In Conversation with Skalzang Rigzin, President, Ladakh Mountain Guide Association

By Yangchen Dolma Leh, Dec 18, 2023
Leh :

Q. Can you please provide a brief introduction and share your experiences, as well as the challenges you've encountered while climbing various mountain peaks?

I'm Skalzang Rigzin, hailing from the Sham valley, and have been deeply immersed in the world of mountain guiding since 1997. I am currently serving as the President of Ladakh Mountain Guide Association (LMGA). Over the years, I've led expeditions to peaks like Rimo, and amidst the lockdown, I ventured into freelancing as a mountain guide. My 26 years in the mountains have witnessed traverses across the Garhwal, Nepal, and eastern regions, conquering notable summits such as Saser Kangri, Rimo Kangri, among others.

The pinnacle of my achievements came in 2022 when I stood atop Lhotse, the world's fourth-highest mountain at 8,516 meters. Moreover, I undertook the challenging Annapurna ascent, notorious for its high fatality rate. What adds to these feats is that both summits were reached within 16 days, sans supplemental oxygen or Sherpa support, setting a record for India.

Challenges were aplenty; weather obstacles like fog and storms often compelled our return. Balancing the demands of both the climb and ensuring the safety of our clients was demanding yet enriching. These experiences have been a crucible of learning, providing invaluable insights.
Looking forward, my aspirations include scaling iconic peaks like Everest and other lofty summits.

Q. What unique features or attractions distinguish Ladakh as an ideal destination for mountaineering and adventure tourism?

Ladakh boasts a multitude of distinctive features that set it apart. Renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, towering mountain passes, and an array of thrilling outdoor pursuits, it's an adventurer's haven. In this region, visitors revel in rafting along its rivers, scaling rock faces, and even indulging in ice climbing amidst the winter.

One of Ladakh's allure lies in its abundance of uncharted mountains, offering boundless opportunities for exhilarating adventures. Despite the occasional challenge in securing permissions due to its proximity to the Pakistan and China borders, the region offers a wealth of exploration. Adventurers can immerse themselves in activities such as trekking and mountaineering, especially in the Nubra, Zanskar, and Changthang regions.

With its expansive glaciers and an extensive range of outdoor pursuits, Ladakh emerges as a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.

Q. Brief us about the Ladakh Mountain Guide Association. What role does it play, and what contributions does it make to the region?

In Ladakh, our community of professional guides recognizes the necessity of implementing a structured policy. This policy aims to raise awareness about the pivotal role guides play in environmental conservation, youth education, and the promotion of high-quality tourism. In 2019, we established an association specifically designed to cater to local guides, prioritizing membership for them. Our primary objective was to elevate the standards and professionalism within the guiding profession.

We aspire to showcase that being a mountain guide is not only a passion but also a viable career choice, comparable to traditional professions like medicine or engineering. Additionally, our association, LMGA, annually organizes the Ice Climbing Festival, now gearing up for its 5th edition from February 2nd to 4th this year. Last year's festival saw the enthusiastic participation of approximately 700 students, and we eagerly anticipate hosting this event once more.

Unlike Nepal, Ladakh lacks life insurance policies tailored for guides. Therefore, as LMGA, we've taken the initiative to advocate for the introduction of such policies. Recognizing the importance of insurance coverage for guides, we are actively working to facilitate positive changes in this area, striving to ensure our guides have the necessary support and protection.

Q. What do you consider as the essential qualities or skills that aspiring mountaineers should possess to excel in their pursuits?

For aspiring mountaineers, several critical qualities and skills significantly contribute to their success. Physical fitness holds utmost importance, encompassing endurance, strength, and agility, vital for navigating challenging terrains. Equally essential is mental resilience, as mountaineering presents formidable mental hurdles.

Acquiring technical expertise in areas like rope work and navigation is pivotal, alongside gaining comprehensive knowledge and experience in mountain environments. Furthermore, fostering teamwork and effective communication skills are indispensable for coordinated efforts and ensuring safety.

Lastly, the unwavering traits of perseverance and determination play a pivotal role in overcoming obstacles encountered throughout the journey.

Q. Could you share any ongoing initiatives or projects undertaken by the LMGA aimed at fostering responsible mountaineering practices in Ladakh?

As part of its commitment to promoting responsible tourism and ensuring enhanced client safety, the Ladakh Mountaineering and Guide Association (LMGA) is introducing a significant requirement effective next year. All Mountain and Trekking Guides, whether local or nonlocal, will be mandated to obtain an ID card issued by LMGA. This ID card will serve as a testament to their expertise and professionalism in the field.

To acquire this ID card, guides will need to submit a comprehensive CV detailing their experience, along with certificates demonstrating the completion of relevant Mountain Guiding and Rescue courses. Moreover, a recommendation letter from a local travel company will be necessary to endorse their skills and proficiency. This initiative aims to preserve the pristine mountain environment, elevate the overall quality of tourism, and prioritize client safety.
In its proactive pursuit of responsible mountaineering and guiding, LMGA is setting these stringent standards. Furthermore, in celebration of Ladakh's unique natural beauty, LMGA is set to publish a book next year. This publication will illuminate LMGA's objectives, spotlight the remarkable LMGA guides, and provide invaluable insights into unexplored peaks and trekking routes across Ladakh.

Q. How do you envision the future of mountaineering and adventure tourism in Ladakh?

The future of mountaineering and adventure tourism in Ladakh holds tremendous promise. Renowned for its awe-inspiring landscapes and rich cultural heritage, Ladakh has emerged as a sought-after destination for thrill-seekers. Looking ahead, I envision Ladakh continuing to entice a growing number of adventurers from across the globe.
The untouched beauty of its mountains presents an array of opportunities for activities such as mountaineering, trekking, ice climbing, and rock climbing, promising enthusiasts an exhilarating experience in exploring rugged terrains and conquering peaks.

As the significance of sustainable tourism amplifies, Ladakh is poised to prioritize the preservation of its natural environment. Through initiatives that support local communities and promote eco-friendly practices, Ladakh aims to sustain adventure tourism while ensuring long-term benefits for the region.
Overall, the future of mountaineering and adventure tourism in Ladakh appears bright, with a focus on responsible practices and the preservation of its captivating landscapes."

Message to the readers
"In life, challenges are inevitable for everyone. However, the key lies in our resilience. It's vital never to succumb to comparisons or discouragement, but rather persist and maintain our spirit. Embracing a positive mindset is crucial. Acknowledging and appreciating our efforts is equally important. Therefore, let's uphold this optimistic outlook and persistently strive towards our goals, never losing sight of our determination."