Published: 20th August 2019
Meet Vaishak, a 22-year old mountaineer who has been helping the blind summit peaks
Vaishak J P, popularly known as The Trek Guy shares some of his experiences of guiding the visually impaired through trekking paths
A few years ago, a group of boys went trekking in the Ettina Bhuja hills located in the Chikkamagaluru district. With no proper guide or map, they lost their way in the forest for almost two days and thought they would never return home. Vaishak J P, now a 22-year-old enthusiastic mountaineer, was one of the boys in the group. While others would've never ventured out again, he realised his love for mountaineering and even decided to pursue a course in it. When he was 17 years old, he joined the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali, where he completed the Basic course in mountaineering with an A grade. Now, he has applied for the advanced course in mountaineering at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Taking the course
Introducing us to the different courses in mountaineering, Vaishak says, "There are different courses in mountaineering — Basic, Advanced, Instructor, Search and Rescue Operation. One has to compulsorily get an A grade in the Basic and Advanced courses to further qualify for the Instructor and Search and Rescue Operation courses. In the Basic course, they teach us skills like climbing rocks, snowy mountains and ice climbing. They also teach us river crossing, survival techniques, map reading, weather prediction, administering first aid, building stretchers using only rope and other necessary techniques. It is an interesting exploration but one has to practice walking long distances while carrying huge bags before they set out for mountaineering."
What an achievement: Vaishak along with Divyanshu Ganatra after summiting the Mount Kilimanjaro which is 5.895 metres high
Mountaineering for all
After completing the Basic course, Vaishak went on to intern with Equilibrium Climbing Station in Bengaluru — a place where many youngsters train in mountain climbing to participate in national and international championships. But did you know that mountain climbing is for everyone, even the visually impaired? Vaishak goes on to narrate the story behind becoming a guide to the visually impaired, "I have trained many people from different countries who would come to tour places like Hampi and Badami caves in Karnataka. Once, a group of 20 visually impaired students from an organisation called Adventures Beyond Barriers (ABB) approached us and expressed their interest in trekking. For the first time, I realised that mountaineering or trekking is meant for everyone, including those with all kinds of disabilities. I went along with the group as a guide and we trekked around the Western Ghats in Karnataka. The group was so happy that I got a full-time job as a guide for mountaineering, scuba diving and paragliding for ABB."
Conquering Mount Kilimanjaro
Identifying his talents and skills in mountaineering at such a young age, ABB's founder, Divyanshu Ganatra (who is also visually challenged) invited him to be one of his guides for the Mount Kilimanjaro summit in 2018. But before they set out on that epic journey, Vaishak and Divyanshu went on a cycling expedition from Manali to Khardung La. "It was a 550 km expedition spread over 10 days in August 2018. I was happy that we were building an inclusive world by guiding five blind people. This also helped us spend time together and understand the rhythm of our bodies and understand walking and riding capacity. Our activity timings during this expedition synced well," explains Vaishak, who has conducted more than 30 adventure camps for people with all kinds of disabilities including cancer survivors.
Inspiration to youth: Vaishak during one of his mountaineering expedition
A week after the cycling expedition, Vaishak and Divyanshu along with two visually impaired trekkers from Israel and 10 able-bodied trekkers set out on an expedition to scale Kilimanjaro. Vaishak, who is planning to start his own trekking company, says, "On September 13, 2018, we summited Mount Kilimanjaro. It was the first inclusive India-Israel expedition and Divyanshu was the first visually impaired Indian ever to summit the mountain. There are several challenges in guiding visually impaired people but it was different with Divyanshu, who was into trekking and rock climbing even before he turned blind at the age of 19. So he was aware of the nuances of this journey. When we guide blind people, we ensure that they are fit just like any other trekker." He adds, "Divyanshu would hold my right elbow with his left hand. Elbow movement plays a key role here. If you're climbing uphill, then your elbow would automatically move up. Then the person you're guiding realises that you're moving up. If the path is narrow and you want the person to be right behind you, then keep your elbow close to your body and they will understand that the path is narrow. This is how non-verbal communication takes place."
Vaishak's tips on the importance of safety while mountaineering
Safety is the biggest priority while mountaineering. While taking selfies and posting them on social media is understandable, one has to stand in a safe place before taking that selfie. There are several incidents where people have died when taking selfies while standing precariously on high altitude mountains
Always have a first aid certification where you will be trained to administer emergency first aid for anyone
Since mountaineering or rock climbing is all based on skills, one must learn from the right people. Thus, doing a certification course is an additional benefit