If the sky's the limit, then we have just not tried enough.
We all aspire to achieve something big someday. Be it wanting to be an engineer, doctor, entrepreneur or something less common like a mountaineer. One thing that bounds all these aspirations together is hard work and sheer determination. If you’ve got the combination of these two inside of you, nothing can stop you from reaching the zenith of success.
One such mountaineer who knows no limits is Ishan Sharma, who recently completed his Advance Mountaineering Course. From the difficulties, technicalities and the inspirations that made this a wholesome experience for Ishan, he shares with us exactly that… An experience of a lifetime!
How to prepare for the course? How would you say your preparations were?
The preparations for me were mostly two things - 1. Definitely physical preparation which is getting in shape for what’s in store. As I’d already completed my Basic Mountaineering Course, I knew what level of fitness was expected. I had been doing Yoga since the past six months, but before that, last year I’d run a 40 km marathon. I wasn’t sure if Yoga would be enough, but it turned out it was. 2. Mental preparation for me was getting in the zone, which was accepting that it was going to be very challenging, but knowing that it would be worth it at the end of it. There was a lot of technical preparations involved as well. For the advanced course, technical preparations are very important. One thing I practised the most was knot-making, which is essentially the right use of ropes. YouTube helped me with learning knot-making.
What is the prerequisite to an Advanced Mountaineering Course?
India is blessed to be a country which has beautiful mountains, at the same time it has a crazy amount of support from the Government of India. Essentially it’s the Ministry of Defence that supports these mountaineering courses. Right after Mount Everest was first climbed till the summit, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru thought that there should be lots of mountaineers in the country, so they have these courses in these specific institutes in India. There are around 6-7 institutes in India now that offer these courses. The prerequisite to the Advance Mountaineering Course is to have an Alfa Grade in your Basic Mountaineering Course.
What is different in a Basic Mountaineering Course and an Advanced Mountaineering course, mentally and physically?
So, in the Basic Mountaineering Course they give you an introduction. They will tell you about the equipment required. They will also tell you about, say you’re falling off a mountain, they will blatantly tell you that chances are you will die. But these are the certain ways you can use to probably save yourself. They will teach you techniques like self-arrest and familiarize you with the mountain. But considering that there are people who are doing this for the first time, they ensure that the confidence is maintained. For me this was the difference - In an advance course, since I’d brushed up on everything I’d learnt, I was confident. They do give us a run-through of the basic course and then they build up the more advance techniques. After the completion of the basic course, you can climb mountains, mostly under the supervision of an expert. But the completion of the advance course will enable you to not only climb mountains by yourself, but also supervise other mountaineers. So they give you that much of an exposure.
What inspired you to take up mountaineering?
Back in 2012, I’d visited Darjeeling with my parents and somebody told me that I can see Mt. Kanchenjunga from there. At that point I really didn’t care about mountaineering, but I wanted to see the mountain. Because of it being too cloudy, I couldn’t see anything. I was really pissed. I told myself, “Forget Kanchenjunga, I’ll see Mt. Everest.” I then started researching on Everest and realized that it’s a different world altogether. The views you get from there or the fact that the ears get so dry there that people end up coughing so much that they end up breaking their ribs. Another interesting fact that I read was that, here when I’m breathing, I’m getting 100% of oxygen in one breath. There in Everest, we have to take 3 breaths to equate one breath because there is so less oxygen available at that altitude. I don’t know why these things inspired me, I think that was the beginning. The more I read about it, I more I felt like I should get into mountaineering.
What are the few challenges you faced while training for an Advanced Mountaineering Course, and what are some you faced during the course?
Before the start of the course, there really weren’t that many challenges. It was just, making time from my daily work schedule to practice and train myself for the course. During the course, everything was a challenge. But what was really challenging was to constantly have faith in myself. Especially in that environment, there are 50-odd people who have done similar courses like the basic one, also India is a country where people have this mentality where if they don’t know anything, they constantly undermine the others. So if you’re not confident with yourself, you can easily be undermined by the others. When you’re doing a course like the Advance Mountaineering Course, you do things that are very difficult and if you do them half-heartedly, then you don’t give it your best.
What does a day in an Advanced Mountaineering Course look like?
The day there is pretty simple. The major things that happen are pertaining to the course. The courses are divided into two sections -1. In Darjeeling, where theoretical training or rock-climbing is taught. 2. The mountains, where we trek for 4 days and we reach a point which is completely disconnected from civilisation.
So at this point, It involves :
1. Waking up at 5am because in that altitude you cannot sleep a lot. For men there are no toilets there, so you have to find a boulder behind which you take a dump. Also, you have to make sure that you do not use too much toilet paper because there are others who will need it and you have to save toilet paper for the rest of the day.
2. We then have to wear our snow-boots. They are essentially 3 kgs each and wearing them takes 20 mins. After this we had our food and then we head to the training programme. Most of the days it involves going to a glacier, doing a half-an-hour hike.
3. Then we had a one hour exercise to go to a lake and getting water to the base camp, which was used to make food.
4. This was followed by a few more classes, then dinner and then sleep.
But then again, you have to ensure that if it’s too windy, your tent doesn’t fly off or if there is too much snow accumulated on top of the tent, to shake the tent so that the snow falls down. So that’s a day in the course.
What would you say was the best moment/best part of the entire 28 days training?
It was actually very painful to choose one but I think it was Badakhana. So usually we are given the same type of food everyday. The usual, healthy food consisting of dal, rotis and everything. After the training is complete, there is day day called “Badakhana” That’s almost after 14 days of eating the same type of food. Badakhana usually has Malai kofta, Kaju Rice, Puri and Aalu. You might think that this is regular food, but people who are out there, away from all this, that day was a delight.
What kept you motivated throughout the course?
The Principal, Vice Principal and the Instructors of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute are incredible. You know these patriotic movies where all cadets are asked to assemble in a place and a motivating speech is given? So that happened with us periodically. The Principal would sit in Darjeeling and we would be at the area called Chaurikhang. Trough walkie-talkies he would talk to us, every once in a while. That kept our spirits high, so not just me, but I think everybody got motivated through these talks. Besides that, I think we tend to learn a lot through these experiences. For me, one such learning was that no matter how difficult the days are, I knew that they would come to an end if I keep walking. And that end would make me feel proud of what I’ve achieved.
What will you say to those who aspire to take up this course in the future?
For the basic one I’d say that you should be fully aware of what you’re signing up for. Because people who are unaware of this tend to struggle more. Also remember that one day it will get over, provided you do not give up halfway through it. Intense experiences like these are the ones that teach us a lot. For the people trying for the advance course, make sure you do not compromise on your preparations and the better prepared you are, the more you can learn.