Mountaineering: Get rocking!

Give this budding sport a try and you may just discover a new passion for life

Rock climbing is an upcoming sport in India and around the world. It first became famous in France, thanks to the daredevil late Patrick Edlinger, also referred to as ‘The spider man’ or ‘The blond adonis’. At that time, he conveyed through an impressive movie called La Vie au Bout des doigts [The life on the tips of fingers], what climbing was about—a complete lifestyle.

In the olden days, rock climbing in India was considered as part of training for mountaineering expeditions. It is only since the last decade that it has emerged as a sport. This new sport involves many ways of practice and approach. Under the term ‘climbing’ we may include:

  • Rock climbing: Practice climbing on natural rocks and cliffs, pre-bolted routes, in lead or top rope. This is for beginners and experienced climbers
  • Sport climbing: Practice clim-bing on artificial walls/boulders [lead climbing or bouldering], for beginners and experienced climber.
  • Bouldering: Practice climbing on natural or artificial boulders
  • Traditional climbing: This is an advanced level, in which you practise climbing in virgin and undiscovered areas in order to explore new routes.

A qualified instructor, proper equipment and regular practice are the key to a good start.

A good instructor

Unlike many other sports, this is not one that you can start off on your own. You need to be aware of the guidelines and safety. A qualified instructor offers you sound guidance, gives you confidence and can make you love this sport.

Many government institutions offer pedagogical training courses. You can enrol yourself for a basic mountaineering course at one of the various government mountaineering centres across India. The courses are simple but serve as a good introduction to the activity, so that you can check for yourself, in a friendly environment, whether you enjoy this sport. If you like the experience, you may want to sign up for one of the advanced courses.

I’ve noticed that even after climbers complete these training sessions, they often feel that it is not enough— in spite of learning various techniques. They yearn for a real teacher who can help them enhance their climbing skills. A good teacher is one who can design an individual plan for you—one that suits your aspirations and needs as a climber. He should be able to introduce you to new movements and techniques through the year. His job is to encourage the trainee to push her limits and improve her self-confidence, while respecting the safety boundaries.

Here are a few organisations that offer thorough training courses on mountaineering:

  1. Girivihar[www.girivihar.org] is a Mumbai-based organisation that has been conducting treks and hikes in the Sahyadri mountain ranges for four decades. They offer weekly climbing courses besides organising the International Bouldering Competion in the last week of January every year.
  2. Bangalore Mountaineering Club [www.bmcindia.org]
  3. ABVIMAS, The Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali [www.adventurehimalaya.org/aboutwhmi.asp] is the largest adventure sports training centre in the country.
  4. Nehru Mountaineering Institute [www.nimindia.net] offers the same course scheme as ABVIMAS in Uttarkashi, Uttarakand
  5. Mountaineering Institute Darjeeling, West Bengal [www.hmidarjeeling.com]

Remember: Wherever or with whoever you do your first rock climbing trip, you must ask for the certification and qualification of the instructor. Your life depends on it!

Proper equipment

get-rocking-250x333Only use equipment that has specifically been designed for rock climbing. For example, some climbing organisations use rafting helmets or plastic helmets made for construction sites for their clients. These do not offer adequate protection in the risky environment of climbing.

The equipment should be certified by the CE/UIAA international safety norms, and not the Indian Standard [IS] norms. Each equipment used must be tagged with a label from CE/UIAA and indicate the name of the manufacturer/importer, the date of manufacture, the purpose for which to be used and its strength. All equipment has a limited lifetime and must be replaced on time.

On an average, the safety equipment should be replaced every three years from its manufacturing date, especially the climbing rope or the harness. Carabiners and belay devices as well as shoes should be replaced according to their usage, with an upper limit of 10 years. Helmets too usually have a life of 10 years.

Here’s the list of equipment you will need

Harness, helmet, belay lanyard, quickdraws, locking carabiners, plain carbiners, belay device [fig. of 8, Gri gri, reverso, piu…], chalk bag and chalk, and climbing shoes.

