Pioneering Peaks: Col. Neeraj Rana’s Inspirational Journey

Col Neeraj Rana

In the serene hills of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, a young Neeraj Rana’s love for adventure was sparked. A chance encounter with Major Dhami transformed this spark into a blazing passion, setting Col. Rana on a path from curious hiker to celebrated mountaineer. This journey, fueled by mentorship and an unwavering spirit, highlights how one moment can change a life forever.

Early Life and Introduction to Mountaineering

Col. Neeraj Rana was born and raised in the scenic landscapes of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, where the towering mountains constantly existed in his life. From an early age, he enjoyed hiking and trekking through the hills, embracing the sense of adventure and exploration.

However, his journey into mountaineering began almost by chance.

One day, Col. Rana had a fortuitous encounter with Major Dhami, the Vice Principal of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM). Major Dhami, recognizing Rana’s adventurous spirit, suggested that he should try mountaineering courses, believing he had the potential to excel. Col. Rana, intrigued by the idea, decided to take Major Dhami’s advice and enrolled in the courses.

The experience rekindled his love for the mountains, evoking memories from his childhood when he would explore the hills around Kangra. As he immersed himself in mountaineering, he realized that the mountains were not just a place to explore; they were an integral part of his life. This newfound passion transformed his perspective, and he knew that mountaineering would be a lifelong journey.

Col Neeraj Rana
Col. Neeraj Rana – Ascent Descent Adventures

In 1999, Col. Rana took part in the Bhagirathi 2 climb, under the guidance of Major Dhami, which further solidified his commitment to mountaineering. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of a career filled with adventure and achievement. Col. Rana often credits Major Dhami for introducing him to mountaineering, stating that without his guidance, he might never have embarked on this path. Since then, there’s been no looking back—the mountains became his life, and his life became an adventure.

His journey from an enthusiastic mountaineer to becoming a colonel and serving as the principal of all three major mountaineering institutes in India is a testament to his dedication and leadership. Col. Rana’s career is punctuated with significant milestones and honors, including a world record for white water rafting from Manali to Pong Dam, covering 260 kilometers in just 3.5 days, and being the only person to paraglide from a height of 6,850 meters off Mt. Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak.

Ajay Sohal Lawrence School in Sanawar's Everest expedition in 2013
Ajay Sohal Lawrence School in Sanawar’s Everest expedition in 2013 – Ascent Descent Adventures

Another notable achievement in Col. Rana’s career is his leadership of the Lawrence School in Sanawar’s Everest expedition in 2013, where the youngest boy ascended Everest under his guidance. His achievements have not gone unnoticed; the National Geographic Channel honored him for his role in ‘Mission Everest.’ Col. Rana’s journey is a story of inspiration, showing how one encounter can change the course of a life and lead to extraordinary achievements.

Climbing Achievements

Col. Neeraj Rana’s mountaineering career is marked by an impressive list of notable climbs, showcasing his expertise and leadership in some of the world’s most challenging environments. Over the years, he has climbed a wide variety of peaks, often leading teams and breaking new ground for Indian mountaineering.

Everest from base camp
Everest from base camp – Ascent Descent Adventures

Among the peaks he has climbed, several stand out for their significance and the roles he played:

  1. Mt. Bhagirathi – II: As a member of the expedition, this was one of Col. Rana’s early experiences, where he honed his skills and built his mountaineering foundation.
  2. Mt. Kanchenjunga: This climb established him as a capable mountaineer, reinforcing his dedication to the craft.
  3. Mt. Draupadi-ka-Danda, Mt. Baby Shivling, Mt. Kedar Dome (Leader): These expeditions marked his transition into leadership roles, where he began leading teams to conquer challenging peaks.
  4. Black Peak, Mt. Swarga Rohini – III and II, Mt. Thelu, Mt. Koteshwar, Mt. Chaukhamba – III and IV (Deputy Leader): As a leader and deputy leader, Col. Rana’s expertise and guidance became instrumental in achieving successful ascents.
  5. Mt. Col-de-Marde (French Alps), Mt. Kedar Dome, Mt. Chaukhamba (Retrieval Mission), Mt. Gangotri-I – I, and Mt. Makalu: These climbs demonstrated his ability to navigate complex situations and lead teams through high-risk environments.

