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Meet the very interesting Pune boy Karn Kowshik, the Alpinist who’s living his dream of climbing unclimbed mountain peaks in the Himalayan range. He currently lives in Bhimtal, a small town near Nanital, after living in Leh, and Manali for some time.
1. How did it all start out for you? How did you end up in an offbeat , unconventional and cool career such as this?
I fell in love with the outdoors when I was 15; I was working for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and other small trekking outlets. Then I happened to go on a trek to Spiti Valley, Himachal, organised by WWF and that’s when I fell in love with the Himalayas.
Then life happened. I worked as a journalist for three years, but took a sabbatical and went back to the mountains. I realised then that I didn’t really miss my job! That was the moment I knew I was not meant to be a corporate.
I moved to Leh and guided a mountaineering group in summer when I was in my mid-20s. I also worked in some small bouldering rock climbing café, and then began my training to become a professional mountaineer.
2. How did you train to be a mountaineer?
When I went to Spiti for the first time, I didn’t need training because I’d climb and that was easy. Then gradually I aimed for higher peaks, because once you climb to the top of a mountain, the quest never stops.
To climb higher though, I realised I needed specialised skills. I did a basic and an advanced course in mountaineering from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling and spent a lot of time rock-climbing with my group at Girivihar in Mumbai, both of which helped me gain skills at mountain-climbing.
3. What’s Alpinism all about?
I started climbing mountains rather late in my life, so the training was really hard. Alpinism is different from mountaineering, because it involves no external support or the help of a sherpa.
We don’t fix ropes on the mountains, what we do is climb in a light and fast way. We try to climb peaks in 2-4 days that ideally take people weeks to cover. We take the bare minimum – one rope, little protection, dehydrated food. We rest very little, and it’s physically intensive, and technically harder. If you want to climb fast, you need to take the direct route to the summit, which is very steep. You require a high level of stamina and endurance, and be able to work at an altitude, where there’s less oxygen.
When non-climbers think of climbing a mountain, they think of Mt. Everest, but an Alpinist doesn’t consider Everest to be a difficult peak, even though it’s the highest peak in the world. That’s because technically, it’s not a difficult peak to climb. You just pull yourself up on the rope with help from a sherpa.
4. How do you keep fit?
My focus is to climb the unclimbed peaks in the Himalayas. Since we don’t have fancy Crossfit gyms here, we try being fit by using sledge hammer to break rocks, run about 5-8 km every day, do fast-trail walking which strengthens muscles in the lower leg, and also do a lot of rock climbing.
5. As a mountain guide, what are the key things you keep in mind?
As a guide, the three most important things we need to remember are: safety of the team, safety of the environment, achieving your goals/ enjoying. Since our clients don’t have the physical and technical skills needed to climb, we take them for simpler expeditions that don’t need much from their side.
6. What are the highlights of being an Alpinist in India?
I’ve done some climbing in the US, but for me there’s nothing like the Himalayas; it’s the only range that has unclimbed peaks. I’ve managed to climb the Bara Shigri Glacier till now, and there’s Latu Dhura peak that we’re officially going to climb soon. If we manage to climb it, we’ll be the first ones to have climbed it ever.
7. What do you do about food when you’re on one of your expeditions?
We first set up a base camp, where we have all our safety, food and warmth, but the challenge starts when we begin climbing. There are days we survive on Snickers, and if we’re lucky to get a flat surface then we make really bland food like rice, dal and chicken sausages. We melt ice and use it as water for cooking and drinking.
8. How do you get people to know what you’re doing and to come join you?
Word of mouth, primarily. We’ve also started a mountain guide’s club called Wolf Pack Collective; through which we try and organise expeditions for our clients and also concurrently, train them. Also I’ve noticed first-hand what climate change is exactly and its impact on earth in the coming years. So there’s also additional effort to educate people by making them witness the melting glaciers to give them an idea about the seriousness of climate change.
9. Any pro tips on mountain climbing…
Climb in the night, the ice is much more consolidated and safer. Rest during the day, and allow your body to get some sun.