HMI Basic Mountaineering Course — Darjeeling — Part-4



Click here to read Part-03 at

Another Day at HMI

Today on 14.09.2014, we went for Physical Training session with Tenjing Sir. All these instructors are quite fit in comparison to me and many others in the batch. Last night sleep was not very good as during the initial hours I was feeling breathless and I had to resort to the Inhaler I had brought with me. It gave me such a relief that I slept well whole night and work up at 04:00 am without alarm. I was conscious about the breathing part before starting for the PT. It did not bother me at all and the exercise session went well though I completely avoided running uphill.

I had breakfast of five breads – one plane, a pair with butter and another with jam. I also had two bread pakoras because I am a vegetarian. Non-vegetarian people were getting omelets with breads.

The time between breakfast and lecture was spent washing clothes. Fortunately, the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly. Fear of rain is always there but one has to learn to take risks.

When I reached the quadrangle, my five roommates were not present there. When they arrived they were scolded for being late. We were then asked to assemble in Jayal Hall for the first class of the day. While going down the stairs in the hall, I read a brilliant quote above the door. It read:

“Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”

Edward Whymper, Scrambles Amongst the Alps

I really loved this quote, a thrill of mountains, a warning and an advice to be prudent and honest with one is what we all needed the most at this time. I had earlier read this quote in Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

Ropes and Knots

The first lecture was on Ropes and Knots. The instructor stressed that a rope is a lifeline for a mountaineer and went on explaining the evolution of ropes.

Hawser-laid Ropes: These ropes were used in old days. They are made up of Jute/Manilla. They provide good grip but absorbs water quickly and becomes heavy. If damaged even at one location, they break easily.

Kernmantle Ropes: These ropes are made up of nylon. They are widely used in modern times. They are quite strong. They are also of two types:

  1. Foreign rope which is more flexible and are available in different colors.
  2. Indian Rope which is generally white in color with red stripes and non-elastic in nature. They are best for making rope bridges.

At HMI only foreign ropes are used which has got its own advantages. In lead climbing, if an accidental fall occurs, more jerks will be felt in the Indian Rope but Foreign Rope will absorb the jerk.

When purchased these ropes arrive in a bunch of 200-300 meters length. They are cut into standard length required. Standard length of a climbing rope is kept about 50 meters. They have a diameter of 10mm and weigh 2.7KG approximately. Standard length of a rappelling rope is 60 meters with a diameter of 8mm and weight of 2.9KG. Repelling ropes can be used for climbing by doubling the rope. The price of foreign rope is around Rs 6000 per 50 meters which is considered expensive.

Kernmantle ropes have inner filament which is covered in outer jacket. The outer jacket starts wearing out first which is a sign that the rope is getting damaged and needs to be changed. A 10mm diameter rope can withstand a load of 2000KN while an 8 mm rope can withstand 1600KN of load. The life can safely be used up to five years if taken proper care.

Foreign ropes are two types:

  1. Semi-static rope: Elasticity is low i.e. 15%
  2. Dynamic rope: Elasticity is high i.e. 30%
  3. Static rope: Elasticity is very low i.e. 10%

Polypropylene Ropes: In expeditions where 2000-3000 meters of ropes are to be fixed on the ground, cheap polypropylene ropes are used in the less exposed areas. In highly exposed areas, climbing ropes are used.

The instructor advised us on taking proper care of rope:

  1. Take proper care and maintain.
  2. After climbing if the rope is wet, let it dry properly before storing.
  3. Release any kind of knot present.
  4. Don’t dry a rope in sunlight: The color will get faded and the rope will lose its elastic properties.
  5. Do not wash a rope with any detergent, it may damage the rope. Better wash it in warm water.
  6. Do not dry a rope in open flame.
  7. Using a rope frequently for zumar also damages the rope.
  8. Do not store the rope near chemicals, acid, kerosene, oil, petrol etc.
  9. Do not hang a rope on an iron hook, it allows for rusting of iron and damage to the rope. Better hang it on a wooden/plastic hook.
  10. Do not step on a rope when wearing crampons.
  11. Use ropes only for the intended purpose.

We were asked to bring a sling rope, carabineer and harness for the next class after the lecture in Basketball Court at 09:40 AM. We will be practicing knots and the use of these equipments.

We collected all necessary equipment from our rooms and assembled in the basketball court at the right time. Here we will be taught about rope knots. The first rule of knots is they are, ‘Easy to Learn and Easy to Forget’.

