Long way up
Sandeep Kumar Maity is gearing up to scale India's toughest bouldering routes, Ganesh in Badami, Karnataka. The Delhi resident, one of the country's few dedicated sport climbers, talks to Moeena Halim about the sport and the thrill of making it atop a steep sandstone cliff
Dusting his hands with a fistful of chalk, tightening the harness round his waist, Sandeep Kumar Maity gives himself a quick pep talk. The 20-year-old is gearing up to scale Ganesh, a boulder at Badami, Karnataka.
He has been attempting the daunting climb for a couple of days along with three other climbers. While two, Paige Claassen and Tuhin Satarkar, have managed to get to the top Maity hasn’t quite cracked it yet. But the 20-year-old is determined to overcome the challenge, thoroughly inspired by Frenchman Gérôme Pouvreau who successfully scaled the wall in 2011.
Every morning, he wakes up by 5 am so he can make it to the boulder before the sun rises. “With its steep overhanging and angle of the rock, Ganesh is one of the toughest routes to climb in India. I’ve almost made it to the top and hopefully will manage to scale it before I leave Badami,” says Maity, who stops climbing by about 7.30 am when the wall gets too hot to scale. “The rest of my day is spent recuperating, and giving my body enough rest to go climbing again the next morning,” he adds.
The towering red sandstone cliff, which is higher than 15 metres, has only been attempted with the help of harnesses and ropes. But bouldering, meant to be performed on rocks not more than six metres high, is typically done without the use of safety equipment. “That’s what sets it apart from other forms of rock climbing,” reveals Maity, who was first introduced to bouldering when he was about 12 years old. “I would climb the walls in school. It was such fun,” recalls the Vinay Nagar Bengali Senior
At 14, the Delhi boy began competing in inter-state and zonal competitions in disciplines such as lead climbing, speed climbing as well as bouldering. And this year, he made it to four World Cup events across France, Austria and Slovenia organised by the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). “My best performance was at Innsbruck, Austria in May. I made it to the semis,” says Maity with a hint of pride. “But I was extremely nervous at the beginning. I was up against people who had been competing for ten decades, while I’m only 20 years old. I performed pretty badly at Millau, France and was going to quit, but senior climber Vaibhav Mehta, who I stayed with in Paris, pushed me to continue so I could gain exposure and experience,” he divulges.
Bouldering is quite a popular sport worldwide, and has even found a place in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games to be held in Nanjing, China. “But the sport hasn’t gained much significance in India yet. This may be because it is an expensive sport. The equipment, such as the crash pack, chalk pack and climbing shoes aren’t manufactured locally, you have to get foreign brands shipped here,” rues the climber, who decided to take up the sport full time earlier this year instead of applying to colleges. “Our country has a lot of unexplored natural boulders waiting to be scaled and I plan to do just that,” says Maity, who is now being funded by the Arjun Vajpai Foundation.
Badami and the neighbouring Hampi alone are treasure troves for any sports climber. Over the past few weeks, Maity has managed to negotiate his way up quite a few of boulders including what are colloquially known as Surf Traverse and Crystal Ball. “We name the routes so they’re easy to identify. I’ve named one route in Badami, too. I called it Love at First Sight because I had been looking for this kind of route with a steep overhanging for a long time. When I managed to get to the top of it, I really did feel like I was in love,” says Maity laughingly.
With Badami in his bag, Maity will head to Hyderabad for a rock climbing competition, and then to Mumbai soon after to attend an international competition in Navi Mumbai. Come summer and the climber will head to the Himalayas, which is a haven for those keen on the sport.
With his next six months completely packed, Maity is gearing up both physically and mentally. “I work out at the gym and do something called fingers training. Climbers need to have extremely strong fingers and for that we do different pull ups using two or three fingers, finger boards and campus boards,” says Maity. But during the climb, he reveals, it isn’t merely about physical fitness. “You’ll be surprised to know that 60 per cent is about mental strength. It is all about getting your balance right,” reveals the climber.
“Typical retirement age is about 33 or 34 years. After that, sport climbers take to other climbing activities,” says Maity, who has over a decade to excel at the sport. Although awareness about the sport is growing, and there are climbers from across the country, Maity hopes that people learn to love bouldering the way he does.