Among his significant achievements, Col. Rana’s role in the Makalu expedition is particularly notable. This expedition marked the first successful Indian ascent of Mt. Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak. Leading this team to victory, Col. Rana set a new standard for Indian mountaineering, gaining recognition and respect for his leadership skills.

Col. Rana giving an interview to the media following the successful Mt. Makalu expedition
Col. Rana giving an interview to the media following the successful Mt. Makalu expedition – Ascent Descent Adventures

Another major milestone was his leadership of the Lawrence School in Sanawar’s Everest 2013 expedition, where the youngest boy successfully ascended Everest under Col. Rana’s guidance. This achievement not only demonstrated his capability as a leader but also highlighted his commitment to nurturing young talent and encouraging the next generation of mountaineers.

Col. Rana has faced considerable challenges during his climbs, proving his resilience and courage. One such challenge occurred during the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, where he and Tashi, another experienced mountaineer from Nepal Seven Summits, rescued seven British army officers from Camp 2 on Mt. Everest using a helicopter. This daring rescue operation earned Col. Rana significant media attention, with headlines describing him as the “Col turned savior” for his bravery during a critical moment.

Helicopter at Khumbu Icefall Everest
Helicopter at Khumbu Icefall Everest- Everest Expedition 2015 Ascent Descent Adventures

These remarkable achievements and challenges showcase Col. Rana’s journey from a mountaineering enthusiast to a respected leader and pioneer in the field. His legacy is built on a foundation of determination, courage, and a commitment to achieving the extraordinary, making him a true icon in the mountaineering community.

Leadership at Mountaineering Institutes

Col. Neeraj Rana’s expertise in mountaineering and his leadership skills led him to serve as the principal of all three major mountaineering institutes in India. These prestigious institutions are instrumental in training and preparing mountaineers for challenging expeditions. Under his leadership, Col. Rana introduced significant changes, helping these institutes reach new heights.

Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) – Uttarkashi

As principal of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarkashi, Col. Rana continued to implement changes that emphasized practical training and real-world experience. His leadership at NIM was characterized by a hands-on approach, encouraging instructors and trainees to embrace the spirit of adventure while maintaining a strong focus on safety.

Col Rana teaches the usage of an oxygen regulator and a cylinder
Col Rana teaches the usage of an oxygen regulator and a cylinder.- Ascent Descent Adventures

Col. Rana’s contributions to these institutes have had a lasting impact, shaping the future of Indian mountaineering. His approach to leadership and training has inspired many, and his commitment to excellence continues to influence the next generation of mountaineers. Through his efforts, these institutes have gained international recognition, further cementing Col. Rana’s legacy as a leader and innovator in the field of mountaineering.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) – Darjeeling

Col. Rana’s tenure as principal of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) in Darjeeling was marked by a decisive approach to enhancing the institute’s standards. Upon his arrival, he noticed that the instructors lacked exposure to 8,000-meter climbs, which is crucial for effective training. To address this, he planned HMI’s first expedition to Mt. Makalu in 2009. Though the first attempt failed due to a storm, Col. Rana’s leadership inspired the team to persevere.

During this challenging expedition, Col. Rana set a world record by flying a paraglider from Camp 2 (6,850 meters) to Advance Base Camp (5,700 meters), demonstrating his fearless spirit and creativity. This extraordinary feat not only motivated the team but also served as a testament to his commitment to mountaineering. The second attempt on Makalu was successful, marking a significant achievement for Col Rana. Read the complete story- Storms, Summit, and Survival: The Mt. Makalu Expedition.