If you plan to practise this as a sport, you should invest in your own climbing shoes and harness. If not, you could hire them.

Shared equipment

  • Climbing rope between 9 ­– 11mm with double length of the height of the cliff
  • Slings and accessory cord
  • 10 – 12mm bolts
  • Double link anchors at the belay station
  • Rope bag and rope brush.

Depending on the type of climbing and the level of the climbers, more specific equipment such as nut sets, aluminium ladder, rock pitons, hammer and various type of ropes might be required.

Each time you start a climb, make sure you check the safety of your equipment, even if it is self-owned. Also check the equipment of the natural cliff and the condition of the artificial climbing structure.

For the artificial climbing wall, a yearly safety check and maintenance should be done by the artificial boulder/wall’s manufacturer. A certificate of the check should be attached to the wall. Unfortunately in India, there is no controlling body to enforce these norms. So, it’s really up to you to double check the credentials of the organisation for the sake of your own safety.

Keeping this in mind, we make it a point to warn parents who send their kids to adventures camps to be wary of fly-by-night operators found on roadsides, especially on national highways such as the those that go to Manali, Rishiskesh or Leh.

A regular practice

A regular practice means climbing at least two days per week, all year long. Rock climbing is open to all and anyone can practise it—from a 7-year-old school boy to a 70-year-old veteran! It doesn’t even require

extraordinary strength or skills; a good physical condition is enough. The skills will come with regular practice. Climbers claim that their climbing levels improve simply by climbing and without any other physical/sport training. As you climb regularly, your body develops the appropriate muscle groups needed for the effort. You will become sharper and your mind and body will work in perfect harmony. This sport will not only boost your self-confidence and willpower but also help you in your social and professional life.

Through your climbs and adventures, you will meet new people who share the same passion. Gradually you will find yourself becoming a part of a tribe that lives in a magical world, up in the rocks, always surrounded by amazing natural places and sceneries.

Before you start climbing on a new route, you will have to learn a skill called ‘reading the rock’. Here, you try to understand where to go, how to climb, which kind of holds are useful for the progression. We do this using what we call ‘the climbing language’. For example, undercut, overhang, crag, pof, portaledge, dulfer…

After 6 – 8 months, a regular climber will feel the need to mix her climbing sessions between artificial climbing in the gym and on natural rock face.

As a natural progression, you will find yourself organising climbing trips in various locations of the country to get different exposures. Slowly, you will be addicted to climbing and your focus will always be on your next climb; you will even plan your holidays according to the climbing schedule and your desire for discovering more will increase. Eventually, you will be eager to travel abroad to share your experiences with international climbers.

Thus you will become part of the world climbing tribe. By then you will understand a popular saying among climbers: “Work less, climb more.” Here’s a list of places to climb in India.

Places to climb in India

North India

  • Manali: cliff climbing, multipitch routes, sports routes, bouldering, traditional climbing, bigwalls.
  • Leh: artificial and few bouldering possibilities.
  • Lahaul: bouldering, multipitch and sport climbing routes.
  • Nainital: bouldering.
  • Mukteshwar: sports routes.

Central and West India

  • New Delhi, Dhauj: top rope, traditional, artificial climbing.
  • Pachmarhi: bouldering and lead climbing
  • Hyderabad: bouldering
  • Rajasthan: artificial climbing and bouldering
  • Mumbai: top rope, artificial, lead and bouldering
  • Pune: lead, traditional and artificial climbing

South India

  • Hampi: bouldering
  • Badami: lead and bouldering
  • Bangalore: lead, multi pitch routes and bouldering.

East and North East

  • Darjeeling: artificial climbing and few top rope
  • Assam: artificial and few top rope.

Over all, climbing is a fun and friendly activity and can bring a lot of satisfaction in your life provided that at all times you respect safety rules.

I dedicate this article to Patrick Edlinger who expired in 2012  in south of France.


This was first published in the March 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing
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