By Apoorva Prasad
At first glance, rock climbing seems complicated, difficult and dangerous. But climbers also look seriously fit, ripped, flexible... and insanely cool. Luckily for the average guy, there's also a very safe, accessible and regulated version of rock climbing – it's called sport climbing, and it's easily do-able in practically every Indian metropolis.
Artificial climbing walls have sprung up all over India in recent years, and top Indian athletes have been competing worldwide. But how can you get started? Ganesh Chettri and Mohit Oberoi are two climbers from wildly different backgrounds and generations. They both have the same advice for young Indians looking to get into the climbing game.
Climb to get fit... Get fit to climb: Climbing itself will get you fit, but you can't start climbing if you're overweight or otherwise physically unprepared for strenuous activity. ”Physical fitness is the most important aspect of sport climbing competitions,” says 28-year-old Chettri, formerly the country's top-ranked sport climber and member of India's national team. A cool head is also important. “Mental preparation is also critical,” adds Chettri, who's now dropped competing in favour of coaching younger climbers to better compete internationally. But starting out doesn't need Olympic levels of fitness or preparation – good old running and swimming are good enough ways to build a base. And mentally, just be ready for something a little out of the normal... and trust your instructor.
But don't over train: Like in any sport, “be careful of overdoing it,” says Mohit Oberoi, who's possibly the country's most experienced rock climber, former national team coach, and the writer of Delhi's only climbing guidebook. “Lots of competition climbers get fatigued when coaches push them to climb till they drop dead. [Figuratively, of course!] That's pointless,” he says.
For Chettri, yoga is a great way to stretch, cool down and balance out sport climbing's twitchy power bursts. “Yoga is both physical and mental,” he says. Just like the sport.
Join a club or your local wall: If you can jog down your street without collapsing, and aren't prone to panic attacks, head over to your nearest sport climbing wall. “Find a local wall, at stadiums, schools or even camps,” says Oberoi, who's also the owner of Outdoor School, which builds international-level competition walls across the country. Most large Indian cities and towns have excellent artificial climbing walls, with a readymade group of people to hang out with and learn the ropes from, so to speak. There are also open groups on Facebook that take first-timers out. At the very worst, you'll make a new group of friends.
Be safe: Safety is pretty crucial for rock climbing. All artificial sport walls come equipped with bolts as well as top rope anchors. As a beginner, you won't be expected to do anything requiring technical rope skills. “I took young people climbing outdoors too, and we just rigged a lot of top-ropes. They don't do any leading,” says Oberoi. 'Leading' is a technical term denoting the practice of a climber clipping a rope to anchors as he climbs to protect him, but still leaving him (or her) open to falls twice the distance to the last anchor. While this is also done on sport climbing walls in India, “beginners don't have to do anything except follow instructions and just climb up”, says Oberoi.
Get a sporting culture: Chettri comes from the Darjeeling, home to India's Sherpa community. India's northeast regularly takes in a large haul of medals in any competition, says Oberoi, because these states have a sporting culture. So it's up to you to get in the spirit and surround yourself with people who think likewise. Rock and sport climbing are addictive, and have a subculture all of their own – once you get immersed, it's hard to get out. And who'd want to?!
Have fun! Climbing comes instinctively to human beings. We're all 96% monkeys anyway – watch any fearless two year old in a jungle gym. As adults, we've forgotten what came naturally to us as kids. Sport climbing is safe, easy and the funnest way to get fit. So get on the wall and have a blast!
Photo: Apoorva Prasad
Apoorva Prasad is the Managing Editor of Men's Life Today India, and former staff writer on Maxim India's launch team. He's also contributed to Outlook Traveller and internationally, Gizmodo, The Australian, France 24 and Climbing magazine, among others. A bit of a climber himself, Apoorva graduated the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering's advanced course in 2002.