In 2012, under his leadership, HMI organized an expedition to Mt. Everest. This milestone established HMI’s reputation as a leading mountaineering institute, with Col. Rana’s vision and determination playing a pivotal role. Read Pawel Sharma’s experience on Everest in 2012 – The Unstoppable Climb: Pawel Sharma’s Pursuit of Everest

Col Rana looks through a telescope
Col Rana looks through a telescope at HMI – Ascent Descent Adventures

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) – Manali

Col. Rana also served as principal of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) in Manali. His impact on this institute is reflected in his focus on safety and comprehensive training. Col. Rana’s leadership style emphasized discipline and meticulous planning, ensuring that mountaineers were well-prepared for expeditions. His experience and approach to training created a culture of excellence at ABVIMAS, fostering the development of skilled mountaineers who could take on challenging climbs.

Col. Rana prepares his paraglider for flight
Col. Rana prepares his paraglider for flight – Ascent Descent Adventures

As the principal of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS) in Manali, Col. Neeraj Rana led a transformative initiative in collaboration with the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department. Under his guidance, 305 pilots were trained in the SIV (Simulation d’Incident en Vol) course at no cost, aiming for safer skies. Recognizing the high costs associated with SIV training, Col. Rana leveraged government support to ensure the program’s success, achieving a remarkable 100% pass rate without any accidents. This initiative not only fulfilled a global safety requirement but also set a new standard in pilot training, reflecting Col. Rana’s commitment to excellence and safety.

Pankaj Lagwal and Shashi Lagwal with Guide Course
Pankaj Lagwal and Shashi Lagwal Trek Guide Course (ABVIMAS) – Manali – Ascent Descent Adventures

Additionally, Col. Rana, alongside the tourism department, initiated a comprehensive trek guide course. Designed and run by Ascent Descent Adventures, the course included essential skills like map reading, Leave No Trace principles, and emergency protocols, ensuring that trek guides in Himachal Pradesh are well-prepared to meet international standards of safety and environmental responsibility.

Lawrence School Sanawar – Everest 2013 Expedition

The Everest 2013 expedition with the Lawrence School Sanawar marked a significant chapter in Col. Neeraj Rana’s career, demonstrating his ability to lead and inspire young climbers. The idea for the expedition originated with PS Grewal, who proposed it to Col. Rana as a unique opportunity for the school’s students. Col. Rana embraced the challenge, presenting a detailed plan to the school’s management, outlining the rigorous training, the expedition schedule, and the hazards climbers might face.

Col Neeraj Rana with Lawrence School in Sanawar's Everest team 2013
Col. Neeraj Rana with Lawrence School in Sanawar’s Everest expedition Team 2013 – Ascent Descent Adventures

Preparing the Team

A total of 22 students volunteered for the expedition, eager to take on the formidable challenge of climbing Mount Everest. Col. Rana, known for his methodical approach to training, began by sending the students for a foundational mountaineering course. This initial training was followed by two months of intense preparation within the school campus, focusing on building strength, endurance, and teamwork.

To further prepare the team, Col. Rana organized a 10-day crash course to cover essential mountaineering skills. In the winter, he led the group on an 8-day cycling trip to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, where they covered 1,500 kilometers on bikes, testing their endurance and resilience. These varied training experiences were designed to ensure the students were physically and mentally ready for the challenges of Everest.

Sanawar school Everest Team cycling trip to Jaisalmer Rajasthan
Lawrence School’s Everest Expedition Team Cycle journey to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. – Ascent Descent Adventures

After the crash course, the team was narrowed down to six students, with their names announced at the school. However, due to parental interest and consent, the youngest student, Raghav Juneja, was also included in the team. Col. Rana referred to him as the “Wild Card,” recognizing that he was a rookie among experienced students.

To further prepare the team for the harsh conditions they would face, Col. Rana took them on a 5-day wilderness training expedition below the Khardungla Pass in Leh-Ladakh. This was a crucial step in acclimatization and building the team’s confidence before the final push for Everest.

