Click here to read Part-02 at http://yadavmanoj.com/hmi-basic-mountaineering-course-darjeeling-part-02
First Day, First Class at HMI
The morning of 13.09.2014 was cold with fog settled in the lawn. The cool was soothing and filled me with happy feeling being away from my usual life and the summer of Khandwa. Since, I check the clothes I left to dry on the window bars last day and realized they were still wet. This was a bad realization that the clothes will not dry this way even if left for a week. Later this morning, my roommates shared the obvious fact that they get wet due to moisture in the morning air.
After getting ready, we assembled in the Quadrangle before 06:00 am. Aditya Sir, a smart, young and fit instructor took us for the morning PT. We formed ourselves in two files did some warmup exercises before jogging. Me and Rituraj Sameer lead the too files. Then we started running down the road and then up to Mall Road. I think I did good in that run. We made a round of the Mall Road and reached a circle. This completed about 3.5 kilometers of our run. It was demanding for me as I was not used to running uphill. I did well on the flat and downhill sections though. We stopped at the circle for various exercises. On the first day itself the exercises were quite tough to do completely but on the promise that these will help us during the trek and the training we gave our best. We felt awesome after the drill. We came back to HMI running at 07:00 am. We got reaedy and finished our exercises.
At 08:00 after breakfast of Bread, Butter, Jam, Eggs (for Non-vegetarians) and pakoris (for vegetarians), we assembled in the Quadrangle. Here we were asked to go to Jayal Hall. Jayal Hall is a seminar hall which is also used to show movies. Just like in cinema halls, it has balcony seats too. The hall is beautifully designed as the parts of wall and floor are covered with wooden panels. In the right side, huge windows offer a view of greenery in the garden and allows light to fill the room. Everywhere in HMI campus including Jayal Hall and Quadrangle one sees HMI logo with an ice-axe and a mountain range in the background possibly depicting Mt Kanchenjunga (the third highest peak in the world) encircled by a rope. Logos, ice axes, ropes and other inspirational signs decorate the campus.
The first lecture of the course was taken by the Quarter Master. He is an Indian Army personal and takes care of all the affairs of hostel, food and logistical arrangement in hostel and camp, infrastructure and students. The common thing observed in all HMI instructors is they seemed to like their job and enjoyed talking to students. They were well aware of what they were saying and were clear and had common view on all the officially matters, officially. Some did open their hearts but also added a rider informing the view of office and its importance. The Quartermaster in his first lecture or call it an Introduction session asked us to ensure discipline during the course. He insisted to be extra careful about garbage and do not litter anywhere on the trek and camps. As all army men, he asked us to be on time, always.
Strange thing, but they asked us to come to kitchen wearing shoes and trek suit, no one was allowed in shorts or sandals. He told many funny stories about how wastage of water can lead to serious problems in the bathrooms including half brushed teeth with a taste of toothpaste in mouth to dirty toilets. He asked us to not take bath if it is avoidable. He congratulated us for now running tap water was available in the Hostel, though they had had fitted spring-loaded taps in the toilets to avoid wastage. Till last year there were no taps in bathrooms and one had to carry water in the buckets. He left no stone unturned to remind us that we belong to plains and these are the mountains. When a plains dweller catches cold in mountains it remains till he goes back. Since, we won’t be taking bath during the trek, it is better to practice from here itself.
No alcohol and no cigarettes. Every instructor was very strict about the rule and did not miss a chance to remind it again and again. They even told that if anyone is found taking these will be immediately sent back. Theft will not be tolerated at all but the onus to protect the valuables lies with students and not with the institution, thus they advised us to deposit the valuables to the institute and carry as less cash as possible. Cleanliness in the hostel rooms will be inspected from time to time by the Quarter Master and the Principal which will play a role in individual grades at the end of the course. He informed that just after the dinner, no one will come out of hostel premises. Also, no one will be permitted to leave HMI campus throughout the course without the permission of the Instructor on Duty and only in case of urgent requirement.
Instructors and Ropes
After introduction and the set of rules, we left for Quadrangle again at 09:00 AM. At Quadrangle, our Course Director Lakhpa Sherpa Sir addressed us. All the other instructors were also present. On the count we found that we were fifty-four students in total. Many students were yet to come as they might be unaware of the pre-poned dates of the course. HMI will be celebrating its Diamond Jubilee on November 04, 2014 for which they had to prepone the course dates. This caused trouble to some students who had already booked rail or air tickets in advance. At the time there were ten instructors excluding the Course Director. We were divided into ten ropes and they tried their best to put as diverse as possible members in a rope. I was allotted rope number eight and our Instructor was Tenzing Sherpa sir. Other rope mates were Chilakacharla Kiran Kumar (Andhra Pradesh), Utkarsh Singh (West Bengal), Atul Burman (Assam) and me from Rajasthan. We introduced ourselves to each other. None of my roommates nor the students I earlier knew were the part of my rope. We were asked to fill up forms which contained personal details and a disclaimer.