For climbing, roping is done in two ways:

  1. Direct Roping: Directly tying a rope to one’s body.
  2. Indirect Roping: Using a harness carabineer combination to tie a rope.

There are two ends of a rope. One is running end which is held in master hand and another is standing end.

Type of Knots:

Thumb Knot: This is also known as the mother of all knots. Thumb knot is compulsorily to be tied in all type of knots.

Guideman Knot: This knot is used for first man and last man. This is also an example of direct roping. Guideman knot can also be used to give extra safety to the harness.

The class was stopped for tea and HMI Principal’s address to all Basic and Advanced students. We were asked to come back to the Basketball Court after the address.

I was thinking that since last two there is a kind of pattern in my breathing. At night when I sleep soon after dinner, I feel the breathing problem increasing and remain so whole night. Then I am forced to take medication either cough syrup or inhaler and the problem subside. On waking up everything is fine up to the time Physical Training is over. After that during breakfast the problem again restarts and remains up to 09:30AM.  Today, during the first lecture breathing problem was because of clogged nose and there was no congestion in my chest.  Then throughout the day my health remains good. I was continuously monitoring my health and the changes in the coming days.

HMI Dajeeling Principal’s Address

Colonel Gulshan Chadda is the Principal of HMI. He himself was a student of HMI in his younger days. He informed the quantum of task HMI is entrusted upon. He informed that till date more than 25,000 students have passed out of HMI and some of them have become great mountaineers.

HMI has completed 60 years since its inception. He expressed confidence in the instructors of HMI and asked us to have faith in them. He rightly said that mountains will always be here, even if one is unable to complete the course should not be disheartened and accept their physical capabilities. One can always return to the mountains for another chance. He said that there is no UNDO key in mountaineering but there is NO rule to NOT to return back and Never Give Up theory is not applicable here. Thus, the students should only do what is told as HMI is beyond the phase of experimentation and all instructors are experts in their areas. He taught us patience by saying that mountaineering is neither a race nor a spectators sport. It is quite individual in nature and for this one should have a deep respect for mountains.

He tallied that in the Basic course, there are 7 students from NCC, 3 students from Army, 2 students from Navy, 1 student sponsored by IMF. He remembered that in 1976 when he was a student at HMI, civilians performed better than armed forces personnel. He asked us to be focused on the task right in front of us and to accept the conditions present around us.

On discipline he advised us to avoid conflict situations with other students. Stay away from people whom you do not like or if they irritate you. Alcohol, smoking and abusive languages are to be avoided at all costs. Controversial statements which may hurt religious or political sentiments must be avoided. Penalty for indiscipline is termination from the course.

Back to Ropes and Knots…

After the address the class for knots was held in Jayal Hall because it was raining outside.

Bowline Knot: It is used for first man and last man. It can also be used as an anchoring knot.

Overhand Knot: It is nothing but a thumb knot in double rope.

Bowline on the Bight: It is used for the middleman. One should know how to engage and disengage the knot.

Middleman’s Knot: This is done in two ways.

Joining Knots:

Equal Diameter Knots:

  • Fisherman Knot
  • Double Fisherman Knot

Different Diameter Knots:

  • Single sheet bend (Remember loop to be made with the thick rope)
  • Double sheet bend

Riff Knot: For joining and extra safety of the harness.

Figure of Eight: It is a multipurpose knot. It can be used for anchoring and roping.

Hitch: Hitch is different from knots. It needs support or it will open up. Carabineer is generally used in hitches. Clove hitch is used for rope fixing.

Rope Coiling: Rope coiling is very important in taking proper care of rope. One should be coil rope correctly and in short time. Mountains are having a very dynamic weather. Generally, twelve midnight to twelve noon best weather. As temperature rises in the afternoon, valley clouds rise up after twelve noon causing cloudy weather and the chances of rain improves.

  • Universal Coiling: This type of coiling is used in rappelling because length of the rope is long. Rope is doubled before coiling.
  • Continental Coiling: This type of coiling is used in climbing. This is also called as casualty coiling because of the possibility of carrying a casualty on the back.

We enjoyed the lecture on knots and all were practicing the knots learned even after the course and this would become our favorite past-time in coming days.

In the afternoon, we fell into the quadrangle. Mirko, the Italian student of Basic Mountaineering Course did not come to the quadrangle. On asking about his whereabouts, we came to know that he has been shifted to Advanced Mountaineering Course because the basic was too easy for him. Ravi Kumar, an army sponsored newcomer boy had joined our rope.


