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Survival lessons on tricky terrain

- TSAF duo back from US adventure course, will use new skills to boost activities

Building snow shelters in biting cold, skiing, river expeditions and rock climbing over a period of three months is a tiring and dangerous exercise.

But, Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) manager Hemant Gupta (24) and senior instructor Sandeep Tolia (37) feel the outdoor leadership skills they learnt on a recent stint in the US have been worth the effort.

The duo are now gearing up to use their newly acquired expertise to add zing to the activities of the adventure outfit.

“We pursued a three-month outdoor educator semester at National Outdoor Leadership School in the US from February 17 to May 16. The course focused on building leadership skills, inculcating expedition behaviour and teaching ways to survive in extreme conditions,” said Hemant.

He added that they started with an 18-day winter expedition in Teton National Park. “We were dropped off on a road with food and fuel. Shelter materials were carried on sledge and rucksacks. Apart from three instructors, we were 10 people. After the full avalanche curriculum, we received Level 1 recreational certification,” he said.

Hemant further said that they learnt skiing and making shelters among other activities. “We built snow shelters called Quigloo. It was a tough job as we worked continuously for 6-7 hours. At times, the minimum temperature was around –30°C. Research by the US cradle has found that one burns 8,000 calories per day by working in such severe conditions,” Hemant recalled, adding that they did sit-ups in the middle of night to keep the body warm.

Sandeep said that frost bite was a major threat. “We took care of our feet, fingers and each other. You have to perform and show leadership skills,” he said. He added that he and Hemant did not have any skiing experience and the task was very challenging.

“We also learnt about wildlife and the terrain and spotted fox, coyotes, moose and heard wolves screaming in the night,” he added.

Next to come was a river expedition through a desolate canyon. “It was a 11-day journey in the river with rapids. We learnt how to paddle in rapids and risk management skills,” Hemant said.

“The canyon section was the most exciting semester. It focused on land navigation with map, compass and GPS. Terain was bushcraft or desert. Canyons are like wonderland, beautiful and unexplored. We practised skills of canyoneering (rappelling), climbing, pack passing, swimming and wading,” Sandeep said.

The duo also took part in a student expedition during which they were without instructors for five days. “We had to plan out our own route and take decisions in tough situations,” he added.

They said they would implement their learnings to improve TSAF’s courses, add new ones and inculcate team-building activities.

“We have gained a positive approach and developed confidence. We thank Bachendri Pal and Tata Steel for sending us on the exercise,” said Sandeep.

Bachendri, chief of Tata Steel adventure programmes, said skills picked up by Hemant and Sandeep would be implemented in TSAF activities. “I am looking forward to making TSAF a demanding classroom where people can learn outdoor living,” the legendary climber said.