HMI Darjeeling — Basic Mountaineering Course Part – 6
A Hopeful Morning
At 05:20AM, morning sky was blue except for scattered white clouds and a hint of darkness in the west. Morning comes early in the eastern part of the country. September is comfortably cool in Darjeeling and noise of chirping birds in lush green Himalayan Botanical Park sounds music. A student is exercising on the stairs of Quadrangle and another sitting on stairs possibly contemplating. I see that many of the students are quite fit as compared to me. Truly, fitness has no limits.
Last night I slept well and I woke up to the sound of musical alarm from the phone of one of my roommates. It’s the famous ringtone which goes like this, ‘Let’s go it’s a brand new day! Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, It’s your brand new day! Wake up, wake up, wake up.’
Encounter with the Principal and Group Dynamics
After the PT and breakfast, we assembled in the Quadrangle. We were all going for rock climbing today. After everyone left for the rocks, fourteen of us were asked to wait as Principal was going to see us. He came to have a look at those who were deemed unfit by the Medical Officer due to some or other reason. Those, whose BP was above normal formed the major part of the group. We were then divided in two groups — unfit and under observation students. I was in under observation group. Unexpectedly, my roommate Rituraj (a very fit and excited NCC guy who is doing BTech) and my rope-mate Utkarsh (a quiet NCC boy) were placed in the unfit group.
Already my chances of going for the trek and mountaineering had become bleak and my attitude had become neutral being prudent to not push things if I am asked to quit. So I spent some time analyzing group dynamics. What better place to analyze this if not at HMI Darjeeling where diversity is a rule not to be broken. Even during the rope allocations the instructors tried their best to ensure that group members are as diverse as possible in all respects like state, region, language, profession, age and fitness.
I was amazed and happy to discover how group dynamics take shape. If you try to make a Venn diagram, it will become a very complicated one. Let us say there is a Universal Set of the whole batch although this is not a perfect Universal set because there is no limit to the contact of human beings. Somewhere I read that the President of United States of America in only five connections away from you on LinkedIn, did not verify it but seems true.
In our small Universal set, there are many sub-groups overlapping each other like roommates, rope mates, students coming late for assembly, students coming last in daily PT run, students from same states, students from same professional background, students of same age and so on.
A couple of young students were feeling homesick. A boy had already left for home due to this reason. My rope-mate Tenzing who is a permanent resident of Darjeeling was also not allowed to go outside the HMI gates.
My room-mates have named me ‘Writer’ because I am always seen jotting down notes in my pocket diary. These notes are the only source to keep memories and learning at HMI Darjeeling safe and share with those who are interested.
The Principal straight away ordered two students back to home. One was from Advance Mountaineering Course and another was my rope mate Utkarsh. They were not only having very high Blood Pressure but their heartbeats were also above hundred at rest. All others were kept under observation and asked to continue the course till next checkup.
Tenzing Rock Climbing
After the meeting, we left for Tenzing Rock to continue our rock-climbing practice. This would be the third time I will take up serious adventure sport. First time was river-rafting in Rishikesh with my colleagues. Second time was a Himalayan trek to Har Ki Doon with Indiahikes. Rock climbing will be the third time.
We were well equipped with rappelling jacket, mittens, harness, sling rope and carabiner. Ropes were set up by the instructors to keep us secure. I was able to climb up on the road-side rock face of Tenzing rock with half a dozen falls (prevented due to safety) and bending my knee more that necessary during rappelling back to the ground. The rock was slippery this side which made it difficult to climb. I enjoyed the part but my arms felt tired and the falls increased my heartbeat. The first climb proved that one needs practice to be good at rock climbing.
I tried face-2 in my second chance. This face apparently lacked footholds and handholds. It was also slippery due to moss grown over the rock. Lime stone was scattered over this face to prevent growth of moss, but still it crept in. With part fear and part confidence, though slow, I was able to successfully complete the climb. At the top, Aditya sir motivated me and asked me to take care of my Quechua track pants. But during the rappelling part, I had no idea how I lost my balance. What happened is while coming down, one has to stand inclined with straight legs right angle to the inclination. The climber starts loosing the rope slowly. Suddenly my shoes lost grip and moved upward resulting in my upper body falling backward. In another moment, I was hanging upside down with my back rubbing the rock. It was a funny situation and everyone was looking at me. Though, I did not lose the grip, I felt relieved when I realized that my harness system worked perfectly well and prevented the fall. I somehow managed to get straight and come to the ground. The instructor announced that even in such a situation it does not hurt so there is no need to fear in rock climbing. With proper safety, you will be safe.
This filled me with confidence and I tried to climb rock face – 1 which is also the easiest one. I was able to climb up and rappel down perfectly this time. I also realized that leaning back too much caused my shoes to slip and resulting fall on rock face – 2. This time I was able to keep my body straight at 90 degrees to the incline.
After the practice, I came back to the hostel feeling happy about my first rock climbing session. Today, the weather was fine and my clothes were finally drying in the sun. I used this opportunity to wash another t-shirt and hanged my dry Quechua fleece in sunlight. After some rest we left for lunch.
Cheema Indoor Wall Climbing
In the afternoon assembly, we were asked to move to the Cheema Indoor Wall. This session was taken by Aditya sir. He cautioned us that all the students must try to practice as much as possible and maintain good behavior during the course. HMI instructors are entrusted with the task to observe students and their feedback will decide the grades in the end. He came back to the subject and informed that climbing as a sport is done is two ways – Artifical climbing and Natural Climbing. In India, artifical climbing was first started in Pune. Climbing is done in three ways 1) speed climbing, 2) lead climbing and 3) bouldering/traversing.
Artificial walls can be customized to increase or decrease difficulty levels. There are two types of holds namely simple holds and disc holds. There are no pinch holds in artificial walls. The indoor artificial wall at HMI is eighteen feet high. There is also a bouldering wall with features and fissures. He warned that hangers should never be used as finger holds or an accidental fall may injure fingers.
Equipments used by climbers are PA Shoes/Climbing Shoes are shoes specially made for climbing with rubber soles and Chalk bag.
The class was followed by practical wall climbing. There are three faces on this wall two are with overhangs and one straight. I climbed the one with overhang and successfully completed it. I find that I still had fear even after a full day of practice.
Lecture on Ice Axe and Crampons
After the practice was over at 1630 hours, we were called to Jayal Hall for a lecture on Ice Axe and Crampons. These are the most important equipments for a mountaineer. The instructor started with Ice Axe first.
An ice axe is a multi-purpose hiking and climbing tool used by mountaineers both in the ascent and descent of routes that involve frozen conditions with snow and/or ice. There are different types of axes such as step cutting axe, climbing axe etc. These are generally made up of steel, aluminium and alloys.
- Pick: Pick is used for arresting the axe on ice wall/ground. It has teeth.
- Adze/Shovel: In place of adze/shovel climbing axes carry a hammer. This is used to fix coat-hanger and warthog pitons, never hammer a tubular piton.
- Leash Stop
- Shaft with Rubber Grip
- Spike/point: It is used to anchor, walk and lock.
A crampon is a traction device used to improve mobility on snow and ice during ice climbing.
The Movie: First Ascent
After the lecture on ice axe and crampons was over, we remained in Jayal Hall for movie session. First Ascent is a documentary on climbing starring two female climbers Lyn Hill and Beth Bennett doing the ascent of Eldorado Canyon’s Naked Edge Route.
The night was spent preparing for our next day’s trek to Tiger Hill
Read more of my experience at: