I’m happy that I can mix business with pleasure.
Tadas Jeršovas is a traveller and VMU alum (BA in Business Administration). Even though Tadas has climbed the Himalayas and reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas, he says he is not a mountain climber but a traveller who doesn’t avoid mountains. On a warm July afternoon, we talked to Tadas about VMU, business and, of course, his travels in the past, present and future.
- Travelling is a way of life and not a specialty or duty. How does one become a traveller?
After my studies at VMU, I went to the States for an internship in Southern California. I lived in a wonderful place between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, and on the weekends I would go walking around the foothills. After a while, my friend and I started to plan ascent up Mt. Whitney (4,421 m), the highest peak in the continental United States. The going was rough. We hadn’t done the necessary research regarding acclimatization, proper nutrition, elevation effects and so on. So afterward, I started to look into all of it.
After three years in the United States I came back to Lithuania, but my interest in travelling never flagged. Even when looking for a reliable source of income, I never forgot my passion for travelling. I knew that I would never tire of exploring, so I decided to invest my time and energy in selling adventure equipment. I’m happy that I can mix business with pleasure – when travelling to a different country for an exhibit, I make sure to take some “active” time off.
- You mentioned that you went to the USA for an internship after your studies. What do you remember from your studies at VMU?
The most valuable aspect of my studies was a general education. Also, I’m very glad that I learned to speak English and some Spanish. Knowledge of the latter language was invaluable during my travels in Latin America. Finally, I made many new friends here at VMU. Through my student organizations, I had a chance to travel to Ukraine, which is now the main focus of my business thanks to the large number of contacts I’ve made as a student back then.
- So you’re not afraid of challenges both in travel and in business? You took a risk not just in climbing mountains, but also when you decided to start selling adventure gear in Lithuania.
Before starting to develop the export of active leisure equipment, I’ve established relationships with manufacturers, suppliers, etc. So my business wasn’t a blind risk. Sure, there were mistakes, though. Three years ago, I decided that my business would flourish if I sold two types of jackets: wind-resistant and rain-resistant. So, I brought a large quantity of them here to Lithuania. Then I realized that people needed more than just these jackets. Right now, my goal is to open up an online shop where the customer can easily find what he needs for his trip. If you decide to travel to India, we will recommend what type of shirt, shoes or wallet would be the best. We want to provide the best and most suitable products for every trip.
It’s a challenge to decide what Lithuania needs, but knowledge comes from experience. Every year I try something new. No manufacturer can guarantee that his product will have success in every country. Just because a product is popular in Estonia, Poland or Ukraine, doesn’t mean it will be successful in Lithuania or vice versa. Also, I take something new with me to test it out every time I travel, so I have a very good conception of every product’s quality and suitability. It’s easier when I myself can try out which jacket is the best for the Himalayas, or for the travels in Turkey, or for reaching the summit of a North American volcano.
Business and travel are very much alike. I have the widest assortment of people signing up for my organized trips. Leading a group like that into difficult conditions is a challenge and a great responsibility. That’s why mountaineering is like a school in which we all learn to work together in uncomfortable situations: sleeping in subzero temperatures, always eating the same food, battling fatigue, etc. Back home in Lithuania, I hear feedback like “it was the most tiresome vacation I’ve ever been on…but I want to go again!” That gives me motivation to keep going and continue developing my business.
- How important is it to prepare for a trip before departure?
- There are two schools of thought here. Some travellers think that planning takes away the appeal from the trip, because it’s better to experience the adventure as it comes. The other side claims that you have to know where you’re going and what you won’t be able to experience. In my case, I’m always looking for the middle ground. I always do some research about my destination, but I still leave myself the opportunity to discover something new. It’s a shame when you come home and realize that you missed out on seeing something because you didn’t take the time to learn about it before the trip. If I’m travelling with a group of friends, I take the responsibility for them, so I’m much more careful to prepare beforehand. But still, even if you plan the schedule all the way, time and time again something unexpected happens.
- Is it as important to pick out the relevant information in business as it is in travels?
- Yes, it’s very important. If you search for “Himalayas” on the Internet, you’ll come up with thousands of results, so you have to know how to choose and organize the most useful information.
- Last year you climbed the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley in Alaska. Can you tell us more about this expedition?
- Last spring we organized a group of nine Lithuanians to climb Denali (Mt. McKinley), the tallest mountain in North America, towering at 6194 m. Our expedition was named “Lituanica Denali 2011.” You can climb Denali in about two weeks, because six kilometres is not especially high. However, the mountain is way up north, so the conditions are difficult. We figured we would spend three weeks on the mountain and one more exploring other places in Alaska. When we arrived at Denali’s foothills in the middle of May, we saw no living foliage, only dead grass. We would only see green life two weeks later. We made the expedition without the help of local guides, and we carried all of our own equipment the whole way. When we flew up to base camp (2200 m), my backpack weighed 26 kg and my sled weighed 24 kg. So from the start, we were loaded up with at least 50 kg of gear, not including jackets and shoes. The supplies were necessary, however, since the weather on Denali is known to be unpredictable and we might have had to spend a week living in a tent. We also had to carry our own food and petrol, the two basic necessities for survival. The area temperatures can drop to minus 40-60 degrees Celsius below zero, so we carried suitable equipment: shoes and jackets for minus 60 °C and sleeping bags for minus 40 °C. It’s also worth mentioning that rescue helicopters can only fly up to a certain altitude. After a certain point, you’re on your own.
