8th April'04 has created history as far as adventure sports in India is concerned. What started off in the minds of climbing veterans as an almost impossible feat culminated successfully into the 5 day hardcore adventure called “Experience the Triple Thrill – Lingana Valley Crossing, Climbing & Rappelling Program ”. This is the thrilling and detailed account of that historic climb.
Geographically, Lingana (585 ft.) lies in Mahad whereas Rayling Hill falls in Pune Region Lingana is the toughest natural rock climb in the Sahyadri mountains. The rock/soil found on Lingana is of Basalt type. Linganawadi is the base village for this hill/fort. The route to the caves from the base is a challenging one with steep slopes near the caves. The climb further up to the summit is the most difficult and arduous due to steepness and severe exposure to around 1800-2000ft. To traverse above the caves requires good climbing knowledge. Some of the caves have perennial water supply and to stay in them is quite a thrilling experience.
During the ancient days, Lingana fort, situated in the mid-portion of the hill used to be a prison housing hardcore prisoners. These prisoners were made to climb to the fort with the help of ladders and subsequently the ladders were removed once they reached the fort. The prisoners were kept here without food and water. As it is not possible to climb or descend the fort without proper aid, the prisoner died either of hunger, thirst or of fatal injury. Post Maratha period, this fort was completely destroyed by the British.
In the year 1978, Hira Pandit & 13 other courageous mountaineers first summitted Lingana Pinnacle. During those days there was not much equipment available and these climbers had to do their climb with basic equipment. Following years have seen many successful and unsuccessful attempts to summit the pinnacle, some even resulting in severe fatalities. Some rock climbers have rated the Lingana climb as 5.9 – 5.6, 5.10c as per rock climbing standards. However, these ratings are still not so accurate and are considered debatable.
Raigad and Torna are two prominent and strategically located forts that can be seen and accessed from Lingana.
In Dec 2003, Holiday Hikers, a prominent trekking group from Mumbai under the leadership of Arun Sawant along with the technical support of Dhumketu Trekkers, climbed Lingana to celebrate 25 years of the 1st Lingana Climb. During this camp, Arun Sawant came up with the idea of conducting a camp at Lingana that would involve multiple activities such as rock climbing, rappelling and valley crossing between Lingana & Railing Plateau (a distance of 1020ft) using the flying fox technique- a daunting task by any measure. Discussions with various climbing groups regarding technical support and expertise received major flak from all quarters. Finally, Dhumketu Trekkers decided to take up the entire responsibility of hosting and managing this mega event all by themselves. Additional manpower support and base camp infrastructure was provided by Dhananjay Madan of ‘Nisargamitra – Panvel' & Dr. Rahul Varange of ‘Sahyadri Mitra Giribhraman – Mahad'. Most important of all was the involvement of Mr. Hira Pandit in this project.
There have been few such programs involving valley crossing and rappelling organized in the past in the Sahyadri ranges, wherein valley crossing was done by the traditional method called ‘monkey crawl' . This was to suit the short distance between two points ranging to a maximum distance of about 500ft. But Arun wanted to do something different. His idea was to attempt a feat that no other adventure organization in India had. Gathering all the technical expertise available around him, he chose the best technical equipment currently available only abroad for the mammoth 1020 ft. Valley Crossing using the Flying Fox technique. Arun's worries were twofold: one, whether the participants would be able to go through this rigorous adventure, and two, how to organize the finances for conducting such a mega event. Keeping their fingers crossed, Arun and the Dhumketu team brushed aside all their fears and set forth to organize this fun, sporty adventure program.
No sooner had the bookings started the organizers received an overwhelming response and within a few days the event was over booked. They were 140 confirmed participants and they were separated into 5 batches. Each batch would take 3 days to complete their program in the following manner.
Day 1 – travel to base camp.
Day 2 – complete all activities.
Day 3 – return home.
High quality climbing & abseiling ropes, other related technical gear such as body and seat harnesses, different types of carabiners, pitons, chokes, mittens, etc. were brought and checked thoroughly. The task of fixing the ropes from Rayling Plateau to the caves in the middle of Lingana mountain was not an easy one, not to forget the challenging task of fixing the rock climbing ropes right up to Lingana Summit and rappelling ropes on 3 different sides on the hill.
