Saturday, October 24, 2009

79 Rock-Climbing Students on the Wall

(...sung to the tune of 99 Bottles of Beer)  A week here at NIM's Basic Mountaineering course has gone relatively smoothly and we're about to head up into the mountains for 18 days of mountain skills.  The last week has been spent on logistics and basic rock climbing skills, and it's time to find some snow.

All in all, I'm actually pleasantly surprised by the whole system.  I'd heard many things about the army-based teaching system and the comparative isolation of the climbing community and techniques here.  But despite some rather old-school equipment (gear is not only subject to up to 50% import duty, but comparatively very expensive relative to earnings) and techniques (I've never actually done a shoulder-body rappel!) the teaching progression is quite good and remarkably effective for a group of 79 students!

This group is broken into rope teams of 5-7 students, each with an assigned instructor for practice sessions.  So there's a lecture on rappeling, for instance, then I take my 6 ladies (17-40 years of age, 3 different languages) and we practice the skill.  Always with some time constraint, but with the ability to show details and ask questions.  Turns out, this is the first Basic course that has been offered co-ed.  There is always (has been since the founding in 1968, admirably) a women-only course, but just one a year.  So this is an experiment in mixing the Basic course; usually only the very advanced courses like Search and Rescue are mixed.  So far it seems to be going well - my group is usually slower (than the guys or the other women), but the instructors have made the logistics work around this really well.

On the flip side, I've learned things like how to rappel with a rock hammer, normally used to place pitons (amazed picture with one of two foreign students, right), pack with canvas stuff sacks, and sit separately from the students.  I've gotten slightly used to being addressed as "madam" in India, but it's proscribed here by the military setup of the place - students and instructors/staff are very much separated.  They get their cafeteria food (Indian curries and chappatis) by standing in line past a serving window, we get to sit at a table and have it brought to us.  I understand why it works this way, and it does work, it's just tough for someone who never (never?) thinks of herself as better or more worthy of not sitting on the ground than anyone else.

So things are good, and we're headed up into the mountains for 18 days tomorrow.  Porters, canvas tents, afternoon tea, and some time up high!  See you soon...

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