Life for Tuhin Satarkar, 23, hangs by a rope. It matters little, then, whether he’s climbing a rock face on the mountains in the Sahyadris or ascending with a distressed animal in tow as part of his day job at an animal shelter, RESQ.
There are few who can revel in the contentment of taking their passion to the day job. For the Pune-based climber, it was an addiction that started at the age of 5, when he accompanied his climber parents to Sinhagad Fort, near their city.
“Back in the early 2000s, there was only one artificial climbing wall, which was far off. When I got a little serious about pursuing the sport, my parents built me a climbing wall in our living room so that I could train. Climbing became all that more special for me, after all that they’ve put in to help me succeed," Satarkar says.
Though he continues climbing both indoors and outdoors, the time spent in the midst of nature continues to be a draw for Satarkar.
“When you’re outdoors, there aren’t any restrictions. It’s just you and the rock and I think that’s the best part," he says.
When the Satarkars lost their pet dog, Misty, in 2015, he decided to do his bit to help animals and joined RESQ as a volunteer. He’s now a full-time employee involved in field rescue.
The climbing skills made him indispensable at work, his lithe frame allowing him to crawl into a hole in the wall, scramble up a tree or down a pit to rescue an animal in distress. Over time, the boundaries between the job and his passion blurred.
“With animals at heights, I have to use rope-work and some technical skills to rescue them. It’s important to pick the correct line to rappel down, just like I must while climbing. I also need to take into account the animal’s position, movement and mental state, considering where it would jump if startled," says Satarkar.
“My work definitely isn’t the typically 9-5 job and that is what I love about it. Most of the things are very hands-on—whether it’s during a rescue or while helping out with animals at the centre," he adds.
Alongside the job, Satarkar continues chasing his climbing projects, with a keen interest in exploring new locales and opening them up for the community in India. Last year, he went to Idar in Gujarat to take on sharp, untouched granite rock. He followed it by climbing Dhodap, Jivdhan and Naneghat (all in Maharashtra) to pay homage to Shivaji and his men, popularly known as the Mavalas.
“I climbed those three big walls consecutively and opened three new routes in eight days. And to think Shivaji and his men had climbed here hundreds of years ago without any technical equipment," he says.
An average day starts with a training session before he heads for work. This is followed by another workout in the evening. When he is preparing for a project, RESQ offers him some leeway to train longer.
“I’m lucky that the team understands what I do and supports my climbing career as well," he says.
Rescue can come with the unstated pressure that there will be no second chance—it’s relatively easier when it comes to a climb. On a rescue mission, the key is to stay focused, tune out distractions and give it your best shot—always keeping in mind the fact that things could go wrong. This is part of the job, he says. While climbing, there are moments when he feels immensely stuck, unable to progress as expected. He then decides to take a break and return when he’s strong and better prepared.
“When climbing with a partner, especially on big walls, another life is dependent on you, so the same principles from a rescue apply here," he says.
The learning on the job has been immense—for instance, the fighting spirit of the animals that come to the shelter. “We have seen so many animals get out of situations and recover from conditions, which we thought was impossible. They may be injured, sick or hanging by a thread, but they have this incredible willingness to keep fighting for their lives and not give up. This is a profound lesson and something that I personally try to implement while climbing," says Satarkar.
Given the opportunity to combine his two loves, Satarkar’s knotty affair with the rope is sure to continue.
Adventure Junkies is a series about professionals who like to challenge themselves physically.