What is Rock Climbing
Rock climbing possesses all the technical elements of mountaineering but does not take place in alpine conditions. It is, therefore, a sport in its own right. The objective is to climb rock walls using nothing but your hands and feet. It is about defying gravity at all odds, and also about testing your physical and mental strength. The exhilaration of completing even a 10-minute ‘boulder problem’ or traverse leaves you “pumped up” and rejuvenated.
Rock climbing is like traditional climbing but it is practiced on routes previously equipped with bolts and anchors. This allows the sport to be practiced with greater safety and with smaller investment in equipment. This type of climbing can be practiced both on natural rocks and on artificial walls. On rocks, the route lengths are typically between 25m and 50m (between 82ft and 164ft), but it is common to find routes several times these lengths. Climbing walls are generally built of concrete or wood panels, to which footholds are bolted, similar to the ones found on rock. The wall’s height and form depends largely on the purpose for which it was constructed training or competition.
History of Rock Climbing
The first references to rock climbing as an independent discipline apart from mountaineering date back to 1911, to Europe, where there was a distinction between free and artificial climbing the difference being that the latter was practiced without any support or equipment at all. Between the 1930s and the 1950s, artificial climbing developed greatly, and in the 1950s pitons were introduced. In the 1960s the climbing harness was developed, an important safety development. It was in the 1970s when people started to talk about free climbing nothing of the pitons and drilling that damaged the rocks, but with the focus solely on ascending by the climber’s own means. This, however, limited the increase in difficulty levels, which was the reason why at the end of the 70s the spit a pressure nail with an expander and a metal nucleus which is inserted in a hole in the rock, and a perforated board for the snap harness was introduced. For some, the invention of the spit was the beginning of modern rock climbing.
Rock Climbing in India
The mountaineering institutes in India started rock climbing mainly to “train for mountaineering”. The sport started gaining popularity in the 1980s and the impetus largely came from visiting climbers and from Indians who got opportunities to climb overseas. Moreover, a number of Indian climbers have done courses in places such as ENSA, the national alpine skiing school in Chamonix, France, and this has led to the development of many climbing areas, and, subsequently, to higher climbing standards in the country. With more and more Indians taking to the sport, and even performingwell at international levels, rock climbing has a promising future in India. Rock climbing certainly has much going for it. There is a great sense of discovery and exploration while climbing in India. Climbing areas are often close to interesting historical or cultural sites, while the potential to discover new areas and routes is huge. In addition, there is a whole range of climbs possible in the 200m-1000m range, from the ‘big walls’ of the Himalayas (the Gangotri gorge) to the volcanic rock formations of Mount Abu (Rajasthan) and the magnificent granite formations of Hampi (Karnataka). And unlike the popular climbing areas in Europe and North America, which have queues of climbers waiting to attempt classic climbs, and where the holds are permanently caked with chalk, Indian climbing routes, even on public holidays, are rarely ever crowded. One can enjoy the solitude on the rocks.
Rock climbing destinations in India
Rock climbing sites abound in India. As the activity becomes more popular across the country, new crags are being discovered and climbed by enthusiasts. This is not an exhaustive list, and only some popular and world-class climbing areas in the country are listed and described here.
Delhi (best season, October to March): All three rock-climbing areas are located in Delhi’s green belt. They give you a good opportunity to get away from the pollution and madness of Delhi without planning much in advance.
Ramjas Rocks Located in West Patel Nagar in the heart of Delhi, these rocks are sandstone walls and slabs. The rocks’ height varies between 20ft and 60ft.
PBG Rocks Located on forest land on the Delhi Ridge, land which comes under the control of the President’s bodyguard cavalry unit, these sandstone rocks have a height of between 10ft and 30ft
Lado Sarai Situated in a park (under the control of the Delhi Development Authority) between the Qutab Minar and Saket colony. The sandstone rocks here have good friction and are 10m (approx.) high. They offer routes easy enough for the novice and challenging enough for the expert. The rocks consist of two formations called the ‘stack’ (with a 12th-century 15ft minaret on top) and ‘old man’. Cracks, face climbs even a chimney can be attempted here.
Around Delhi (best season, October to March)
Dhauj (Haryana) Located about 55km from Delhi, easily accessible from the capital. Dhauj has a scenic climbing area by a lake which is often visited by migratory birds, and offers over 250 routes of varying grades of difficulty. The solid quartzite rocks here range in height from 10m to 40m.
A feature in Dhauj called the ‘Prow’ is an ideal climbing patch for beginners. The no-bolt ethic is strictly adhered to in this traditional climbing area; very few climbs here have fixed protection other than a few pegs on the harder routes.
Damdama (Haryana): Another scenic climbing area by a lake, also easily accessible from Delhi (65km), offering excellent climbing. The climbs here, protected by ‘nuts’ and ‘friends’, range in height from 20ft to 120ft.
Uttarakhand (best season, May-June / September-October)
Uttarkashi The Nehru Institute of Mountaineering rock climbing area at Tekla is ideal for bouldering and offers a range of climbing possibilities, including basic climbs for beginners.
The Gangotri gorge from Bhaironghati (9000ft) to Chirbas (12,500ft), a distance of around 20km, offers great potential for big-wall routes on granite walls. Climbing at 11,000ft, high above the River Bhagirathi, with stupendous views of lofty Himalayan peaks like Sudershan and Manda (20,000ft), makes for an awesome experience. Ascents of some of these walls have been attempted by Indian and foreign mountaineers.
Most of the routes are concentrated within 3km of Gangotri town, close to the road. The walls range in height from 100m to 1000m, and are located on the right bank of the Bhagirathi. The area offers good granite climbing (cracks and face climbs).
Manikaran Spires With rock towers going up to 15,000ft, this area has tremendous potential for exploration.
Manali Areas in and around Manali town offer many opportunities for climbing, while the Kullu Valley boasts exciting rock-climbing potential.
Rajasthan (best season through the year, except during the monsoon months)
The hill station of Mount Abu, situated at an altitude of 3000ft, offers good climbing especially for beginners. The area has some great volcanic rock formations. The state mountaineering institute here (started, ironically, by the Gujarat government in the late 1960s) offers courses for beginners.
Brahma Kumari Ashram This is the training area for the state mountaineering institute adjacent to the famous tourist attraction, Nakki Lake.
Golden Horn Spire Even the hike to the spire is worth the effort. Located 6km from Mount Abu, there are some interesting climbs here.
Adhar Devi Slabs The slabs above the temple are perfect for beginners and have six routes approximately 150m high. Climbing on the slabs is fun, and you’re rewarded with great views of Nakki Lake, and the old summer homes of the erstwhile maharajas of Rajasthan.
The Western Ghats around Mumbai are a haven for rock climbers, and innumerable climbs have been attempted here. Though free-climbing possibilities are limited due to the weathered nature of the rock, many exciting climbs have been done on the pinnacles around Mumbai. Some of the climbs involve long walks and logistical support. Kanheri Caves, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali The boulders in the park offer some interesting climbs. There are a couple of sections where climbing is popular the lower section with boulders is ideal for beginners, while the second section is a cliff and a 70ft slab with good climbs. Parsik Hills, Mumbra Challenging boulders, ideal for beginners; these hills have some classic long routes. Manori Rocks, Malad Located on the sea front, between the Manori and Gorai beaches, climbing on the cliffs here is only possible during low tide. The main stack is called the ‘Camel’, with rocks between 4m and 10m. The rocks are of good quality, and offer something for every level of climber. To the right of the ‘Camel’ is a big cave called ‘Bethlehem’; to its left are small walls (and good bouldering). There is a bolt anchor on top of the stack and climbs are usually top-roped. Pavagadh, Gujarat
Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh There are a number of multi-pitch climbs possible on good sandstone in the area. Many cliffs here still await a first ascent.
Susunia Hills The Himalayan Association, a Calcutta-based club, initiated rock- climbing courses here in 1961 with help from Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling. The granite and sandstone rocks here (1440ft, 3km-long) come with a few difficult pitches but are ideal for beginners and intermediate-level climbers.
Jai Chandi Hills The Mountain Lovers Association, an Asansol-based club, was the first to start rock climbing here. Since then, a number of clubs from West Bengal have started offering rock-climbing courses. Three hills Jogidhal, Kalipahar and
Chandipahar comprise the Jai Chandi Hills (250m-300m). There are good climbing and bouldering areas for beginners at the base, besides chimneys, overhangs and granite walls for multi-pitch aid climbing.
Matha Buru Located at the base of Ajodhya Hills (2120ft). This area has been divided into three climbing zones covering a range of climbing options from bouldering and traversing for the novice to overhangs and multi-pitch climbs for the advanced climber.
Darjeeling The Tenzing and Gombu rocks make up the basic rock-climbing facility of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Hampi The magnificent granite-rock formations here offer numerous opportunities for rock climbing and some amazing possibilities for bouldering. Boulders, between 4m and 100m high, dotted amid ruins, are spread out over an area of 14sq.km around Hampi.
Badami From steep overhanging boulders to large sandstone cliffs, this area offers generous opportunities for climbing. There’s also potential aplenty for new routes.
Bangalore An area around Bangalore, of a radius of 60km, boasts possibly the biggest concentration of granite in India. The rocks here range from 3km-long boulder fields to rock domes rising 300m. Among the excellent climbing areas around the Garden City include Ramanagram, Savandurga (with a host of multi-pitch climbs), Thuralli and Raogodlu (great bouldering).
Kambakkam Approximately 100km north of Chennai, this area is ideal for camping, hiking and rock climbing; there’s scope here for a range of new climbs.
1. All Indian mountaineering institutes, including Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (Uttarkashi), Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (Darjeeling) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (Manali) teach rock climbing as part of adventure/mountaineering courses. The state-run mountaineering and rock climbing institute at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, and General Thimmaya Adventure Academy near Bangalore, also run adventure courses.
2. A number of adventure clubs run rock-climbing courses for beginners. A few specialized adventure tour operators have also started offering custom-made rock- climbing trips in India. Choose a club, or an adventure tour operator, which is highly safety conscious, and which also has an unblemished safety record and reasonably good equipment.
1. As with all adventure sports it helps to be in good shape.
2. You must begin at beginner’s level, starting with ‘bouldering’ on smaller rocks and traversing (going horizontally across the rock face). Bouldering is the purest form of climbing and entails mounting boulders up to 5m high without any specialized equipment. All that is required is body agility and a certain amount of physical fitness. You can boulder by using a special pair of tight-fitting shoes with smooth high-friction rubber soles and a chalk bag (magnesium carbonate, to prevent sweaty hands) tied around the waist. Traversing will help you learn about holds and balancing.
3. Do venture out with an experienced climber the first few times to learn about holds, balancing and the dos and don'ts of climbing.
4. No specialized equipment is needed initially till you gain a fair amount of proficiency. If you decide to go in for more difficult multi-pitch climbs, then you’ll need ropes, harnesses and technical rock-climbing equipment.
5. Frayed ropes and weathered equipment can be dangerous. Do ensure that international-quality equipment (such as gear certified by the UIAA, the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation) is used. Some manufacturers do peddle spurious and unsafe climbing gear. If you have any doubts, do check with an experienced climber.
6. Always climb with a good, preferably UIAA-certified, climbing helmet.
7. There is no dearth of “experts” in India. Bear in mind that it is one thing to be a good climber and another to be a proficient, safety-conscious instructor and responsible adventure leader.
8. When you are out rock climbing on your own, always check your climbing equipment and ropes thoroughly before setting off. Remember the injury you may prevent or the life you may save may be your own or that of a fellow climber.
9. Permissions: Some rock-climbing areas such as Jai Chandi hills in Purulia district (West Bengal) require permission for camping (from the Divisional Forest Officer, Purulia).
10. Do check with local clubs or climbers about permissions, local conditions, access, specialized gear requirements, medical and rescue facilities, etc., when you plan a climbing trip. It is useful to have a local contact to help you other than Mohit Oberoi's ‘Guide to Rock Climbing In and Around Delhi’, no other guides to the sport are currently available. Local climbers are usually very valuable, and enjoy showing the climbs in the area.
11. Getting a weather forecast is always helpful.
12. Apart from finding out about local medical help/rescue facilities, do carry a first-aid kit with you to the rocks. It’s important to be familiar with basic first aid.
13. Since climbing in India is often done in hot or humid conditions, do ensure that you carry lots of potable drinking water with you, and drink lots of fluids.
For foreign climbers:
1. No permission is required for rock climbing in India, so long as you are within the inner line.
2. Permission for climbing mountaineering peaks with big walls, such as Thalay Sagar in Uttarakhand, is required from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
3. It is advisable to carry all technical gear and ropes with you since the quality of most gear available in India currently is not up to the required UIAA norms.
4. Travel guides such as the Harper Collins series and Lonely Planet are helpful in planning logistics and access.
5. It is advisable to get an insurance policy that covers air evacuation.
6. Currently, there are no specialized mountain rescue teams in India.
7. Before you go climbing, find out about the nearest medical facilities, ambulance services, and also other climbers, in the area.
8. It can get very warm climbing in the midday sun in India. Do keep the fluid intake up, and watch out for sunburn and heatstroke.
The recent Supreme Court judgement on a public interest litigation to ban quarrying in the Aravallis has come as a big boon for the sport of rock climbing in the north of the country. The unsavoury sight of favourite climbing areas and climbs falling prey to dynamite, dump trucks and an unquenchable human tendency to wantonly destroy our “natural heritage” is often a huge negative while going out climbing. The adventure fraternity should do whatever it takes to prevent this kind of depredation and preserve our wilderness areas. So please:-
1. Do leave the rock-climbing areas cleaner than you find them and carry out all non- biodegradable litter with you.
2. Do keep a low profile while climbing near temples and other areas of worship.
3. Do not deface rocks by etching messages either political or those declaring undying love for your beloved.
4. Do not drill rocks to make hand holds.
5. Bolting (using expansion bolts) should be avoided on existing climbing routes, and on routes/boulders where top-roping is possible.
6. Do consult local climbers whenever possible for climbing ethics of the area; Dhauj, near Delhi, is a traditional climbing area where the no-bolting ethic is strictly adhered to.
Guide to Rock Climbing in and around Delhi` by Mohit Oberoi, available (on sale) at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation library (Benito Juarez Marg, Anand Niketan, New Delhi).