Thursday, March 25, 2010

Preparation for the Mountaineering course

This is in continuation of the blog - Dancing to the mountains.......

Flight just took off from Chennai. I had some breakfast and tea. After going through in-flight magazines, I got back to scribbling in my notes…It was in July 2009 I guess when I got confirmation regarding my participation in the mountaineering course. I had good three months to prepare. In the mean time, in June some time, I got a mail from a guy called Tathagatha from West Bengal, settled in Chennai, whom I had not met at all. He is a CTC member who had come to know that I was planning to take up this course. Here are few letters that we exchanged. It is quite interesting to read this.

15th June 2009

Hi Indira,

I had attended the BMC at NIM in 2008 between similar dates and that was a men-only batch. On checking the NIM site however, I saw that there has indeed been a change in the nature of the batch; it is now a mixed-gender batch. It’s a really welcome change to the strictly gender-discriminated course structure at NIM. Would be fantastic to know how this came about and how you got the information.

Now some unsolicited information/suggestion :) . I am sure you are pretty fit to have opted for the NIM course in the first place. But still I would recommend the following since I personally endured a 28 day course over there and was pretty overwhelmed, and since you did not specifically mention a training plan.

If you are fit you shall regard those 28 days among the best days you've experienced, but if you are not then you will curse every day spent there and may even have to drop out midway because of exhaustion/injury.

The course is pretty physically demanding with no special consideration for ladies. In fact since the course is going to be mixed, it is going to be even harder for ladies. Even we guys found the going tough since we had to match steps with supremely fit army men training with us. The logic they give is: mountains are the same for everybody.

So do train properly and go: CTC treks are good but not nearly enough.

Now, the tips:

A) The physical fitness levels required are:

1. Being able to run continuously for 30 mins at 10 kms/hr since everyday morning at NIM. They make trainees jog all the way down to the river/bridge and all the up to the institute. Plus exercises on the way.

2. Being able to walk for 10 kms (with a break in between) with a load of 15-16 kgs on back on uneven terrain. This would be required for all the walks to the mountains. No concession is made for anybody.

Both are counted in the final evaluation

B) Technical levels

This is a secret :) . Although NIM categorically mentions that no prior technical know-how is necessary, it would be extremely helpful if you could have the following experiences:

1. Knowledge of important rope knots and hitches. They would be taught at NIM but unless you are some sort of a genius, which I wasn't, you most probably won't be able to remember half of them at the time of requirement, ie., on the cliffs. It would really give you the extra edge if you can learn it from some expert here in Chennai. Most students, although they do not mention to the instructors, come prepared. So do not be demoralized. If you find that you are grappling with it while your mate is happily done with it long back.

2. Rock climbing: Again you are not expected to know in advance but , believe me, its not easy to be asked to climb a near vertical face 120 ft high without any prior experience. Again fellow students won't mention it to instructors at NIM but would come prepared. So please try to have at least a minimal exposure to bouldering and rock climbing under the guidance of nobody short of an expert - Do not try on your own.

Here again, one more point, you would be exposed to artificial wall climbing at NIM, this needs considerable strength in forearm, so developing the strength is necessary.

3. Team work: They pretty much observe your every movement there. The way you interact with team members, cooperate with them, help them out, everything counts. We Indians have a tendency to flock to people from the same state. At NIM your group will not have another person from the same state. If you are found mixing only with people from the same state, this will count as a negative attribute.

In short the experience at NIM would be unforgettable one and one needs to be prepared to make the most out of it.

You may be thinking who this crazy guy is, giving away unwanted nonsense. :} Actually i am a bit passionate about nature and mountains in particular. Have tremendous respect for mountaineers. Been lucky to be in touch with some accomplished ones. In fact my ultimate dream is to settle peacefully in Uttarakhand among my mountains!

If you already have the information I wrote here, then please ignore and my apologies :)

If not, then please consider them as humble suggestions from somebody who has been privileged to be associated with a national institute of excellence.

Take care,

16th June
Hey! Thanks a lot Thathagatha:)..Liked your name. Very unique :) so sweet of you..I am jogging. But slowly increase the duration and kms too :)..I am planning to carry 12 - 15 kgs and trek alternate week end through ctc:)..I will try my best :)..But I won’t forget your valuable tips :) As per knots, i did attend a workshop but couldn’t learn more than 3 !!..So, probably I will request them again to teach :)Also try to go to Ramnagaram to do rock climbing. Are you planning to go there? if yes, let me know,. I will join you..Thanks a ton once again :)TC Cheers

17th June
Hey Indira,
That's the spirit! I am sure you will complete the course with flying colors. Just make sure you are well-prepared and it would be just fun.

You have 4 months to prepare, that's time enough by all accounts. Take it easy and gradually increase the capabilities.

Regarding rock climbing, yes I am very keen but want make sure that the instructors/course conductors are knowledgeable and take all safety precautions. That is very important. This year I did a very enriching RC course under the guidance of Mr. Debabrata Mukherjee in West Bengal. He was the captain of the Indian Mountaineering team in 2005. Every moment was worthwhile and I was thinking.. 'I should have done this course before going to NIM' .

That’s nice. Thanks a lot ya.. Basically, I am a professional bharatanatyam artist --for almost 3 decades. So, no stamina problem. Have taken a break from my profession and doing more of trekking now :)have a good flair for rock climbing. Only issue is remembering knots..:)Well we will learn in RC..thanx for updating:)cheers

Wow ! You are quite a celebrity! In fact I felt from the very beginning that I have come across your name before. Must have been in Art and Culture reviews on The Hindu.
Sorry for not being able to recognize since I am an absolute zero in matters pertaining to dance! Music is my passion, especially sitar.

It is pretty obvious then that stamina is not an issue for you. Balance, which is so very important on mountains, would be natural to you as well. My humble suggestion would be to then additionally focus on the mental and the technical aspect of the training like getting used to rocks and ropes and also the issue of bearing heavy loads.

I did the course when I was 34 and so had to adjust intellectually since I had to share the rooms/tents with 18-24 year olds, who if anything were not intellectually inclined /mature. For me I did not get to discuss anything on business/politics/arts/culture/literature for 28 days and that was an issue for me.

However things could be different for your batch in the course and also because of the fact that ladies are more inclined towards the finer aspects of life in general.

Three additional things:

1. The discourse/lectures would be mostly in Hindi at NIM. Should not be an issue for you I am quite certain.

2.Be careful and judicious in selecting rock climbing shoes provided by the institute. Most would be worn-out and ill-fitting. So you need to pick-try-select carefully. An ideal rock climbing shoe should be tight fitting with no gap between the toes and the front. If you have your personal pair, then no issues.

3.. In October-November, due to the weather, there would be almost no snow at lower reaches and the focus of the course would be on ice-craft rather than snow-craft. The normal ladies' course in May focuses on snow-craft rather than ice-craft.
You would be required to wear and adjust to snow-boots with crampons which are cumbersome at best. We do not get snow in south, so pretty difficult to even come across snow-boots here. If you can some how an initial idea have on what it is all about, it would be that much easier to adjust. Again, be very careful about choosing a boot from NIM, fitting is of paramount interest. Ask the instructors pro-actively on the fitting part.
I suffered immensely due to ill-fitting snow boots. In fact I lost both my big toe nails there since snow craft involved continuous kicking on hard snow walls during ascent.

Finally, I shall try to contact the RC agency in Bangalore and if you are interested, shall let you know on how things shape up there.

Take care

Celebrity??..I don’t know :) :)...well.. ya.. I was a very active performer. Thanks for your compliments :)I will certainly consider your suggestions provided I get a seat :). I am 40 now :)..Regarding getting along, it is no issue. From high school kids to 60's 70' is fine :)Regarding shoe, I will keep all the tips in mind. But what i need to work is about carrying loads..So, when did u do yr course?..Rock climbing…, I want to do. Will wait for your updates.. Well. If you know and remember different knots, probably could u teach me when u r free?Thanx a lot once againTCIndira

I hope you have applied for the course already. The seats get filled up pretty fast. I did
the course in October 2008 and had applied in March 2008. Hope you have the phone numbers of NIM training branch, its better to call up and enquire till you get the confirmation post. The post never reached me since I was in China and reached India a week before the course.

Fitness alone counts, age is no factor. The logic is simple, if one is able to climb mountains even at 55-60 (which is very common) one should be able to do a training which, although intense, is much less risky and rigorous compared to a real expedition.