The Expedition

The Everest 2013 expedition was the culmination of months of intense training and preparation. On May 9, 2012, the team reached the summit, with Ajay Sohal from Himachal Pradesh being the first to reach the top, followed by others. The Wild Card, Raghav Juneja, became the youngest climber to reach Everest, finishing third among the team. Out of the seven-member team led by Col. Rana, six successfully reached the summit. Only Hakikat Singh Grewal, due to health issues, had to return from the summit camp.

Col Rana leader Everest Expedition
Col Rana leader – Everest Expedition crew crosses the ladder on the Khumbu Glacier – Ascent Descent Adventures

Col. Rana’s leadership played a pivotal role in the expedition’s success. His ability to guide and motivate the team through challenging conditions, coupled with his emphasis on rigorous training and teamwork, ensured that the students were well-prepared for the climb. His meticulous planning and focus on safety contributed to the expedition’s success and the team’s ability to overcome obstacles along the way.

The Everest 2013 expedition with the Lawrence School Sanawar is a testament to Col. Rana’s dedication to nurturing young talent and creating opportunities for them to achieve greatness. His leadership, vision, and commitment to the team’s success inspired not only the students but also the wider mountaineering community, showcasing the remarkable potential of young climbers when guided by an experienced leader.

Col Rana at Camp 3 Everest
Col Rana at Camp 3 Everest – Ascent Descent Adventures

Legacy and Impact

Col. Neeraj Rana’s journey through mountaineering is as much about inspiring others as it is about his achievements. Throughout his career, he has maintained a philosophy of “leaving at high,” believing that you should pursue your goals with passion and integrity. He sees this approach as key to avoiding accidents and mishaps, as a lack of passion can lead to carelessness and mistakes. By focusing on keeping things at a high point, Col. Rana ensures his legacy is built on positive experiences and strong leadership.

Although his career includes significant milestones, Col. Rana doesn’t dwell on proving himself to others. His satisfaction comes from knowing he has given his best, and now he is focused on mentoring and guiding the next generation of mountaineers. This selfless attitude is reflected in his commitment to helping others achieve their potential, whether it’s through formal mentorship or informal advice.

Col. Rana’s contributions to the mountaineering community are best seen through the stories of those he has inspired. For example, Priyanka Mohite, under his mentorship, became the only Indian woman to climb seven 8,000-meter peaks. His influence extends to the Lawrence School Sanawar’s Everest expedition in 2013, where he mentored a group of young climbers, leading them to create history by including the youngest boy to climb Everest from a school.

Lawrence School Sanawar's Everest expedition
Lawrence School Sanawar’s Everest expedition – Ascent Descent Adventures

Despite his accomplishments, Col. Rana is mindful of the broader issues facing the mountaineering industry in India. He is concerned about the disorganized nature of the industry, where many focus on personal agendas, financial gain, or achieving recognition through shortcuts. This emphasis on summits rather than the journey can compromise safety and integrity. Col. Rana advocates for a more disciplined and honest approach to mountaineering, where the passion for climbing and respect for the mountains take precedence over individual accolades.

Col. Rana’s vision for the future of Indian mountaineering is rooted in mentorship, safety, and a commitment to the spirit of adventure. His current focus is on guiding others and sharing the wisdom he has gained from his years of experience. Through his mentorship, he hopes to bring about a change in the industry, encouraging future mountaineers to value safety and integrity as much as reaching the summit.

By framing his legacy through the impact he has on others and his commitment to the mountaineering community’s future, Col. Rana’s story becomes one of inspiration and shared success. His journey serves as a reminder that the true measure of a mountaineer is not just in the peaks climbed but in the lives touched along the way.

Col Neeraj Rana at the R V Sawant pinning ceremony
Col Neeraj Rana at the R V Sawant pinning ceremony – Ascent Descent Adventures

Your body can endure anything; it’s your mind you must convince.

Col Neeraj Rana

Similar stories:

Storms, Summit, and Survival: The Mt. Makalu Expedition

Summit to Summit: The Climbing Legacy of Major KS Dhami

The Climb Within: Ajay Sohal’s Everest Ascent

The Unstoppable Climb: Pawel Sharma’s Pursuit of Everest

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