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Jul 16, 2018

One Indian Woman’s Climbing Journey: Battling Social Stereotypes

For five years, Prerna Dangi perfected her climbing, whilst dealing with frequent issues of body image and gender bias in India.


Jahnvi Pananchikal

India has witnessed the rise of female mountaineers like Bachendari Pal and Santosh Yadav, who paved the way for younger adventurers to keep trying. Prerna Dangi had the courage to choose a similar path. With resilience and self-motivation, this Indian climber was inspired by supportive parents and close friends, to top one of the hardest ice-routes in the country.

Climbing is changing my body. Do I want that? It made me question. I later realized that I just want to be a climber.

When Prerna arrived at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), she was excited to meet her fellow climbers. This was her first climbing endeavor with a wider group and a better wall, having initially discovered the sport in St. Stephens College, Delhi. During that period, whilst climbing a giant wall in front of people assessing her skills, something strange happened. Guys noticed her big arms, and made sure to point it out. She had hoped to get some feedback on her climbing technique.

That event, however, was a turning point for Prerna. “Climbing is changing my body – do I want that? It made me question it. But I later realized that I just want to be a climber,” says Prerna. She is one of the relatively few, fully dedicated recreational female climbers in India. She is 25 years old and has a significant number of climbing and mountaineering adventures to count among her experiences.

One of the recent ones was in January 2018 when she climbed the 350 ft high frozen Dankar Monastery Fall in Kaza, Spiti. During her adventure, she was accompanied by Project Wild Women. This was the product of preparation that included some nine frozen waterfalls from WI Grade 4-7.

That’s the achievement, but what about the journey, and what did it take to get there?

Photo Credit: Kopal Goyal

Struggle is at the core of climbing, and has also been a part of Prerna’s social context. She recalls an ice-climbing experience in Manali before gaining recognition for Dankar Monastary Fall. There were 15-20 climbers competing in the festival, organised by a local production house. There were almost nine climbers and only three participants had tried ice-climbing before.

Prerna was one of the two girls in the group, and didn’t have a climbing partner to belay her. When everyone tried and failed, she was the last one left. “No one asked me if I wanted to do it,” she remembered. “I was a new person in their community. I felt that the rest of the team was oblivious to giving someone new an opportunity. I found someone to belay me, and went to reach the highest point on the icefall.”

In other instances, Prerna realised that everyone is not the same. In 2015, Prerna headed out with two fellow climbers, Bharath and Karan, who discovered the Shilla Nallah ice route in Spiti. The three climbers courageously experienced the bad weather together, including a small avalanche, while trying to climb the fall. “They saw me as a climber, and put trust in me. My performance improved. They didn’t confuse ability with gender.” Later, she even found a fellow female climber, Vrinda Bhageria. They go on climbing adventures whenever they get a chance.

A strong and supportive ecosystem can make a huge difference. Prerna had to be patient to find the right people who supported and motivated her. Until then, she resorted to a change in attitude. “Earlier, when I climbed with people and noticed that they are not nice people, I wouldn’t be as motivated and see myself withdrawing from giving my all,” she remarks. “There were more people to pull me down than to support me, even if just for fun. They would tell me that for a girl, I climb so well. I was really bothered by this.  But now, I am able to see the good in people, learn from them and move on. I don’t let the badness get to me.”

“As a woman, I’ve had to prove myself before being accepted as a competent climber.”

“I want to become an internationally certified rock and ice guide. This will allow me to increase the scope of this field, provide an outlet to more people to push themselves in the outdoors. It is also the only way I feel I can inspire some sort of a change in my surroundings.”

No matter how the outer world was, Prerna’s family consistently encouraged her throughout this crazy ascent to freedom. Not only did they support her, but also exposed her to the initial playground in rural India.

Photo Credit: Prerna Dangi

Prerna’s dad hails from Tikhunkot village in Uttarakand. One needs to hike to get to this isolated village in the mountains. Her family lives in Delhi, but for almost 10 years, they would visit the village for a couple of months every year. That’s where Prerna learnt the value of simplicity and nature, but most importantly, the joy of climbing.

“I’ve been climbing trees since I was very young. I don’t remember being scared of heights and falling,” she laughs.

“When I first climbed a big mountain, I felt humbled.”

As she grew older, Prerna discovered her deep interest in varied sports, but was smart enough to realize the importance of good academic grades to keep everyone happy. So she studied hard and played harder. It worked. When teachers at school suggested to her parents that she should reduce play time, they just responded, “but she has got good grades anyway.”

Years later, thanks to family and her deep inclination towards adventure sports, Prerna ended up climbing 10 frozen waterfalls and the highest mountain in North America as part of a two-women team without a guide. Additionally, she has attempted the routes of East Tosh Glacier (6,450mts) and T 16 Virgin Peak Expedition (5,800 mts).

“Climbing is the only thing where I push myself all the way, and I won’t give up until I fall. You will fall whether you reach the top or not.”

With that attitude, her achievements as a climber are no surprise.

Prerna feels optimistic about the future of climbing in the country. “India is going to be the ultimate climbing playground,” she says. “We have everything from trad and sport to boulder and alpine in the coming years. We have so much untouched, unexplored territory waiting to be discovered and cultivated.”

Until more adventures, here is to never giving up.

Follow Prerna Dangi on Instagram here.

Keep reading more about female Indian adventurers, such as Malavath Poorna, the youngest person ever to summit Everest.