Regarding carrying loads, i got this tip at NIM (too late for me!!) from Mr. Kushal Singh Rana (summitted Everest recently) : although you would be required to walk with loads there, the preparation should be by jogging with load. Need not be 15 kgs, start with 3-4-5 kg or whatever is comfortable to start with, but jog, don't walk. Then as you get accustomed in a few days, try to increase the load. You could not argue with that. You can even try this out on a tread mill. Another suggestion was to increase the grade (slope) in treadmill and then walk/jog. I plan to go for a mountaineering course next year and so am training this way at present.

Regarding RC , will keep you posted. ..Knot training:... This is important for you. Actually if you do a RC course at Ramnagaram/Bangalore, you can request to devote more time for knots there since knots are used everywhere.

Ok :)..Thanks :)...u really have great patience :)cheers


:) Been in IT for long. It’s an industry for dimwits! :) Think that’s where the patience comes from.

Now coming back to my actual preparation:. By nature, I am quite a lazy person. Waking up early in the morning was a sure no. But once I get up, I am all charged. Some one had to be there to push me. Yes. It was my dear friend Ram Dasari, who loved to run and who was preparing for marathon!. Ram used to call me Mom... Here, I would like to share our regular conversations that used to happen !!

IK – hey Ram, jogging tomorrow?
RD – yes mom.
IK- what time?
RD – 5am
IK- please give me a wake up call
RD- sure mom
Then next day, at 4.45 am,..Trin rings ………..
IK- hello ram
RD- Good morning. wake up mom
IK – hey! Good morning. I am so tired ram. I want to sleep. Let us jog tomorrow.
RD- moooom!..why r u so lazy..just wake up now
IK – I could not sleep well yesterday. so…
RD- I am leaving now. You are going to be ready in ten minutes
IK – noooooooo
RD – I am almost there. 5 mts away
IK- nooo pleaseeeeeee
RD – I am waiting in front of your gate mom. Come out!,,
IK- shucks man!..ok..One min hang on..
I have a quick brush, quick face wash, put on my jog track and shoe and out in ten minutes..
RD- Mom..why are you so lazy?!
IK- shut up. I am here. Let us go now!!,..

We used to go to Elliot’s beach on his bike. Elliot's Beach is spread along the coast down south from Marina.. This beach is comparatively quieter compared to Marina beach.. Though off late, lot of people are getting drowned due to rough sea. It is located near Besantnagar.. It is a real pleasure to go for early morning or late night walk or jog on the specially laid tracks. Early in the morning, one could see people jogging, walking, sitting and chatting, doing yoga, outdoor gym, Dogs sleeping, police patrolling, some selling fresh Vegetable juices and few selling Organic food stuffs… In the evenings, it is quite noisy, but one can enjoy the local food joints.

After parking the Bike, we used to do fifteen minutes of stretches right from head, neck, shoulder, arms, sides, back, and complete leg stretches till toe. And then start jogging. Initially I started with 3 kms and then slowly increased to 5, 6 and was able to do till 7.5 kms! It was a big achievement for me. I should thank RD for this. On an average, I used to jog 2 to 3 days a week, other 2 days, I used to do yoga, and alternate days, I was doing weights to strengthen my arms and shoulders. I never like to overdo things and hurt myself. Everyone should know their body well and rest whenever required. One should always keep long term benefit in mind while exercising. There is no point in overdoing things, hurt one’s body and injure ones limbs for a life time. You don’t have to prove anyone anything. Later, I went for few 2-3 day treks of 30 to 40 kms carrying 10- 12 kilos of load. This routine was going quite smoothly. I had ten more days to leave. I just wanted to test myself how I feel when I overwork. So, one day, I jogged, I did weights, I did yoga and I went up and down stairs carrying 15 kilos on my back.. idhu rumba overraaa therille?!!(Tamil: isn’t it too much of show off?! ) As I mentioned earlier, what would happen with over enthusiasm?.. Yes..I hurt my back and my knee was paining. I was bit worried. My mind told.” Enough Indira.. Now just relax..”.. Next ten days, I took it cool. Just gave my body a big break. Took some Amway’s Glucosamine tablets to strengthen my knee, then went for few parties, had lot of cheesy stuff like Baked bowls, kulfi,… knowing very well that I am going to burn out lot of calories in mountains!

