Young and adventurous: Meet the mountain athlete who represented India at international circuit

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Ishani Sawant, a young upcoming rock climber and mountaineer from Pune represented India at the British Mountaineering Council’s Women’s International Meet, co-organised by  The Pinnacle Club. Breaking all gender stereotypes and leaving her career in law behind, Ishani is an adventure professional who trains cadets of National Defence Academy in climbing, has several records on her name and hasn’t ever let anything or anyone stop her from reaching the top, quite literally.

Only 20 international climbers from all over the world were selected for a week of “trad climbing” in North Wales, United Kingdom. They were mostly sponsored by their country federation but such provision is not available in India and finally Wildcraft agreed to her.

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Describing her experience, Ishani says, “I got to climb at one of the best climbing crags in Wales and on a variety of rocks, every day at new location.  I lead lots of multi-pitch routes on quartzite, slate, volcanic rocks, dolerite, at sea-cliffs, on holyhead mountain, tremadog etc. We were paired with UK hosts, 80 of them were there to manage the entire event.

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Trad climbing is a style of rock climbing in which the lead climber places all gear required to protect against falls, and the belayer removes it as he climbs up.  There are only a handful of “Trad climbers” in India and hardly any women doing it, compared to hundreds of sport climbers and mountaineers who have been climbing bolted routes for over a decade now.

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“It was inspiring to climb with so many elder women, of all ages, who were climbing really strong and were very supportive. I got to know more about the technicalities which are never taught to us here. On one of the days, we climbed at sea-cliffs where the ambiance is so different, the waves gushing and hitting the rocks, there are continuous calls of sea-gulls, it was lovely at the same time quite extreme.”

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After the meet she did a Training Course to become the first certified SPA Instructor. About it she says, “Although I already work as Instructor, am good at doing such setups in wilderness and have been doing it outdoors for hundreds of events, I was still not sure whether what I am doing is exact, how it can be improved and other technicalities. Hence doing this course was also a great experience for me to gain and imbibe International Standards, practices and procedures followed by world class climbers and mountaineers. Since I am looking to advance in my profession, these certifications and exposure would be of great importance. I was not able to fund for it myself so I took a loan from my friend.”

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She then went to London where  inZpiring horiZons, owned by Mishtu Tiwary, sponsored her for training at one of the best rock climbing gyms in UK to learn about method of instruction, how the courses are conducted, etc.

“The rock climbing gyms are so huge with hundreds of routes, so many holds and features and everyone is so interested to climb that the walls are open throughout the day. While kids in our country go to restaurants to celebrate their birthdays, the 4 year old kid had brought his 8 friends to the gym to climb and celebrate it!” explains Ishani.

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Even before coming to UK, Mishtu was constantly helping her choose the right kind of course, she talked to the gyms to allow Ishani to shadow the Instructors there, get permissions for those training.  “I owe her a lot” says Ishani.

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Ishani is trying to promote mountaineering and rock climbing as a “safe” adventure sport in India, to get more people and especially youth into it. It’s very difficult to take this up as a career here, and all the more being a woman. Climbing scene is growing. More and more kids are going for treks and outdoor sports. It’s a task to find good rock climbing instructors whom we can rely on for safety and technical perfection. Ishani says, “When I am myself trained, I will be spreading knowledge and awareness wherever and whenever I get opportunity to do it.” She has shared all that she learnt with other Outdoor Educators here who do not have access to such much needed professional skills. She has to go back to UK for assessment next year to get the certification.

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Next month, Ishani will be going to Himalayas for peak climbing expeditions, one of it is by Indian Mountaineering Foundation but she has to get high-altitude gear and equipment, and the travel expenses and rent for it is huge so has to run for sponsorships again. Ishani says, “This is diverting my focus from training and workout and stressing me out.  I got this loan to payback. Hopefully I get some sponsorship to go for it, without whose support climbing will still be a distant dream.”

She wants to thank Wildcraft and inZpiring horiZons for making this trip possible and also specifically thank Samiran Kolhe, Rohit Vartak, Ganesh Geedh for coaching her.

“I have always believed in Making It Happen… I don’t have climber parents who have taught me since I was a kid and additionally there are so many obstacles coming in the  way, people nagging you down, orthodox mind-set of community at large, these just tends to demotivate greatly but having faith in myself and a mad desire to keep climbing doesn’t let me stop…  Wish to continue it, for my life!” are her parting remarks.

Follow her on twitter and instagram @adventureishani. More about her on blog.

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