- Do you ever have doubts when you’re climbing mountains? Have you ever asked yourself, “What was I thinking?”?
- I was entertaining the idea of climbing Denali for a long time. The idea of the constant cold was the primary impetus that kept me safe at home. Nevertheless, the other arguments convinced me to take the trip. We found great weather at the foothills, only minus 5°C, but the good start wasn’t enough to ensure a calm journey throughout. During the ascent, the weather was especially variable: the first two days were clear and sunny; on the third day it started to snow; on the fourth we found ourselves in a blizzard, and continuing the climb was impossible. The wind speed at that point can reach up to 140 km/h, so we set up our tents in snow trenches. The first critical moment of the expedition was the morning of the fourth day, when we tried to turn on the stove in order to melt snow for drinking and to cook some food. Because of the high winds, I struggled with the stove for at least 30 minutes. During those 30 minutes, I started to lose hope, because I realized that if I failed to turn on the stove, we would have no water or food. We would die. Then, I came up with the idea to dig a hole in the snow, put the stove in that trench, protect it from the wind that way, and light it up. It was the first and only moment when I thought “what am I doing here?” But when we continued our ascent, the views were too spectacular and there was no place for hesitation.
- Having had that kind of experience, you probably look at the pace of life a little differently?
- You can’t hurry in the mountains, because the air is too thin. At the very top, I have to take a break every two steps, because I can’t take any more physically. Every time I return from the mountains, I have to get used to the hustle of everyday living again. Every traveller knows that when you run away from civilization, especially in the mountains, there’s plenty of time to be with yourself, to reflect on your life. Every spring we organize a 300 km hike through the Everest region, which is a life-changing experience for many people. I know several hikers who decided to change their career, surroundings, diet or something else in their life.
- Travelling through different regions and even continents, you spend a lot of time with the local people. Are there many differences?
People are unique. You can feel the difference even between, say, locals from the Himalayan foothills and those from the mountains themselves. At the bottom, the people are prone to selling knick-knacks and fooling tourists. The mountain folk, on the other hand, are more laid back. They live in poverty, but they seem to be happier than the foothill dwellers. I have tremendous respect for the people of the mountains, for even though they lead simple lives, they radiate happiness. The Sherpas are known as some of the happiest people on Earth. You’ll see many more smiles in the Himalayas than in Lithuania.
After descending, I never miss the chance to get better acquainted with the people, culture, history and customs of the area. For example, there’s Mendoza (pop. 100,000), a small city near Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina. It happens to be one of the seven wine capitals in the world. We have organised a bike trip visiting the local wineries there. Anyway, when you’re travelling in Argentina and Latin America in general, some knowledge of the Spanish language is necessary. The Spanish courses I took at VMU came in handy, because Argentineans do not speak English.
- What are your biggest ambitions as a traveller?
This past spring, I reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua (6959 m), the highest mountain in South America, which peaks at almost 7000 metres. Right now, my goal is to join the 8000-metre club. Unfortunately, all of the eight-kilometre mountains are very commercialized and expensive. For example, the license alone to climb Mount Everest costs around $10,000 (USD). In addition, an 8 km climb takes a few months. For myself and other working people, that’s a long period of time.
Everyone wants to climb Mt. Everest, professionals and amateurs alike. I once saw several Sherpas pushing up an overweight traveller to the top. The cult value of the mountain’s name is one of its major disadvantages. At Everest Base Camp, which we visit every year, we found a “city on ice”: it was teeming with people and 42 planned expeditions this year. That’s entirely too many. You can find pictures on the Internet of people standing in line, waiting to reach the top. And sometimes, these traffic jams end up tragically. For example, this year a group of four climbers were waiting in line to make their descent until they ran out of oxygen and died. And that’s just one example. The traffic jams on Everest have caused many more deaths. While I’d very much like to climb Everest, the massive flow of travellers discourages me.
Overall, safety is of crucial importance for me, so I wouldn’t want to go on a very dangerous expedition. For example, K2 in Pakistan is the second highest peak in the world at 8611 metres above sea level. However, this mountain also has a 25 % death rate. In other words, every fourth person to go up doesn’t come down. I don’t even consider climbing this mountain.
- You’re not an alpinist but a traveller. Don’t you ever feel the urge to travel somewhere other than the mountains—for example, join the Lithuanian spelunking expedition Towards the Centre of the Earth 2012 and explore the deepest cave in the world, Krubera-Voronya?
- When I was in the Crimean Peninsula, I tried exploring some caves, but they failed to inspire me. It’s cold, wet, and there are hardly any photos or videos to take. I’m not interested in spelunking. My good friend Gediminas Sakalauskas is actually one of the members of Towards the Centre of the Earth 2012. When you’re going down, you’ve got to have guts, because you know that there are millions of tons of rock above you. Some places in caves are so narrow that you can only pass through them after exhaling and holding your breath. Then, if you get scared and start to panic, you certainly won’t be able to breathe.
- Thanks for your time!