This afternoon at 1430 hours, there will be a lecture on Avalanches in Jayal Hall. The topic was definitely going to be interesting as avalanches were part of my imagination since school days when we used to watch National Geographic and Discovery Channels. This lecture will also be useful as it would teach us what to do in case an avalanche occurs during an expedition.

The instructor defined Avalanche as an unstable mass of snow when set in motion through mountain slope. The following aspects are critical in the formation of avalanches:

Whenever two layers of ice do not have proper bonding, then any minute vibration can trigger slide.

It also depends on terrain. 20 degree to 45 degree of gradient has high risk of avalanches as deposition and slope both increase the risk.

Poor bonding of snow due to difference in the shapes of ice/snow crystals.

Shape of terrain: Concave shape of terrain allows heavy snow deposition and presents very high risk. Convex shape of terrain, snow deposition is low and thus presents a very low risk. Flat shape of terrain, offers no risk of avalanche formation due to no slope.

Ambient temperature due to sunshine may also increase the risk of avalanches.

Even low Richter scale earthquakes, foot-steps, chopper movement, shelling, vehicle movement etc may cause avalanche.

Types of Avalanches:

  1. Ground Avalanche
  2. Surface Avalanche

In ground avalanche, all snow deposited comes sliding down to the bottom and the rock-face becomes visible.

In surface avalanche, only one layer of snow deposition slides down and the ice below becomes visible.

Surface Avalanches are also of four types:

  1. Wet snow avalanches: More moisture present and slow in movement.
  2. Dry avalanches: Travel with high speed and are more dangerous. The dry snow may block nose and mouth making survival difficult.
  3. Combination avalanches are a combination of ice, snow, boulders and vegetation.
  4. Snow slab avalanches: A snow slab is basically a cohesive layer of snow sitting on a weaker layer. The danger with slabs is that a large mass of snow can slide down a slope and form an avalanche. Taking a zigzag path vertically instead of walking diagonally one can prevent the occurrence of an avalanche.

How to prevent getting caught in an avalanche?

  1. Detect avalanche prone areas before stepping on. This requires experienced guides, pre-reported areas, self-experience and judgment, hard and packed snow balls of uneven shape visible in the lower areas of the hill/valley.
  2. Always keep an observer/watchman who can keep an eye on the movement of snow when other climber is crossing over and warn in case of avalanche.
  3. Avoid roping in avalanche prone areas.

In case of an avalanche:

  1. Lose your weight as soon as possible as you see an avalanche. Remove rucksack.
  2. Turn your face towards lower side and make movement like back stroke swimming. This will prevent nose and mouth getting stuffed due to snow and keep one above the debris.
  3. Acquire cocoon position and squeeze body. This way the body will start rolling. Put ou hand on mouth and make air pocket to be able to breathe. In this position, it will be easy to spring up out of the snow as compared to a flat position.
  4. You can know the direction (up and down) by spitting and pissing and see which way it goes. And can start coming up.
  5. Using avalanche cords can help one locate the location of a victim. One end of the cord is tied on the waist of the climber. As soon as one knows of an avalanche, the climber throws away the ball away. The cord is fluorescent and when it comes in contact with water, it glows.
  6. Avalanche Victim Detector and Digital Tracking System: It works in both receiver and transmitter modes. The equipment should be available with victim so the search party can detect signals.
  7. Sounds of search team may be audible to the victim, but instead of losing precious energy on shouting from below the ice, victim should try to come up.
  8. A pole/stick should not be kept together while in avalanche, it must be thrown away.

The lecture as expected was interesting and well explained. Even today a student joined the course.

The Great Himalayas

After the lecture on avalanches, there was a lecture on Himalayas at 1640 hours. It was taken by Joydeep Sir who is a very knowledgeable on the subject. This lecture would be the first in which we would have been taught using a projector but had to be taken orally without the aid of projector due to technical glitches.

The topics discussed in the lecture are as follows:

  1. Pangea: Pangea was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It formed approximately 300 million years ago and then began to break apart after about 100 million years.
  2. Continental drift: Continental drift is the movement of the Earth’s continents relative to each other, thus appearing to “drift” across the ocean bed. The possible factors which may be the reason for continental drift are liquid core, earth rotation, gravitation etc.
  3. About 84 billion years ago, Indian subcontinent started its journey from South to North at an approximate speed of 18-19.5 centimeters per year and collided Eurasia and Tibetian plate.
  4. The Tethys Ocean was an ocean that existed between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia during much of the Mesozoic era, before the opening of the Indian and Atlantic oceans during the Cretaceous period. It is also referred to as the Tethys Sea.
  5. Himalayas: He insisted that the Himalayas should be divided on the basis of plate tectonics for better understanding. Geographical, political and natural divisions also exist.
  6. Himalayas start in the West from Iran to Burma and into the Sea in the East.
  7. Division-1: Karakoram Division – approx 80 kilometers in length, 19 peaks, major Peaks – K2 (Godwin Austin), maximum witch 7600 meters.
  8. Division-2: Punjab Himalayas – 592 kilometers in length, major peaks — Nankung, Famous shrines – Vaishno Devi, Amarnath.
  9. Division-3: Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas – 352 kilometers in length, from River Sutlej to River Kali in Nepal, major peaks – Trishul, Panchchuli, Nanda Devi etc.
  10. Division-4: Nepal Himalayas – 800 kilometers in length, from River Kali to River Teesta, major peaks – Mt Everest.
  11. Division-5: Sikkim Himalayas – 25 kilometers in length, major peaks – Kanchenjunga. Quite rich and diverse in flora and fauna.
  12. Division-6: Assam Himalayas includes Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan also – 752 kilometers in length, from Teesta to Brahmaputra River.
  13. Top 14 peaks in Himalayas:
  14. Mount Everest (Nepal): 8848 meters
  15. K2 (Godwin Austin) (Pakistan): 8611 meters
  16. Kanchenjunga (India): 8586 meters
  17. Lhotse (Nepal): 8516 meters
  18. Makalu (Nepal): 8485 meters
  19. Cho Oyu (Tibet): 8201 meters
  20. Dhaulagiri-I (Nepal): 8167 meters
  21. Manaslu (Nepal): 8163 meters
  22. Nanga Parbat (Pakistan): 8126 meters
  23. Annapurna-I (Nepal): 8091 meters
  24. Gasherbrum-I (Pakistan): 8080 meters
  25. Broad Peak (Pakistan): 8051 meters
  26. Gasherbrum-II (Pakistan): 8035 meters
  27. Shishapangma (Tibet): 8027 meters
  28. Plate -Tectonic Divisions of Himalayas
  29. Sub-Himalayas
  30. Lesser Himalayas (LH)
  31. Central Himalayan Domain/High Himalayas (CHD)
  32. The High Himalayan Crystalline Sequence  (HHCS)
  33. The Tethys Himalayas (TH)
  34. The Nyimaling-Tso MorariMetamorphic Dome (NTMD)
  35. The Lamayuru and Markha Units (LMU)
  36. The Indus Sutlej Zone (ISZ)
  37. In the end of the lecture, Joydeep Sir posed a question. Why the drift of subcontinents is not getting stopped?

After the lecture on geography was quite interesting and this I liked it most of all classes held at HMI.

At 1830 hours, we assembled in Jayal Hall for a movie ‘Mt Makalu: To the Summit and Beyond’. The movie was about the first Indian ascent to Mt Makalu in 2009 which was completed by HMI team. Those who scaled the peak are Kusang Sherpa, Powell Sharma, Neel Chand, Rajendra Singh and Raj Pal under the leadership of Col Neeraj Rana, then Principal of HMI Darjeeling. It was a proud moment for us to be with the great climbers and learn from them.

After the movie, we went for Dinner which was quite tasty. Today, special Sewaiya was made and on television, Art of Flying was being aired on Discovery Channel. The beautiful shots of snow clad peaks of Alaska were fascinating. The adventure show was about snowboarding. A beautiful quote from the show stated, ‘Dedicated to those who died doing what they Love.’ A brilliant quote at a brilliant moment.

In the evening, I was lying on the bed and trying to sleep. Lights were switched off by my roommates as we were instructed to switch off the lights by 2130 hours. But, nobody had slept. I had a very good feeling that today there was no breathing problem, just little bit of runny nose. Though, I had taken cough syrup thrice today, I hoped it will have long term healing effect.

Tomorrow, there will be medical checkups. I hope all parameters will be fine and my lungs less congested.

Read my experience of HMI Darjeeling Basic Mountaineering Course at:

HMI Darjeeling Basic Mountaineering Course – Part-5



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