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A guide to mountaineering in India – Introduction

By March 19, 2020Mountaineering

India is blessed with the mighty Himalayas, and yet the climbing culture in India has hardly taken off. We sometimes hear the name of a few who dared to take the path not taken, like Arjun Vajpayee etc, but for the average Joe who is somewhat allured by the mountains, the most one can hope for is able to go into high altitude trekking by taking the help of a tourism package online. I am hoping that in this series of blogs I can give you an overview of how to become a mountain climber in India on a budget, like I did.

What is mountaineering and how is it different from trekking?

It’s sad that for many Indians who love mountains don’t know how mountaineering is different from trekking, or how so. Is a mountaineer someone who climbs Everest?

Well trekking is basically walking on a difficult terrain. If you take that off road footpath trail to walk to school, you are trekking to school as well. Mountaineering on the other hand is the act of climbing a mountain, while some mountain are so shallow sided that they can be trekked to the top (also called trekking peak), most peak requires some sort of steep climbing.

Mountaineering on the other hand is the act of climbing a mountain, While getting up the top of a trekking peaks is technically still a mountaineering, it forms the very basic part of it. Mountains are graded in a system of technical difficulty and we will delve into that later. Mountaineering is way more dangerous and extreme than trekking, and for most part you do need to trek to the base of a mountain to climb it, so mountaineering does involve a lot of trekking as well.

Should I become a mountaineer?

Honestly, I am certain that you already know the answer to this. Even as a kid I wanted to climb every hill and every tall rise building I saw, not for the view from top but for the thrill of being there. But just to make things easier, here’s a few checklist:

  • Do you like mountains for something other than the majestic views it provides? Do you like it for the sheer remoteness of the peaks, the isolation of being away from even the smallest settlements in that deserted landscape?
  • Do you like adventures, and something like paragliding with a guide, or going on a trek isn’t cutting it for you?
  • Do you like exploration of nature, and would you be comfortable in the wild away from the comfort of home? Would you enjoy weeks away from people and civilization, without another soul in sight?
  • Are you comfortable at heights, would enjoy the feeling of dangling from a rock at hundreds of feet in the air rather than being terrified of it?
  • Does the thought of extreme weather excites you?
  • Are you comfortable with the thought that mountaineering is dangerous and could potentially kill you, without welcoming that death and doing everything in your power to avoid it?

If the answer to all of the above is yes, then great, you may read further ahead.

So how can I become a mountaineer?

Join a mountaineering institute. If you have the time and money (mostly time, because the courses aren’t that expensive), go to HMI or other institute in India and get enrolled in their program. Graduate from Basic and Advance courses and you will be prepared enough to take on a few peaks, the rest will always depend on your experience.

However for the most of us whose parents aren’t that supportive of our passion, by the time we can afford to join such institute we are into our 20s and are working at a minimum wage paying job to support our travel. Vanishing away for months to join a mountaineering course might not be possible, as it wasn’t for me. This is where this blog comes handy. But if you can, please do join an institute.

Is mountaineering expensive?

Oh the dreaded question of money. Well yes, and no! Its definitely not expensive to start your journey into mountaineering, but you should be well able to at least have some money and a way to travel to the Himalayan mountains in India.

You don’t need specialized boots and specialized equipment to go climbing, at least not in the beginning. A trekking pole does have added benefits of being foldable and light, but a stick will do the same basic work for free. Remember a breathable waterproof jacket made out of Gore-Tex will definitely make your life easier but if you have the mental tenacity to live with the discomforts of wrapping a tarp around you in rain, and are willing to sacrifice that comfort for the chance of being outside and having an adventure, you will be able to do a lot of things quite cheap. Of course very high altitude peaks and ones with very technical routes will require specialized equipment but that’s not something one does in the beginning.

What can you expect in this series of blogs?

I will be going in details of some of the basic hurdles of getting into mountaineering and how to overcome those, and mountaineering basic and advance techniques of using tools and equipment and giving survival guides and sharing video links from YouTube and other media which have helped me in the past to stay alive and enjoy the wilderness.

I will cover –

  • How to save money travelling and buying equipment, getting the best things for the money you spend.
  • Where to buy equipment from
  • How to choose a trail for trekking/ a peak to climb for beginners
  • Physical preparation
  • Mental preparation
  • Clothing and equipment in a budget and how to upgrade them over time with the innate understanding of their function
  • Camping and food
  • Navigation, using online maps, topo maps and finding new trails and routes unexplored by people before.
  • Wilderness safety including how to avoid animal attacks, and find game trail (paths used by animals for walking) for safe trekking etc
  • Understanding climbing tools of all kinds.
  • Climbing techniques such as belaying, rappelling, lead climbing, aid climbing, and free climbing.
  • Trekking techniques such as glacial travel, crossing crevasse
  • Mixed climbing techniques like climbing ice fall and dry tooling on exposed rock walls.
  • Expedition climbing/alpine climbing
  • Protection gear and first aid
  • Emergency and rescue
  • Basics of hunting, gathering food and finding water.
  • The ethics of LEAVE NO TRACE as a conservation of the ecosystem and waste management in the mountains.

See you next time.