After the paper work was complete, Tenzing Sherpa sir took reign of our batch at 09:50 am for HMI Visit class. It was fun visiting and knowing about the various buildings and the stories behind their names. First was the Quadrangle, where we were standing. This Quadrilateral shaped space in front of offices and lecture halls had been just renovated and some work still going on the stairs and adjoining lecture halls. It is the center of all activities at HMI. On one side there are offices for Accounts, Administration and Principal’s Office. Adjacent to the Principal’s Office is Jayal Hall on the name of the First Principal of HMI Shri Nandy Jayal. On the other side there are lecture rooms and library. They will allow us library time to visit and the place is heaven especially for book lovers interested in the Himalayas and mountaineering.
Then Tenzing Sir took us to Cheema Indoor Rock Wall named on the fifth Principal of HMI. We will practice here in Indoor wall climbing and bouldering class. Then we went to the HMI Museum, statue of Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in front of his samadhi, HMI Cafeteria and HMI Restaurant. The museum is a very informative place for mountaineering and Himalayas open for HMI Zoological Park visitors on working days.
I took time to get introduced with other students in the course. Most of the students were from West Bengal, Sikkim and Delhi. There were participants from Bangalore, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra too. There is this Italian boy named Mirko who is a professional mountaineer who leads groups for treks and skiing in parts of Northern Europe. Later before we will leave for trek, his professionalism will get him a place in the Advanced Mountaineering Course as Basic was too easy for him. I talked to him and he shared that he came to India for travelling and joined this course to know Himalayas and people here closely.
Then Tenzing Sir took us to show Principal’s Bungalow which is named ‘Dzongri La’ which means the pass of the meeting place of man and God. They we went to Outdoor Climbing Wall which is forty-five meters high. Fifteen rows of panels each 3 meters high makes the wall. Sir informed that it is an International standard wall and there are about one hundred and twenty such walls in India. We moved ahead and reached a three storey building which contained Equipment Wing on first floor, Medical Center and Laundry on second floor. In front of the residential quarters there is a Basket Ball court. By the side of the court one sees the Samadhi of Nawang Gombu who was the first man to climb Mt Everest second time. By 10:30 am we all came back to the hostel to take tea and rest.
At 11:00 am, lecture on Mountaineering Equipment was given by Aditya Sir. He started his lecture by teaching the most basic behavior of mountaineers i.e. helping each other. He informed us the motto of HMI which is ‘May (You) Climb from Peak to Peak’ and the values Unity, Discipline and Co-operation which are a must for every mountaineer.
He emphasized the need of proper mountaineering equipments by underlining the difficulties we face in a trek or a mountaineering expedition. The equipments can be classified in three ways:
- Central equipment
- Technical equipment
- Personal equipment
- Central Equipment:
- Ropes: Rope is the lifeline of a mountaineer, take utmost care of it. Ropes are of two types:
- Indian Rope – Semi –elastic in nature
- Foreign Rope – Elastic in nature.
- Rock Climbing Equipment:
- Friends – Most improved form as on date
- Chock nuts of various sizes
- Rock pitons – Vertical, Original etc.
- Rock hammer
- PA Shoes for Rock Climbing
- Single pulley
- Rope ladder (also used in mountaineering in overhand cases)
- Mountaineering Equipment
- Screw carabiners – always lock the gates of a carabiner
- Plain carabiners – more widely used
- Descender – Figure of Eight
- Ice pitons – Warthog piton, Screw/Tubular piton)
- Ice hammer – Integrated with Ice-axe, never hammer a tubular piton
- Dead man, Dead boy, Snowbar – Used in hard-packed snow. Dig snow, put these inside and cover with snow. They can also be used to pitch tents.
- Snow shovel: Used to clear area in high altitude snow. Also used in combination of ice axe.
- Ice axe
- Personal Equipment:
- Crampons – With front points
- Snow Boots (e.g. Koflach) – Consist of an inner boot and an outer boot.
- Water bottle – Tip: If you don’t have an expensive insulated bottle for storing drinking water, carry a normal cold-drink bottle which must be able to withstand hot water. Keep the water bottle in your sleeping bag so it remains warm till the next morning.
- Mess Tin – An aluminum Tiffin box which many mountaineers use. It’s funny to know that many students at HMI have used it to wash their socks instead of taking food.
- Feather jacket – the one HMI provides is sufficient for 14600 feet which is also the height of HMI Base Camp.
- Windcheater – Lower and Upper
- Mittens – A covering for the hand that encases the thumb separately and the four fingers together.
- Rappelling Jacket (Only rope leader was given a rappelling jacket which is to be shared by all rope members)
- Crampon Cover
- Rubbish Bag (It has to be always kept tied to waist during the trek to put trash and litter inside it. A very important thing which helps in avoiding littering along the way)
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Bag lining/inner
- It has got many straps like shoulder straps, waist strap and chest strap. All must be adjusted perfectly for optimal load distribution of the load.
- We were advised to not tighten it too tight on uphill/downhill, to walk in small steps and in rhythm, to lean forward while walking.
- Though we were informed that everyone has a unique style of packing their rucksacks, the instructor shared his own way which was done considering load distribution and requirement of equipments.
- He advised up to put a polythene sheet liner in the bag to protect the insides from wetting in case of rain.
