This is a special guest post by Kosha Tester Abishai Dmello, an outdoor and adventure sports enthusiast. He has completed his Basic mountaineering course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and has completed courses in paragliding, SCUBA diving, windsurfing, and kayaking. His interest in the outdoors led him to participate in a workshop on Glacier traverse and Crevasse rescue. Abishai has hiked to Everest Base Camp and summited Mt. Lobuche East at 6000m. Apart from the outdoors, he is also passionate about traveling and seeing new places. He currently lives in California and works as a software engineer.
Growing up our introduction to the mountains is most likely from drawings at school or an adventurous movie scene. No matter how beautiful the picture is or how good the sound effects of the movie are, the feeling of planning, climbing and reaching the top of a mountain cannot be fully experienced vicariously. And while not all mountains are technical in nature, they all share a similar characteristic and are approached in pretty much the same way. This is where taking a mountaineering course becomes a good idea, as it introduces the common fundamentals that are applicable to all mountains.
Here are some set of questions that I had while starting out and I wish there were answers for:
Q: Where do I start?
A: The best way to start is to go on small one day hikes, these could be along a well laid out path/route or with a group, although for someone starting out I would always recommend going with another individual who is more experienced e.g. a trek leader. (More on this below)
Q: How do I select a trek leader / a hiking group?
A: The outdoors offer no time to guess, you want to be with someone who knows what they are doing. Go with someone who has been hiking for a long period of time, someone who is trained in both mountaineering and wilderness first aid. Look for people who care about the outdoors and let their actions of smaller group sizes, engaging with the locals for guides and organizing clean-up drives speak for them.
Q: Okay I have gone for a couple of hikes. What next, am I ready for the course?
A: Not really, the shortest of shortest mountaineering expeditions last somewhere between 7-10 days and you want to build up to being comfortable with living in the outdoors over at least 2-3 days. Living overnight in a tent sounds fun when you have to drive back the next day, it is not always so when you have to repeat this over a couple of days. Our lives have become so connected that we forget how to disconnect, how long do you think you could go without your phone and internet? try a self-experiment: leave your phone at home the next time you go on a multi-day hike or turn on – Airplane mode, read a book, interact with your teammates or best watch the stars.
Q: Okay I have camped for 3+ days and lived in caves as well, am I ready for the course?
A: You are better prepared than before for sure but might not be fully ready yet, however, if you still enjoy long hikes with a heavy backpack and living in a tent, now is a good time to register yourself for a course. Note: All the basic mountaineering courses have at least a 6-8 month wait, so you could register and in the waiting period get serious with your training this could include practicing rock climbing at either an indoor gym or bouldering along with your multi-day hikes.
Q: I have never been at altitude, can I still attend the course?
A: Some people make the mistake of attending a basic mountaineering course thinking it would be a trip, only to later realize that our body functions a little differently at altitude. Note: Acclimatization is a slow process, learn it practice it, go for a small Himalayan hike before the course, you will thank yourself, you will also learn how different it is to camp and cook in the cold, and get familiar with the feeling of waking up in the night wanting to pee 🙂
Q: One Month! No way, I won’t be able to get leaves from work.
A: That was my initial thought as well, but there are ways around it, if you plan well, do it in between your studies i.e between the gap years of a degree or between your graduation and starting a new job. You could also inform and negotiate before joining the organization that you would need a leave without pay for the duration of the course. These won’t be easy decisions but they are all rewarding. As a side note I know people from my course who quit their job, did the course, and then got back and found another one, as they say – where there is a will, there is a way.
Q: 28 days is too long, can’t I do like an introduction or I don’t think I can spare that much time can I still learn the essential skills to keep me safe
A: Absolutely, If you are less than 18 years of age you can sign up for the Adventure Course at any of the Mountaineering Institutes to get a taste of how it is to live outdoors. If you want to learn technical skills to help you move and navigate over rock, snow and ice get in touch with Kaushal Desai at Above 14000ft (Credit: Kuntal A. Joisher), they organize 14-day courses that help familiarize yourself with basic skills needed to climb a mountain. If you are at a lower altitude you could also do a rock climbing course at Guardian Giripremi Institute to get more comfortable with ropes, knots, and anchors, these are basics that are covered at all courses.
Q: Will I become a mountaineer after the course?
A: Well, would you call yourself a chef after finishing a cooking course, maybe not right? Like most things you need to practice and figure which situations you are comfortable navigating and which you are not. There is no rush, the journey is one of your own, climb more mountains, test your own gear, practice your skills, and maybe after some years, you’d realize you are still a student on this lifelong journey of mountaineering. Cover photo of Abishai in Zanskar Valley, wearing Kosha layers, taken by Sukrit Nagaraj.
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Till next time!