In between, Chandra didi and Tatha were also in touch regularly to know my progress.

Next was packing of bags. I made a list of items that I had, and things that I had to buy. I made a check list; enquired about the quality of products from different sources, enquired about the prices from different shops and finally zeroed down. Even though the fee for the whole is only 5000/- which includes training fee, hiring of equipments, and food, the price for the additional things that was needed for the course (flight charge, train charge, shoes, track suit,..) went up to 20000/-. + …

All essentials were packed in separate polythene covers. It was a good packing I would say. Little experienced from previous Himalayan treks!

Polyethylene No.1: - Clothings
Polyethylene No.2 - Tool Kit
Polyethylene No. 3: -Toiletry kit
Polyethylene No.4:- Medicines
Miscellaneous: -

I was all set. I was mentally prepared to do well. I set my goals and worked on it pushing my limits every time. Only thing I needed now is the power and strength from HIM to do the course successfully. It was nice of my hubby and my baby for agreeing to take care of them selves in my absence. They were more than happy I guess! ha ha :)

I had lot of best wishes messages from my friends and family.. Some nice ones, some encouraging, some funny…few are here:

Hey!..You can do it!
Do how much ever you can. If you can’t, just come back. No big deal
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone
Take care of yourself and enjoy
I am very confident that you will do it.
We hope to see you back in one piece!
Let us take one last glance at you!
That’s the way to go. Not everyone can do it, all the best!
Kick your ass!
Have a great time there.... a literal Dhamaka - Diwali style!!! :)
Rest in Peace!! May you should find peace in the high mountains :)
Be safe!!!! Be a good gal....don’t be too adventurous!! I
Hey.. Sure u will be having an "out of the world" experience. Just one thing... Never give in..... Just push yourself always & you can make it for sure.
Have a great time. Don’t worry; it won’t be tougher than DOA5 ;).. ( Dead or Alive Treks – toughest treks in CTC)
Hope u find lots of good people, make great friends n have a fun learning time..Do share with us some useful tips on climbing once u return :)
Another mountaineer from our group :) :) Guess you would become a full time adventure sport woman soon :)

Well. Preparation has not stopped yet. It will continue…. In the mean time, ….

Now, flight has landed at Hyderabad airport. I am still sitting in the plane writing my journal. The flight is going to take off shortly to Delhi. I took a short nap. By the time I woke up, I was in Delhi. Flight landed at 3.45pm.Took a cab and went to my friend Madhura’s place. After having Dosa and chai with Madura, we caught up with our Chennai news and gossips. By 8.30pm, we had dinner together and around 10.30, I was dropped at the Nizamuddin station to catch midnight 12 train to Dehradun. I took a share taxi to Uttarkashi. I left Dehradun at around 8.30am or so. Cost was 200/- per head and I got 2 seats for myself in front of the cab. At 10.30am, I had some brunch- Aaloo paratha and sabzi. Route was very scenic. But after some time, it was sick traveling in the winding roads in the mountains. I had to take a tablet to control vomiting. I reached Uttarkashi at 2.30 in the noon and Karan bhaiyya was there to pick me up. Karan is the nephew of Chandra prabha, the mountaineer. He took me to his place. His house is on the banks of River Ganges. The sound of the Ganges could be heard 24x7 !. After putting all my things in a room, I had lovely tea. . It was inspiring to see once again all the awards that Chandra didi had received. No place to keep anymore awards!.. As I glanced through, one of them caught my eyes. “ .. mei bharath ka rashtrapathi…aapko Padmasri pradhan kathaa hu..”.. My monkey mind started dreaming again. It was reading “…mei bharat ka rashtrapathi mountaineer aur bharatanatyam kalakaar Indira Kadambi ke liye Padmasri pradhaan kartha hu…….”…LOL…suddenly I started laughing at my own self. I had not even started the course still but already big dreams!!!.. Fortunately there was no one around. Mind is really funny. At one moment it will be in Chennai. Suddenly it will be in moon in next one sec! Mind travels faster than light I guess!! ..

That day, I just took good rest. Later in the evening, Karan gave me the book to read and get inspired –“Mountaineering – The freedom of the hills” that describes the concepts, techniques and problems involved in pursuit of climbing mountains. I read few pages and slept. Here I would like to share few things from that book…

Passion: “…We do not climb mountains because we must. We do because we love mountains. When we do, we enjoy it and is deeply satisfying”
Mountains do not exist for our amusement. They owe us nothing. Mountaineers have been granted the privileged communion with high places of Earth…”
“Mountaineering is more than climbing, panoramic views and wilderness experience. It is also challenge, risk, and hardship. It is also exhilarating and irresistible as well as frustrating and deadly. These qualities bring inspiration and passion. It is complex and indefinable…. The attraction of uncertainty what we get from this adventure is just sheer joy …”

Tips:”.. Just as important as physical conditioning, our mental attitude often determines success or failure. We need to be positive, realistic and honest with ourselves….Never climb alone. Never climb beyond your ability and knowledge. Never let judgments be over ruled by desire…. “

On environment:
“ The privileges we enjoy in the mountains bring the responsibility to help preserve our environment we love… It’s also time to speak loudly for support and wilderness preservation so that our next generation will be able to enjoy…..”

Responsibility and leadership: “.. Assume responsibility for your knowledge, skill and preparedness.. Thinking about the group, its welfare and how you can contribute is in itself a preparation, perhaps the very best preparation for leadership… while climbing, establishing supportive atmosphere is very important. People need to know that their companions care about them and will help them… Both goals oriented leadership and relationship oriented leadership has to be balanced for an effective team…”

Well, I settled down very comfortably the next three days in Karan’s house. I came to Uttarkashi early to get acclimatized to the higher altitude gradually. It was quite cold there considering the fact that I came from Chennai all the way. Weather was a total contrast. Chennai is on the sea level. Weather is hot, hotter, and hottest! Uttarkashi is in lower Himalayas. In day time, I had sweater all the time. Inside the house it is pretty cold and outside, it is quite hot.

Karan had asked to me to jog up the hill facing his house. So, the next day, I woke up at 7am and started jogging. First half km was fine. Then gradually upward slope started. Hardly 200 mts up the hill, I started panting a lot. I couldn’t breathe anymore. It was very cold too!. I had fears in my mind.. Shucks!.. There back in Chennai, I could jog 7 kms so easily. There weather was warm. Roads were flat. What else is required to make jog smooth!. Here at Uttarkashi, steep hills, winding roads, and cold weather made it worse.. I was stuck. My god!. How will I do this course here!.. After 5 minutes break, I continued to jog slowly and soon I could do 4 to 5 km up and down the hill.. I was disappointed. Thought I would try doing it better the next day.
Later in the evening, Karan got a small rope to teach me knots. It was like a revision for me as I had learnt few with Arul in Chennai. For almost an hour, I practiced – Thumb knot, Reef knot, Single sheet band, Double sheet band, Fisherman knot, Clove hitch, and Figure of 8.

The next day, I made up my mind to jog well. I stretched a bit. Karan also joined me. I could do 7 kms up and down the hill. Still I had energy to jog more. But just put a break to my legs. Had 2 cups of hot tea and sat outside bathing in the morning sun light!. Karan was all happy and he told..” didi phikar math keejiye. Aapto aaramse ye course karpaavoge “. That gave me a bit of confidence. After lunch, He taught me few more rope knots – Guide man knot, End man knot, Middle man knot, Prusik knot, Bow line knot and Bow line on the byte. I kept practicing it until I became familiar with it.

As I write, I could hear the sound of Ganges, kids playing, fighting, dogs barking, and the sound of the temple bells,.. But my mind is still disturbed with lot of things that I carried from Chennai. And also lot of fear whether I will be able to do the course well or not… I switched on my cell to listen to Gayathri mantra. I took a small walk to Ganges. I heard Vishnu sahasranamam. Mind became much calmer and peaceful. I felt very relaxed. Every now and then I used to call Ram and seek solace. He was very encouraging. I missed him a lot!. My mother’s messages now and then came like blessings.

I had a day left to leave to Nehru Institute of Montaineering. I started repacking things. The things that I need at NIM; things I need for mountains; things that I need during my return trip. I was quite excited and all set to leave!. I don’t how to thank Didi, Karan and his family who were so very nice to me - took care of me so well, taught me, and encouraged me for the course. I am highly indebted to them.

Next chapter.. At Nehru Institute of Montaineering....... continues