- The inner boots inside outer boots were kept at lowest position as they will not be required till we reach the base camp.
- Then they put snow crampons in crampon covers. Then comes windcheaters, gaiters, rappelling jacket, lining, mittens, screw carabiners, sling rope, zumar, descender, Mess Tin (in side pocket), water bottle (in side/top pocket), feather jacket, sleeping bag (at top), t-shirts, track pants and a lot of socks.
- Make the mattress in a tight roll and keep it vertical along the rucksack properly tied.
- Ice axe also to be fixed vertical tip point towards upside using straps and being careful that the sharp point of the ice axe is towards inside. The tip point should also be covered in the hood.
- Rucksack should be balanced when kept on ground. This shows that the weight is distributed evenly. Straps should not be adjusted while carrying the bag. One must not rest on the slope side of a hill/trek with rucksack on back.
- While lifting the rucksack, one must first put it on one thigh and then move it towards back. One must also take care to not drop down the rucksack on halt but lift it down the same way it should be put on.
At 12:30 PM, we were called to the Equipment Room with our Rope Instructor and were distributed the equipments which will be used during further training and trek. The list of the equipments is as follows:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Bag Lining
- Windcheater Lower
- Windcheater Upper
- Feather Jacket
- Snowboots Inner
- Snowboots Outer
- Garbage Bag
- Ice Axe
- Sling Rope
- Crampon Cover
- Mess Tin
- Harness Seat
We were asked to check everything properly wear it for fitting and return it they do not fit or are broken within the given time frame.
Mountaineering Manners and Customs
At 1430 hours we were called to Jayal Hall where Tenjing Sir will be giving us class on Mountain Manners and Customs. I liked his way of instructing which is sensible and humorous. He said this is the most important topic and must be practiced wherever one is trekking or mountaineering. The topic goes as follows:
- Greetings: Greet everyone you meet in the mountains while going up or down. This is a good way to start conversation too as we can get information about the path ahead in advance and share the same.
- Responsibility: Assume responsibility of team, action and yourself.
- Maintain Low Profile.
- Respect the locals and their customs in the area.
- Walking Manners: These tips can be helpful to cover more distance without getting tired and keeping one safe while trekking.
- Maintain steady pace.
- Maintain mechanical rhythm.
- Do not run but walk slowly.
- Constantly keep on taking water for rehydration of fluids in body.
- Avoid jerks and abrupt movements.
- Prefer a zig-zag route uphill and downhill then the straight one.
- Avoid overheating of body. Remove excess clothing.
- Do not walk over growing crops and agricultural fields.
- Maintain body temperature during halts. If needed wear extra layer of clothing during halt.
- During halts, clear of the track and place rucksack carefully on the ground. Never rest with rucksack on your back.
- Judging distance: It is very difficult to judge distance in mountains. One can learn it by experience.
- While overtaking another party, take permission from them. This becomes more important where the path is narrow.
- Avoid unnecessary noise in mountains. It may prove dangerous sometimes.
- Don’t close your ears. It affects listening ability and reduce acclimatization rate.
- Hut Manners:
- Don’t write anything on the walls etc in the hut.
- All garbage to be collected at one place.
- Do not make unnecessary noise.
- Rescue Work: More details will be given during training at base camp.
- Proof of Ascent:
- Inform authorities of your trekking/mountaineering program.
- If successful, take photographs of surroundings.
- Take picture of GPS data along with you and share with authorities.
- Team leader makes statement in newspaper, with authorities etc.
- Environmental Protection:
- Mountains are a fragile ecosystem.
- Minimum possible impact of presence should be made.
- Leave no trace.
- Develop a conservationist attitude – Don’t destroy things.
- Educate fellow countrymen and assist in increasing awareness.
- The instructor shared how his friend conducts garbage cleaning program on Sendakhpu trek periodically every year to keep the trek garage free.
- Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do not spread pollution at the campsite.
- Leave no trace.
- Proper disposal of human waste.
- Avoid noise pollution
- Avoid water pollution
- Never use the area near a stream as a toilet. Instead use ice-axe to dig a hole and cover it.
- Do not willfully destroy flora and fauna.
- Do not create fire hazards. Do not use firewood instead use gas/kerosene for heating/cooking purpose. He informed that in Sikkim/Ladakh area, it is illegal to cut wood for firewood purpose.
- Carry out forestation.
- Conserve wildlife by reporting poaching. Shoot, but with camera only.
- Always go for a trek in group. It is more safe this way.
The class was over by 1630 hours with the statement that ‘Let Himalayas Change You, But Do Not Change Himalayas.’
The Dreaded MI (Medical Inspection) Room
From 1630 hours to 1800 hours we were called for Medical Inspection, I was worried about this the most. In this time only Rope 1 to Rope 4 could be covered. There were some people who were asked to go back to home as they could not quality due to medical unfitness.
At 1815 hours we reached Jayal Hall back for a movie on mountaineering. Still 3 more students joined the batch. The day was so rich in the activities and all that we heard and felt. I was thinking if we experienced and learned so much in a single day what would the remaining 27 days bring to my life.
Read my experience of HMI Darjeeling Basic Mountaineering Course at: