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This Mumbai-based mountaineer is conquering summits to encourage enthusiasts

Updated on: 21 October,2023 10:05 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Devashish Kamble |

Nandini Sharma, a young, Mumbai-based mountaineer, is conquering summits with a vision to encourage enthusiasts to fuel this passion

This Mumbai-based mountaineer is conquering summits to encourage enthusiasts

(From left) Sharma teaches rock climbing at the high altitude warfare school in Sonamarg; she prepares for a high altitude zip lining session at the instructor training course in Pahalgam

Do all those books you read in school actually do any good in your life? For Nandini Sharma, 22-year-old city mountaineer and instructor, the answer is a resounding yes. “It all began in the fifth grade, when I read that Mount Everest stood as the world’s highest peak. That’s when a fire sparked inside me, and my deep-rooted love for mountaineering took its first breath. I knew, right then, I would stand there one day,” recalls Sharma.

Nandini SharmaNandini Sharma

Baby steps

Ironically, the Thane-resident, who has roots in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, trekked for the first time only in 2019 with her family. “I remember we trekked Brahmatal. When I reached the summit, I felt a unique sense of belonging and I realised this was my calling. I couldn’t contain my excitement and I danced my heart out right there,” says Sharma. She tells us that while treks — the term used for climbs as high as 5,000 m — are a challenge in themselves, the real test of a mountaineer’s mettle are expeditions, highly technical and complex climbs to peaks as high as 8,000 m and above.

Rise to the top

The young mountaineer scaled the Friendship peak (5,289 m) in Manali as her first expedition, but her reactions weren’t exactly what you would expect. “I wasn’t satisfied. I knew I had a long way to go and higher peaks to summit,” remarks Sharma, who attempted her first 6,200 m climb, Mt Kang Yatse 2, in 2022. “At 
6,000 m, the breathlessness started to set in and I was running a temperature of 103°F. I had to give up and unfurled the Indian National Flag before returning to base camp,” the mountaineer shares. She went on to summit Pt 6100, at the same expedition a week later. After a 5,000 m climb early this year at Kangchenjunga, and another at Mt Rhenock, Sikkim in May, she went on to complete her advanced mountaineering course from The Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports in Jammu and Kashmir. The latest feather in her cap was summiting Mt Machoi, a 5,393 m-high peak in Ladakh.

Sharma also trained in crevasse rescue techniques as part of the courseSharma also trained in crevasse rescue techniques as part of the course

Challenges in the way

“No amount of training can fully prepare you for the challenges you face in an expedition. Challenges come unannounced along the way and it’s always a different situation that you find yourself stuck in,” she adds. Recalling a particularly dangerous incident during the Mt Machoi trek, she says, “We were stopped in our tracks by a massive rockfall while manoeuvring through a steep gully. A few climbers were injured as we waited at the spot for hours for the way to clear.” Sharma also shares that at high altitudes and low temperatures, climbers risk falling into a deep sleep involuntarily that can sometimes prove fatal. Sharing an eerie insight into the lives of mountaineers, she tells us, “In the mountains, you are all alone. Many tend to talk to themselves in times of trouble to keep sane. Auditory and visual hallucinations aren’t uncommon either.”  

Turn to training

Sharma currently works as an outdoor educator where she trains young and old participants through treks and other outdoor adventures as a gateway activity to climbing with a broader goal to build a fitter community. When asked about her plans for the future, the climber shares that her vision is to create spaces for aspiring mountaineers across financial backgrounds and genders to get quality guidance. “I was often the only woman on many of my expeditions and treks. I want to build something that not only makes pursuing the sport more accessible but also guides mountaineers to finding employment in the field,” she shares. To that end, she has already trained for and received the government-recognised Method of Instruction certification, which will allow her to realise 
her dreams.

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Other mountaineers who are playing guide and mentor to aspirants

Sahyadri connection

Omkar Joshi

Omkar Joshi, a certified mountaineer and instructor from Dombivli, tells us that the aspirants in Maharashtra have a unique advantage owing to the state’s affinity with the Sahyadri mountain range. “Sahyadris is akin to a training ground for the climbers from Maharashtra. It acts as a stepping stone for the individuals who wish to enter into this field. While complete acclimatisation is not practically possible, gradual, staggered climbs in the Sahyadris can acclimatise mountaineers to a certain extent before they head to the Himalayas,” he explains. Joshi reveals that there has been a rapid growth in the number of aspirants in the field of mountaineering in and around Mumbai, post-lockdown.

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(From left) Omkar Joshi briefs students before a training session in Manali; Chirag Dhabalia teaches rock climbing in Darjeeling(From left) Omkar Joshi briefs students before a training session in Manali; Chirag Dhabalia teaches rock climbing in Darjeeling

Safety first

Chirag Dhabalia

Chirag Dhabalia, a Mumbai-based mountain climber and founder of Mount Me, an initiative that trains aspirants specifically with expeditions and summits in mind, reveals that most Indian mountaineers fall prey to accidents because of inadequate safety measures. “It shatters my heart when the news of yet another climber losing their life comes in. The onus is on mountaineering platforms like us to place unconditional emphasis on safety measures and drills. My vision is to give aspirants in the city exactly that, and hopefully see fewer unpleasant incidents happening in the future,” explains Dhabalia. 


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