What is happening?
There are only three institutes in our country that imparts training in mountaineering. These are the mountaineering institutes in Manali, Uttarkashi and Darjeeling. While there are a few other mountaineering institutes, almost all of them are affiliated to these three institutes and run their courses through them. Three institutes for a country like India are too few.
These three institutes directly fall under the ministry of defense. While the curriculum is generally good and rigorous, there is a hidden problem. The basic course in mountaineering in these institutes is a month long program. Unless you are a college student, very few can afford a months’ time to attend training in mountaineering.
Even if a participant is able to make time for the course and get a good grade, the next hurdle is to find a team that is actually climbing a mountain. Most expeditions are foreign and already with their required number of team members. The only way an Indian can get in is to join the team in an official capacity – like a liaison officer or base camp manager.
So the next option is to try for an Indian expedition. An Indian expedition is a rarity. They are usually arranged by a group of mountaineers who know each other well. No one knows much about the expedition. And they rarely talk about it online.
A third option is to go for an IMF sponsored expedition. A visit to the IMF’s office in New Delhi revealed to us files thick with resumes of applicants, all with terrific grades in their mountaineering courses, waiting to go on an expedition. Sadly, the expeditions organized were too few. (IMF is the apex mountaineering body in India – the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Most peaks come under the purview of IMF).
And then there is the final hurdle. Participating even in the smallest mountaineering expedition can set you back by Rs 35 – 40,000. It is an amount very few can afford. No wonder keen mountaineers look for a sponsor to fund their expedition.
It is a disturbing state of affairs.
What can be done?
30 days training for a mountaineering course is too long a period for anyone to afford. Suppose we could split the training in capsules of 10 days, each capsule a level to achieve then we could get a lot more people interested in the sport. Suppose, the training was done totally on the mountain slope, while on a summit attempt, then people would not have to look separately for an expedition. This way they could participate in an expedition and yet learn the ropes of mountaineering in a practical way.
Next, the training method could be modified somewhat. Instead of a generalized training, training could be specific to the grade of mountain being climbed. For example a Grade 1 mountain (which is a mildly technical mountain) requires a different training than a Grade 2 mountain (a bit more technical). Similarly a Grade 3 mountain would require different training than a Grade 5 mountain (like the K2).
Finally, the costs of summit attempts have to be worked out so that they don’t cost much more than a regular trek -- especially not more than Rs 15,000 – 20,000. The hobby needs to be nurtured every year with an expedition or two without the worry of money.
The Indiahikes Mountaineering Club
At Indiahikes we have been talking about these problems with trekkers and among ourselves for long. Finally, we decided to start a non-profit mountaineering club to address these problems in the way we have just spelled out. So we sat about our task this way:
We set aside separate funds to promote the mountaineering club. Vaibhav Chauhan, one of our keenest Trek Guru’s was selected to head the new division. Vaibhav dropped his job at the United Nations to pursue this.
First we wanted to select a mountain that would fall under Grade 1 or 2 -- a peak that required some technical skills but not much. We shortlisted Kala Nag and Jogin 3 (both in Uttarakhand). Kala Nag was a beautiful peak but crevasses were high and we opted out of it. So finally Jogin 3 was selected.
We also wanted the expedition to cost no more than Rs 15,000 - 20,000. We wanted the expedition to be as affordable as a trek. We removed costs that bloated expedition expenses. There would be no liaison officers or base camp managers. We also increased the team size to 12 to help spread the cost.
Finally we were ready to launch the expedition.
Mt Jogin 3 (20,120 feet, 6133 mts)
For the first expedition, from September 29 to October 12 the Indiahikes team would attempt Mt Jogin 3. It is a beautiful Grade 2 summit near Gangotri in Uttarakhand. We will form a team of 12 fit trekkers who will be given the training and skills required to scale the mountain. The training will be done during the course of the expedition. A veteran lead climber and instructor would lead the team, along with 2 other support climbers. All mountaineering gears would be provided by Indiahikes (like climbing boots, gaiters, jumars, descenders, rock pitons, harnesses, carabineers etc).