Other Sports

Leading from the front

U Raghunath Reddy climbing a rock at Kethanakonda, on the outskirts of Vijayawada.

U Raghunath Reddy climbing a rock at Kethanakonda, on the outskirts of Vijayawada.   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT

Raghunath Reddy Unadi, who has led teams to the world’s highest mountains, talks about what it means to be the leader of a climbing expedition

Raghunath Reddy Unadi traces his fascination for climbing mountains back to his school days at Tadepalli, a small town in Guntur district where he would climb a hillock not too far away from his house on weekends. “Holidays meant exploring the meadows, the vast stretches of fields and the rocky terrains,” he recalls, adding that he spent a lot of time playing amid Nature.

After finishing school, he moved to Hyderabad to study engineering, which led him to a corporate job. But family responsibility brough him back home in three years. The adrenalin junkie did not allow this to stop him. In association with the Hyderabad Trekking Club, he started organising trekking events and collaborated with Transcend Adventures, also Hyderabad-based, and organised adventure activities like rappelling and Himalayan treks for corporate firms.

In 2012, Raghunath (31) along with and his two friends Kaluva Suresh who had a software background, and banker Katragadda Venkata Ramdas founded the Vijayawada Adventure Club. The next year, Raghunath headed to Kashmir for a month-long mountaineering course.

For as long as he can remember, he has wanted to climb Mt Everest but hasn’t done so because he cannot afford the expenses involved. He says for as long as he can remember, he wanted to climb Mount Everest, a desire not yet fulfilled because of the high expenses involved in the expedition which he cannot afford. The closest he came to his dream was in 2016 when AP government officials asked him to train and lead a team of students on an expedition to the world’s highest peak. But Raghunath had to stop at the base camp and mapthe route for the summiteers. He did everything from setting up camp to fixing routes to helping the young climbers change their oxygen cylinders. “It was like having a personal climbing assistant,” he says, recalling how the young climbers, drawn from the Department of Youth Services and AP Social and Tribal Welfare Residential Schools, had to be taught even the basic rules of climbing. His training paid off when the team successfully reached the summit..

Life at base camp, he says, is an odd mix of mundane domesticity, logistical challenges and the occasional flash of life-or-death drama. He kept reminding the team members that they couldn’t use all their energy in climbing alone and that they had to save some for the descent too. “When you remove your fogged goggles to get a glimpse of your surroundings, you feel your corneas start to freeze,” he says, adding that his main worry was the students’ possible encounter with dead bodies en route. “To prepare them, I looked into their eyes and told them they could either push on or turn around.”

He also advised them to practice sleep deprivation. “Sleep is a luxury at extreme altitudes. When you finally head to the summit after weeks of preparing, you hike all day, rest for a few hours and leave for the peak in the middle of the night.”

Raghunath is also secretary of Adventure Sports Academy at Gandikota village in Kadapa district, recently started by the AP Tourism Department, to kindle the interest of the youth across the State in adventure sports. Though he works as an education consultant for a living, Raghunath follows his passion in the after work hours. He trains young people in outdoor activities like trekking, hiking, rappelling and rock climbing but mountaineering remains his all-time favourite. Of the seven highest mountains in the seven continents, he has scaled three: Kilimanjaro, Elbrus and Kosciusko.

Mountains are the ultimate classroom, he says, and is eager to conquer the remaining four highest peaks. “I know it will happen, it is only matter of time,” he says emphatically, “It is not about spending a couple of minutes up there on the top, its about the lessons you learn along the way.”

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 6:17:37 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/leading-from-the-front/article30715725.ece

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