When Kuntal Joisher was in the eighth grade living in Mumbai, India, he wrote his first piece of software code.
Twenty-three years later, Joisher is not only a computer software engineer, but a self-described "adventure photographer," an environmentalist and the first known vegan to summit Mt. Everest.
He will share stories from his recent climb to Mt. Everest Friday at REI Huntington Beach and Saturday during VegFest at Orange Coast College.
"In my craziest dreams, I would not have imagined climbing mountains," Joisher , 36, said. "I had no clue back then what it takes to climb to the top of the world. I just wanted to stand on top"
In 2009, five years after he received his master's in computer science from USC, Joisher and his wife Dipti traveled to Narkanda, a little town in the Himalayas. It was there, surrounded by the beauty and peace of the snow-capped Himalayas, that Joisher realized his love of nature.
Though he had no initial interest in mountaineering, he decided to give it a shot. Since taking a training course, Joisher has successfully climbed various peaks in the Western Ghats, Nepal, and Patagonia —including more than 15 trekking expeditions in India between 2009 and 2014, and a chunk of the world's tallest summits in the Himalayan mountain range.
He is part of the first expedition to climb India's Mt. Nakorche, the second Indian civilian and the first vegan to summit Mt. Manaslu in Nepal.
Mt. Manaslu is the eighth highest mountain in the world.
After three years of extensive training, Joisher's first attempt to climb Mt. Everest in 2014 was cut short when an avalanche took the lives of 16 Sherpa guides and climbers.
It was the deadliest event in Everest history.
Joisher tried again the next year, this time as an expedition leader — but he was stopped by the Nepal earthquake that caused a major avalanche at the base camp.
Shaken by the fact that he had escaped death, and feeling more determined than ever, Joisher made his third attempt to summit Everest in May 2016. After 40 days of climbing, he reached the peak May 19.
"During the last few years of my Everest journey, I faced dramatic setbacks and came within inches of death multiple times," he said. "As I made my way towards the summit I couldn't stop crying. It was a lifelong dreamed turned into reality.
"I never lost sight of my goal because I had a limitless source of strength and inspiration to tap into: I was climbing for those who no longer could," he said.
Joisher said he always aimed to be the first known vegan to summit Everest. He said he wanted to put to rest rumors that this type of protein, meatless diet was a factor in the deaths of past vegan and vegetarian Everest mountaineers.
Born in a strict vegetarian family, Joisher says he was a "vegetarian-by-default, not by-choice," and blamed the myth on a combination of "convenience, taste, and above all apathy towards the animal rights cause."
When he moved to Los Angeles to pursue computer science, he was first exposed to veganism by roommates at USC.
"This was the first time in life when I took a strong stand on a major issue, and this opened floodgates of change in me," he said.
In 2002, Joisher adjusted his lifelong vegetarian lifestyle to one of veganism — not only in his meat and dairy-free eating habits, but also in ecofriendly clothing choices.
"Standing on top of the world with a vegan flag was a great way to give back to this cause that changed my entire life," he shared. "If a 110-kg guy living a sedentary life, with no background whatsoever in endurance or mountain climbing can transform his life and climb to the top of Mt. Everest, there is nothing that is impossible."
Joisher credits his success to role models including American mountaineer Ed Viesturs and his father, who was diagnosed with Lewy Body
"After experiencing the effects of the illness on my father, and the rest of our family, I decided to use my journey to Everest as a platform to raise awareness for this crippling disease," said Joisher, who became a primary caregiver for his father since his diagnosis 15 years ago.
Joisher still has a dream of climbing all 14 8,000-meter Himalayan summits. His mantra is "patience, perspiration, and perseverance" — all while never giving up along the journey, and taking the time to enjoy the view.
"It's important to find your personal Everest, whatever it may be, and then go on a journey to climb it," Joisher said. "There are no shortcuts to the top."
What: Kuntal Joisher
When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at REI Huntington Beach, Bella Terra, 7777 Edinger Ave.; 11:20 a.m. during VegFest, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa
Information: (714) 379-1938