Between January & February'04, volunteers from Dhumketu recced the Rayling Plateau area a total of 5 times to finalise the exact location from where the activity could be organized. Finally they decided on a small area at the edge of the plateau, which faces the eastern portion of Lingana. The volunteers then cleared the entire area and flattened most of it so that they could set camp on the plateau. The camp, including a huge kitchen to cater to all the volunteers and participants over the next 10 days, was set on 4/4/04. Testing and mock runs were conducted on all the activities for at least 2 days to ensure complete safety and technical satisfaction.
The Triple Thrill Program
Finally the eventful day arrived. Participants arrived in batches into Pune from different parts of Maharashtra . They were then transported to the nearest base village called Varoti, which is about 3 hrs away from Pune. From Varoti, participants trekked for about 3.5 hrs to reach the base camp.
Beholding the massive huge Lingana hill right in front them, the participants were not only roused, but eager to perform the mammoth feat they had been waiting for so many weeks!
The program started off well and the first 7 people who did the valley crossing were taken right up to the summit. Going up to the summit was an extremely difficult task as many of the participants were not familiar with the abc's of climbing. In view of all possible constraints, the summit attempt was cancelled. However a 125ft of rock climbing was introduced for climbing novices so that they could still enjoy the sport.
During the valley crossing, there was a sense of wonder amongst all participants on what might be the scenario if one loses ground only to travel at blazing speed across the valley at a height of 1800 ft and reach the other side within 6-8 minutes! Once they reached the other side however, their joy knew no bounds. A sheer sense of achievement could be seen on their faces. The participants then attempted a 125ft rock climb higher on the hill. This was conducted with proper technical support. After the rock climb, the participants rappelled 125ft down to the cave situated next to the valley crossing landing point, completed the final rappel of about 360ft down the hill, and reached the column between Lingana and Rayling hill. They then carefully traversed the base of Rayling hill climbed up a mountain pass called ‘Boratachya Nal' and returned to the base camp which involved at least an hours trek.
The entire program went of well as per schedule and was a tremendous success. The volunteers finally returned home on 13 th April'04 . Reports on the success of this event have since been flashing in most of the newspapers, Internet news sites and on television. Since then, Dhumketu Trekkers have approached the Limca Book of Records to record their remarkable feat of the ‘Longest Valley Crossing – 1020ft' in Asia and hope to receive a favourable response.
Kudos to Arun Sawant, Dhumketu Trekkers and all the participants who made this event an adventurous and memorable one…
A few hard facts one should know about this camp
Base Camp Trek : 3 hrs trek from Varoti Village to Rayling Plateau (base camp)
Valley Crossing : 1020ft – Rayling Plateau to Lingana Caves
Rock Climbing : 125ft – Above Lingana Caves
Rappelling : A total of 485ft – from final Rock climbing point to the base of Lingana
Camp Setup : 4 th April, 2004
Camp Schedule : 8 th April, 2004 to 12 th April, 2004
Camp Closure : 13 th April, 2004
Types of ropes & length used : Special Ropes made by M/s. Todi & Company, Mumbai
14mm dia Rope used for Main Valley Crossing-1400 mtrs
10mm dia Rope used for Push Pull technique for Valley Crossing-1100 ft.
10mm dia additional Rope used for Valley Crossing - 2200 ft.
Total Equipment Weight : 1.2 Tonnes
Technical Experts involved : Mr. Arun Sawant, 10 Members from Dhumketu Trekkers and an additional 10 people were trained for support.
No of batches & participants : 5 batches with a total of 167 people completed the Valley Crossing (140 participants & 27 guest members)
No of participants who finally summitted Lingana : 7 participants
Youngest Participant (Boy) : Anuj Singh – 6 yrs old
Youngest Participant (Girl) : Aroshi Sawant – 8 yrs old
Oldest Participant : Digambar Jamdade – 72 yrs old
2-People Valley Crossing : Rakhi & Kartik Mahtre, mother & son duo, did their valley crossing together.
Special Comments : Umesh Padekar – The only handicapped participant with polio trekked up to the base camp and successfully completed the valley crossing and rapelling activity.
21st April, 2004
P.S. the writer himself participated in the above activities and is proud to have been part of such a memorable event.