WALL CLIMBING AS A RECREATIONAL SPORT WITH NIRAJ KARKI
Wall climbing as a recreational activity has steadily gained traction in Nepal. Although futsal remains the undisputed winner in the sector, wall climbing is becoming increasingly more popular. What was once a fringe activity has now secured a strong foothold with partakers coming in from all demographics.
But scaling treacherous verticals is not for everyone. It takes a toll on your body but you will be hard pressed to find another sport that activates as much of your body as wall climbing does, not to mention the adrenaline coursing through your veins when you’re 40 feet off the ground.
One of the best facilities available in the country is located at Thamel called Astrek Climbing Wall. We had a chat with Niraj Karki, GM at Astrek and discussed the prospects of wall climbing in Nepal.
TNM: TELL US ABOUT ASTREK WALL CLIMBING AND HOW IT STARTED.
Astrek first started in the year 2007 but during that time the only people that came here to climb were mountaineers and professionals. Back then, very few people took it as a recreational sport for the general masses. We only came into limelight around 2012 after an event called Climbmandu which is Nepal’s biggest wall climbing competition. There have only been about 3 climbing gyms in Nepal, it was a completely new concept in Nepal. Astrek now serves as the hub for professional climbers and also a recreational activity for kids and adults both. So, we are this interesting melting pot of ideas between the Nepali climbers and the international climbers.
TNM: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE SPORT?
Nepal got the license for competing in international wall climbing competitions in 2012 but I was already climbing before that because it was a hobby of mine. However, professionally, I came into the climbing scene in 2012 when I worked for Climbmandu as an event coordinator. I didn’t compete as a participant. One thing led to another and I ended up with an offer to run Astrek and I have been here ever since.
IT’S INTERESTING BECAUSE IN CLIMBING YOU USE THE WEAKEST PART IN THE BODY, WHICH IS FINGERS, AND YOU HANG ON THEM, YOU CANNOT USE YOUR PALM EITHER. IT IS VERY DEMANDING.
TNM: WALL CLIMBING HAS BEEN AROUND IN NEPAL FOR A LONG TIME AND MANY PEOPLE HAVE TAKEN IT UP AS A RECREATIONAL HOBBY AS WELL. HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED FOR THE SCENE?
I think it is just awareness and publicity, of the gym as well as Climbmandu. These days we have social media as a platform for most of the events we have here and that plays a big role in the publicity and creating awareness. We have also had some magazine features that adds to the promotions and people knew about it through that for the most part. More and more people undertook wall climbing as a hobby and since we have the highest climbing wall people came in to experience that.
TNM: HOW IS WALL CLIMBING INTEGRATED INTO THE FITNESS SCENE? IT IS OFTEN LOOKED AT AS A RECREATIONAL ACTIVITY LIKE OTHER SPORTS LIKE FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
There is a sort of a divide in this; a lot of people who do wall climbing mostly do it just once because it is taken as adventure sport like a bungee jumping. That is not what it is at all. Doing a bungee jump does not have any substantial effect on the fitness scene whereas climbing does. People don’t get the fact that being a proper climber requires a lot of training and if you notice the athleticism of the climbers you can see that climbing plays a significant role in fitness and it is a serious sport. I would say that good climbers who do it quite often are as strong as athletes of any other sport. But it is a little deceptive because people tend to assume that climbing is about doing pull-ups. It’s interesting because in climbing you use the weakest part in the body, which is fingers, and you hang on them, you cannot use your palm either. It is very demanding. In fact, you can climb anything that you can grasp on with your fingers like buildings, trees, mountains. Climbing is a way of making your body strong enough to handle natural or artificial inclines and going through the worst terrain. Yes, it is a part of fitness but it is very dangerous and difficult if not done properly or without any safety precautions.
About Niraj Karki: Niraj Karki is the General Manager at Astrek Climbing Wall. Successfully taking his love for the sport and going into competitive stages internationally, he falls amongst the first generation of international competition climbers. He has represented Nepal in two international competitions and he won the national Climbing Competition in 2012.
TNM: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST THING ABOUT CLIMBING? WHY SHOULD PEOPLE BE INTERESTED?
For me climbing is a very personal thing, but lots of people have a lot of reasons to climb. The primary reason for anyone is that it is fun but it also may mean a lot of other things. There is no single element that makes climbing likeable. It could be that climbing gives you a sense of achievement because climbing is done in difficult situations with a lot of challenges and constraints. It is inherently difficult and looks very strenuous but when done properly there is a lot of elegance and finesse to the sport. That is one part of it because when it comes to wall climbing you cannot climb alone there is a two person team that completes the whole process of wall climbing. There is a person on the ground that does the belaying, which means that the person plays an important role to not cause any injuries or mishaps to the person who is climbing. As a result, there is also a notion of trust and community and I feel closer to climbing than most people and there is an amazing connection when there are people who share the same passion as me.
TNM: WHERE DOES NEPAL STAND IN TERMS OF ROCK/WALL CLIMBING IN THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE? WHAT CHANGES CAN BE BROUGHT ON TO HELP IMPROVE THE SPORT?
It is similar to our position with most other international sports, and it isn’t great. We are nowhere near the international standard. Climbers usually start young, usually from the age of five or six. In Nepal we began only after knowing about it ourselves at a much older age. I started when I was 27 and I am one of the first generation climbers in Nepal. Much of that is because of the lack of the infrastructures and the resources needed for the wall climbing like the training and the standard walls for that matter. We are also behind in terms of the quality of the events because of the lack of people in this field as well. The other thing is that there is not much competition in the field of climbing in Nepal because there are not a lot of athletes to choose from when it comes to the international competitions. The athletes that are good here may not be the best in the international platforms. But we have started and that is a step in the right direction.
TNM: WHAT OTHER FACILITIES DO YOU OFFER AT ASTREK?
We have the highest and the steepest walls for wall climbing and bouldering. We also host a lot of other events and sports like acro-yoga and even belly dancing once in a while. This is a complete climbing and training center and we also have line walking. We are a bunch of people here who share the love for climbing as a sport and this is an amazing place to create a new hobby or just try it once in a lifetime.