia’s highest volcano.”
All of their climbs have been done without the help of guides and porters, which is in the spirit of alpinism. Climbers who wish to emulate this will not find it easy. Both of them have to pack their own clothing, equipment, food and water, and their packs often weigh 20 to 25kg.
“It’s doing everything on your own,” Ashok explained. “It’s a completely different experience when you’re doing it on your own merit and carrying your own stuff compared to when someone else is carrying it.”
But they emphasised that it’s not only about taking credit for attempting these climbs, it’s also about caring for the environment. “We don’t want to leave any waste behind; we clear our own rubbish.”
Their recent success and achievements definitely earned them recognition, but they faced a rocky start. Their relatively young age led people to be sceptical of their lofty ambitions, but thankfully, their perseverance paid off.
Over the years, several donors and sponsors have given their support to propel the two mountaineers onwards in their goal of giving back to the needy. They’ve also managed to get students to volunteer more by reaching out and giving talks, emphasising the need to support the less fortunate.
Ultimately, Ashik and Ashok want to spread their message of positivity and charity to the public, especially the youth. Having raised funds for the Society for the Physically Disabled, Children’s Cancer Foundation, and Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, both of them wish to see the youth in Singapore try to do more.
“The best way to give back to society is spending your time with those who are disadvantaged,” Ashok said. “You need not give money, you need not do something extravagant. A simple thing like spending your valuable time with them, that’s the best gift you can give.”
By Gilbert Wong, Men’s Health Content Producer