At first glance he would pass off as an uncle next door. Ever smiling, but certainly not the patronizing ones. His nimble body is deceptive of the exceptional feats it has accomplished. Scaling more than 120 peaks in Maharashtra. An unbreakable record of 40 virgin peaks. And 40 odd new routes to some of the known mountains.
Meet Pradeep Kelkar, affectionately called as Pradeep Sir by mountaineering lovers in Maharashtra, a winner of many national and state awards including Shiv Chhatrapati Award. If humility can be measured in heights, one has to add up all the mountains he has climbed so far and perhaps the ones he is yet to climb.
We were fortunate enough to be trained in rock climbing and rappelling by him during the Ratangiri mountaineering adventure organised by Nature Knights.
While at Ratnagiri, after an exciting day, we chatted up with Kelkar, getting to know about this unpretentious man and his adventurous life…
Kelkar’s long-term affair with mountains started way back in 1978 when he did his first trek to Dhak-Bhairi. Initially, rock climbing was just a hobby for him. It later became a passion. In 1979, at a time when harnesses and other equipment and techniques were unheard of, Kelkar scaled the Lingana pinnacle, a daunting formation of rock between Torna and Raigad forts, with the aid of only rope slings and pitons. After 28 years, during the night of December 31, 2007, he again successfully climbed Lingana to welcome 2008. This amazing performance also proved that he still retained his fitness and stamina!
Kelkar got his formal training in mountaineering from the Manali Mountaineering institute (now Atal Behari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports). He completed the institute’s mountaineering training programme with an ‘A’ grade and first position among all the competitive participants.
By 1994, he had completed 120 successful climbs, including 40 virgin peaks and 40 new routes. The highest peak he conquered is Aaja Parvat at 4,500 ft in 5 days.
The humble Kelkar does not take the full credit for his success. He never forgets to thank his team members for their support. His team, under the name Ratnadurg Mountaineering Association (RMA), conducts training programmes for adventure seekers. RMA’s summer training camp for kids at the Bhagvati Fort in Ratnagiri is a big hit, attracting more and more participants each year.
In addition, Kelkar and his 20-member core team use their skills and abilities for many public causes. RMA has been in the forefront of many rescue operations including the Bhuj earth quake. The snake experts in his team rescue snakes that find themselves in the middle of human habitat and let them back to their terrain.
Kelkar, also employed with Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport Undertaking (BEST), is supported by his wife and son on his adventures.