Defying Gravity - by Samir Patham

dg3“Fingers tightly grasping a tiny crack just a few millimeters deep; the weight of your body, perfectly balanced on your feet wedged into a natural rock fault, your eyes desperately seeking your next hand hold, the sound of your heart beat echoing in your ears, the force of gravity pulling at you, while you cling high above the ground on a vertical rock face, and the only safety preventing you from plummeting to the ground far below? An 11 mill meter thin safety rope attached to your seat harness . . .”

 

Welcome to the world of Rock Climbing!

Rock Climbing, once defined as a technique to ascend rock faces while climbing mountains, gradually evolved into an athletic sport in its own right. Though pioneered in countries like England, Germany and Italy, over the last century it has spread across the world to gradually evolve into one of the most popular Alpine related sports. From the daunting crags of Mount Blanc in Europe, rock climbing in the past 15 years has now become a sought after sport even in India, especially in the Western Ghats.

The popularity of Rock Climbing can be majorly attributed to an instinctive human desire to climb.  At some point in our lives especially during childhood, having scrambled up a wall or a tree, our natural desire to give it a shot is extremely alluring. As a result, Rock Climbing has mass appeal, from the professional mountaineer preparing to scale the heights of Everest to an absolute amateur, presumable wary of heights.

Contrary to popular perception, rather than brute strength, ‘Rock Climbing’ is all about balance, technique, and mental determination. The ability to overcome ones inherent fear of heights, the unquestionable trust and faith one must have in a person holding on to your safety line, and the desire to reach the top of the wall, even when you can’t hold onto the rock face any longer, are mental attributes that must be honed and developed.  Like most other sports, though a gymnast’s physique is not required to attempt a climb on a rock face, the fitter you are, the higher you get.  This sport often provides the right impetus to get fit especially if you are seriously considering it as a long term hobby. Strong forearms, definitely help, but the major muscle groups required to be good at climbing are the Core Muscles. Increased endurance, fitness, muscle tone and enhanced stamina are just some of the attributes of this hugely popular sport.

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In Maharashtra, the Western Ghats, presents a beautiful backdrop for adventure enthusiasts who dare to indulge in “Rock Climbing’. The variety of rock formations and geological sites provide a plethora of locations for both amateurs and professionals to test their skill and endurance.  Exceptionally popular are the Kanheri caves within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, as well as the Mumbra Boulders and Manori Rocks on the outskirts of Mumbai city.  Another popular location is the scenic hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala.  The Karla Mountains, located 16 kilometers from Lonavala, are home to a cluster of caves with sheer rock faces which provide an ideal terrain for more seasoned climbers.  One of the most sought after sites for professional rock climber is the much coveted, Konkan Kada cliff located near the Harishchandragadh Fort. The cliff face is not just vertical but has an overhang resembling a distinct shape of a cobra’s hood.  Commanding a panoramic view of the Konkan with majestic views of the sunset, an amazing phenomenon of this site is the cloud burst, in which the low clouds approaching the cliff get forced up vertically, as a result of the winds pushing against the unusual geological feature of the cliff, forming a mystical cloud wall rising straight up from the cliff edge without passing over the top of the ridge. This surreal location often takes, not just hours, but days to ascend. The sheer beauty of the Sahyadris coupled with the experience of Rock climbing truly acts as an elixir of life.  The best season to set out for Rock Climbing in Maharashtra is in the month of October right through the winter when the weather is at it its best and the surroundings are lush with vegetation.  Though Rock climbing is possible from February to May, adequate precautions must be taken against the scorching sun to avoid dehydration.

Rock climbing, by virtue of a necessity and an ever increasing demand, has gradually branched from ‘Natural Rock Faces’ to ‘Artificial Wall Faces’. The age-old adage, ‘If you can’t go to the mountain, bring the mountain to you’, today literally comes to life with this sport.  Artificial walls have gained tremendous popularity especially in metropolitans like Mumbai and Pune, by far, increasing the accessibility of this sport.

dg5Unlike in Natural Rock Faces, where a wide variety of anchoring tools are required to establish routs on a wall or a cliff, in Artificial Walls, the routes are pre-set.   Built to order, with various pre-existing hand and foot holds, the technical equipment is greatly reduced to a rope, seat harnesses, carabineers and at the most, a descender. Often, novices can make an attempt on the Artificial Rock wall without even worrying about wearing rock climbing shoes. The introduction of ‘Artificial Rock Walls’ in cities has had a major impact, popularizing the sport like never before. Used as a testing ground to train proper technique and balance to young and amateur climbers, often it is used just to encourage people to participate in a novel and fun activity. Some of the most popular Artificial Rock Walls located in Mumbai are ‘The Gold Gym’ Rock wall, located at Bandra, ‘The Arun Samant Climbing Wall’ located in Goregain and ‘The Hakone Rock Wall’ located in Powai.  In Pune, ‘The Pimpri PCMA Sports Climbing Wall’ located in Annasaheb Nagar Stadium, Nehru Nagar, Pimpri is the highest ever International grade climbing wall.  In addition, ‘The Raja Shivaji Climbing Wall’ in Shivaji Nagar, was one of the first Artificial Walls built with the sole intention of encouraging young aspiring mountaineers. Private firms like Solaris Fitness World at Kothrud, Della Adventures at Lonavala and Adventure Plus Resort near Mahabaleshwar have also set up Artificial Rock Climbing Walls where adventure enthusiasts can pit their might against the forces of gravity.

With the advent of Adventure Sports in India, ‘Rock Climbing’ has truly emerged as the preferred passion for not just adrenaline junkies but also for fitness enthusiasts eager to try something else than the daily workout at the gym. With easy accessibility, reasonable rates, high energy and drive, “Rock Climbing” is truly a must do.

Tip Box

  1. Check the credentials of your climbing instructor before signing up for a workshop or a climb.
  2. Start on an ‘Artificial wall’ before graduating to a ‘Natural wall’. Accidents will be less costly.
  3. If it’s your first time on a wall, pay attention to the safety drill.
  4. If there isn’t a safety drill, insist on one.
  5. Remember to hydrate. Rock Climbing is a physically intensive sport. Dehydration often leads to cramping.

About Author 

Samir Patham: Trained in Mountaineering from the Western Himalaya Mountaineering Institute in Manali, Samir has been part of several High altitude climbs in the Nepal Himalayas and Ladakh region as well as lead over 7 Teams to the Everest Base Camp. An MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies (SIMS), and having worked in companies like Infosys, he left the corporate world to pursue his passion in Alpine sports and is today one 

 

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