HMI Darjeeling Basic Mountaineering Course – Part-5


Click here to read Part-04 at

PT Sessions are Good, But Rock Climbing Sessions are Best

Today, in the morning of 15.09.2014 at 0530 hours, I came to the quadrangle early. I had a feeling that today was going to be great. Last night was great, there was no breathing problem and I had a good sleep. Now, I had started loving this place. Then we went for Physical Training.

Physical training session today was not very good. I had a feeling that some breathing problem affected my performance. But never mind!

At 0800 hours, we assembled in the quadrangle. Today we would go for outdoor Rock Climbing. Each rope was asked to bring a rucksack and rope and every individual to bring water bottle and harness set.

We reached HMI Darjeeling Rock Training Area at around 09:00 am walking. There are rocks of various sizes and difficulty levels in the training area namely Gombu Rock for Advance Course, New Rock , Tenzing Rock etc.

Our instructor explained that in mountains there are three kinds of obstacles:

  1. Rock
  2. Snow
  3. Ice

One should know how to negotiate there obstacles for being a successful climber.


In rock, technique is very important. Rules are to be followed as one never gets second chance and if safety is by-passed fatality may occur.

Principles of Rock Climbing:

  1. Planning a climb and route: Plan the easiest route on ground itself including rest spots. It is also necessary to plan the personal equipments which will be required to complete the climb safely. It wet rock is present, climbing should be avoided.
  2. Keeping balance:
  • 3-point contact is necessary in climbing. Out of four points two hands and two legs at any time at-least 3 points should be in contact with the rock.
  • Rest should be done on four points only.
  • Do not stick with rock because you cannot see the holds and movement becomes difficult. Thus, maintain reasonable gap between rock and body.
  • Check the holds for looseness and do not use a hold which seems loose.
  • Never take long steps.
  • Never cross your hands and legs (this instruction was for beginners)
  1. Conservation of energy: Steady rhythm is necessary to conserve energy.


Holds are of two types a) Surface holds and b) Interior Holds

Surface holds: Handholds, Footholds, Over-grip hold, Side-grip hold, Pinch hold, Undercut, Pressure hold.


To support climber from falling with a rope belay technique is used. In belaying, the belayer holds the rope and the climber climbs. Bay is the distance between climber and belayer.

Direct Belay: Without support of any equipment, direct belay is done in two ways a) Shoulder belay b) Hip belay.  In both, a base is necessary to sit and keep the body of belayer stable. Anchoring is done to keep the belayer secure. The belayer has to always concentrate on the climber and his instructions.

With the guiding hand the rope is either collected or released. Breaking hand keeps the rope secure and applies break in case of any fall.

Indirect Belay: A descender is used in this technique. There are two techniques using a descender a) Half Belay and b) Full Belay. Full belay is more secure and should be preferred.

Climbing Calls:

The calls may be different from country to country. The calls are must to learn for any climber. Calls like Climbing, Climb, Belay Tight, Belay Loose, Only 10 meters left, I am there, Ok that’s me, Belay man ready?, Climb when you are ready, Fall, I am Falling etc are frequently used in climbing.

Today the weather was rainy throughout the day. This affected the practical demonstration and practice of Rock climbing. I was also a bit worried about the clothes I left to dry the day before yesterday or yesterday were getting drenched in the rain. We came back to HMI in the afternoon before lunch time.

Mountaineering Terminology

At 1400 hours after lunch, we assembled in Jayal Hall for a lecture on Mountain Terms. In this lecture we were explained about the terminology used in mountaineering. The following geographical features in ice terrain are explained:

  1. Peak: Highest point of a mountain
  2. Glacier: A river of ice
  3. Ridge: A geological feature consisting of a chain of mountains or hills that form a continuous elevated crest for some distance.
  4. Col/Saddle: Depression in higher elevations of a mountain.
  5. Pass: Depression in lower elevations of a mountain.
  6. Valley: A long “depression” (or low part) in the land, between two higher parts which might be hills or mountains.
  7. Navel: The birthplace of a glacier normally in a valley.
  8. Bergschrund: A deep and wide crack formed due to the movement of a glacier.
  9. Icefall: A portion of some glaciers characterized by rapid flow and a chaotic crevassed surface. It is formed is a glacier of gradient 30 degrees to 50 degrees where the ice breaks into huge blocks which gets collected at a medium gradient. It also moves.
  10. Crevasse: Crack on the surface of a glacier which may be open or hidden.
  11. Moraine: In glaciers on its sides and in the end, rocks and boulders gets collected. They are classified as a) terminal moraine, b) lateral moraine, c) middle moraine and d) high moraine depending on their location in glacier. There is always movement in moraine except for terminal moraine (dead moraine).
  12. Snout: End of a glacier where river is formed.
  13. Tarn: A temporary lake in high mountains.
  14. Lake: A permanent lake.
  15. Avalanche: A mass of unstable snow/icec wet in motion.
  16. Cornices: A snow cornice or simply cornice is an overhanging edge of snow on a ridge or the crest of a mountain and along the sides of gullies.
  17. Seracs: Ice towers found in icefalls.
  18. Snowbridge: A bridge formed in snow over a crevasse, glacier and stream.
  19. Verglas: Glaze ice or simply glaze is a smooth, transparent and homogeneous ice coating occurring when freezing rain or drizzle hits a surface. It is generally found in the morning and evening time.
  20. Ledge: An edge on a rocky area which can also be used as a resting place.

The following geographical features in rock terrain are explained:

  1. Glacis: A sloping bank up to 30 degrees is called glacis.
  2. Slab: 30 degree to 75 degree slope is called a slab.
  3. Wall: 75 degree to 90 degree slope is called a wall.
  4. Overhang: Greater than 90 degree slope is called an overhang.
  5. Chimney: A vertical crack in a rock.
  6. Choke stone: A very sharp rocky ridge.
  7. Cap Stone: A rock kept above a chimney.
  8. Arete: A very sharp rocky ridge.
  9. Scree: Collection of loose stones on a hill slope.
  10. Pinnacle: The highest pointed rocks on a hill or isolated towers of a rock.
  11. Traversing: Diagonal movement on a hill.
  12. Anchor: An object around which rope can be tied upon.
  13. Treeline: The elevation up-to which trees can grow.
  14. Snowline: The area where permanent snow is available. In Sikkim, treeline is at 13500 feet and snowline is at 16500 feet.
  15. Snow crust: Snow crust is a relatively hard, upper layer or film of ice or compacted snow on a snow surface.  This is generally formed due to high wind chill factor.
  16. Snow plume: Snow being carried by the wind away from a peak or ridge into the air.
  17. Glacier Table: A stone slab supported over the surface of a mountain glacier by a column or columns of ice.
  18. Gendarme: It is a pinnacle of rock on a mountain ridge. Their shape resembles humans. Gendarme in French means ‘Man at Arms’.
  19. Icicles: It is found hanging below a crevasse or an overhang.
  20. Massif: A mountain having same base but many peaks.
  21. Bivouac: Temporary shelter in a mountain.
  22. Benightment: Spending whole night in open air due to poor weather/poor planning.

The class was good as it taught us many terms which we were either unaware of or did not know the exact meaning.

Mountain Hazards

After the class was over, at 1500 hours, next class started on Mountain Hazards. It would be a very interesting class because the instructor, Mr Powell Sharma is himself a great mountaineer. He was in the first Indian team to climb Mount Makalu and Everest in 2009. He has also climbed Mount Everest in 2012. His cool and humorous nature kept us spellbound throughout the class. Who is better to teach mountain hazards than who has himself faced such hazards and came out a winner.

He started with the quite obvious definition that the problems faces by mountaineers on mountains are mountain hazards. These are of two types:

  1. Subjective Hazards
  2. Objective Hazards

Subjective Hazards are those hazards which have direct connection with the climbers. Acclimatization related problems are examples of subjective hazards. The reason for such problems is generally lack of knowledge and less experience.

Objective Hazards are those hazards which do not have any connection with the climbers, but arise due to external conditions like weather, nature etc. Avalanches, landslides, whiteouts, crevasses etc are such examples.

How Powell Sharma Sir lost his finger.???!!!!

Powell Sharma Sir, a veteran mountaineer of HMI Darjeeling had the most practical way of teaching us mountaineering hazards. A hazard which he himself faced was during the Mount Everest expedition which cost him his finger. It was on the night of final climb to the peak when due to some unavoidable reasons his finger accidentally got exposed to ice and wind which was the cause of frost bite which remain untreated long enough and had to be amputated.

The Dreaded MI Room, again…

The most dreaded day had come today. At 1620 hours, rope numbers 5 to 11 were called for medical check-up. Medical Inspection room is situated on 1st floor of the building. Last day, rope numbers 1 to 4 were already checked and now it was our turn. I had heard the some students have been asked to go home due to poor fitness.

Since, most of the working professional had come in the course, a slightly higher BP is observed in many cases but within the acceptable range of 140/90. I had to be in this range else I will also be asked to go home. When I came to join the course, my BP in the plains was 135/85. I expect that this shall remain at normal levels.

Second worry was Bronchitis which is breathing problem caused due to allergies. I think I should share the same with the Doctor but I lack that much courage. All the instructors were very particular about the health issues among students and encouraged everyone to consult doctor even if the problem is very minute or insignificant else it might prove dangerous at higher altitudes. Contrary to that students avoided doing so. Past deaths at HMI!!!!

Anyway, I was trying to feel better waiting for my turn there are only two hurdles: 1) BP and 2) my revelation of Bronchitis.

But, it would not be so easy. The doctor found my BP 148/90 which is quite high and above the limits. He asked me for any BP problem in past. I informed that in plains it is aroung 130-135/80-85. He told me that I will be under observation and will have to get the BP checked after two days. I hope to settle down below 140/90 after two days as I might not have acclimatized to the elevation in Darjeeling. I was advised by my other rope mates to drink ample amount of water. I was already drinking around 2 liters of water daily and will increase the same to 3-4 liters daily.

In the evening, after the test we practiced knots. The instructor was correct in saying that knots are easy to learn and easy to forget.

Read more of my experience at:

HMI Darjeeling — Basic Mountaineering Course Part – 6



One thought on “HMI Darjeeling Basic Mountaineering Course – Part-5

  • February 2, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    hi manoj,

    can you tell me your email id ? i have some questions, i am going to HMI in March 2016 for BMC


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