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Athletes & Explorers

Jun 19, 2019

REWILD with Tony Riddle: Part 2 – Children and Education

Tony Riddle explains how our educational system must be reinvented to better preserve childrens' innate abilities and uniqueness.



Davey Braun

In our latest series called REWILD with Tony Riddle, The Outdoor Journal has been speaking with Tony about his paradigm-shifting approach to living a natural lifestyle that’s more in line with our DNA than Western society’s delerious social norms. In Part 1, we introduced how Tony is leading a rewilding movement through his coaching practices as well as his commitment to run 874 miles barefoot across the entire UK to raise awareness for sustainability.

In this installment, Tony discusses society’s disconnect from our ancestral hunter-gather lifestyle, the need to completely reinvent the education system, and how to preserve children’s innate abilities.


TOJ: When I see the word “rewilding,” I picture the opening scene of the movie Last of the Mohicans where Daniel Day-Lewis is sprinting and leaping through the woods on an elk hunt. Is that how humans are supposed to be, an athletic animal in tune with nature?

Tony Riddle: In modern society, we’re basically living in these linear boxes, breathing in the same air, getting the same microbiome experience, sleeping in the same room over and over, and nothing alters. Whereas the tribal cultures that we came from are moving through a landscape that’s forever changing. They’re always uploading new sensory pathways, new sensory experiences, constantly in a state of wiring and rewiring the brain. For me, the path of rewilding is getting back to that – being present in nature and honoring a cellular system, a sensory system and a microbiome system in their natural setting.

When you start to really assess it, some people have this vision of hunter-gatherers as savages, but these are sophisticated beings, and as they move through the landscape, they become the landscape.

By “Rewilding” we can get back to a lifestyle that’s more in line with our innate human biology.

Tribespeople operate in these states of meditation which, when you have kids you appreciate it. I’ve studied childhood behavior in the formative years, those first years up until the age of seven. The brain is working at a certain hertz that you and I can only achieve through meditation. This is the state of Flow. It hasn’t been cultured or schooled out of them.

When I think of “rewilding” now I have a term I’m calling “rechilding.” We’ve got to try and get back to that level of frequency that tribes have managed to stretch into adulthood. I’ve tried to break down the behaviors of these tribes. I discovered Peter Gray’s work, who asked the question to 10 leading anthropologists, “What does childhood look like in nature?” From infancy through the age of 16, children play. That’s all they do, without any adult intervention, and they learn everything they need to learn about their adult environment in those first playful years. So if that’s the case, then they go into adulthood still playing and they don’t have to work to find flow states through that field of senses and the frequency that they’ve been operating in.


TOJ: In familiarizing myself with your work, I noticed that some elements are about reverse engineering the range of motion, movement chains and posture of our own selves as children, while others focus on reconnecting with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, how do you reconcile those concepts?

“For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities.”

Tony Riddle: For children, it’s about preserving their wildness and their innate abilities, the stuff that you and I would have had but we went through an educational process where it’s not appropriate to move or say anything out of turn, where children are expected to just sit still in a classroom for hours on end and not share anything. But then you realize that when you go out into the world that you have to share everything, We need to show them the appropriate behaviors and not dumb them down by limiting their experience.

Tony spending time climbing trees with his children to preserve their innate ability to climb and balance.

In those early years, we have things like physical education, but before physical education, we have play. We were all playing around, trying to understand the physicality of our body. We’re born with all the gear, we just have no idea how to use it, because our adult species doesn’t know how to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. When we go through the playful state to try to understand this system as children, we might impersonate all the animals, but now as adults, we have to go to animal flow class to relearn it.

When children go to physical education class, they’re given specialist clothing, which includes sneakers and the specialist clothes that their adult species wear. The adults model to children how tough exercise is and how brutal it is. Adults come back profusely sweating, which is absurd because imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse! My DNA goes back 270,000 years to a tribe in East Africa. So imagine how hostile these environments would have been!

“Imagine the hostile environments that this species has had to traverse!”

We observe these parkour kids, they’re showing us what’s innately in us. I love hanging out with them because it’s just expanded my mind and my movement. The physicality of the human being is unbelievable, but it’s been cultured into a sedentary position at this stage because the adult population is showing a compromised, sedentary lifestyle. By the time a child reaches the age of seven, all of the observations are made – the templates for the rest of their lives. So if the adult species is compromised, then within those first six years, that’s all the child will recognize as their potential range of behavior. I call it their “Tribe of Influence.” The tribe of influence is made up of your family, your friends and your close community around you. If you’re observing all their behaviors, that just becomes your social core. It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm. And social norms of today are so far afield, we are doing the most horrendous things. I read a stat yesterday, since 1970, 60% of the wild animal populations are gone. We’ve managed to do that in 50 years. That’s less than one human life span. Our social norms are compromising the planet.

Read next on TOJ: Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD


There’s a great term I’m plugging the moment which Peter Kahn called “environmental generational amnesia.” Every generation that’s born, it can either expand on the knowledge passed down from before, or be dumbed down further, and it only remembers where it left off. So for those 60 percent of the species that are gone, to the new generation that comes in, that’s their new norm.

“It doesn’t mean it’s biologically normal, it’s just the social norm.”

The natural human pathways from our previous generations have been forgotten in a way, but movement is just a component of it for me. It goes beyond movement. There’s a whole physical, social and spiritual animal that needs rewilding. There’s also sleep and play and nutrition and human contact, even sunlight. We’re just disconnected.

Tony regularly plunges his body into icy water to maintain proper cardiovascular health.

We have a D3 issue with our culture now. We’re surrounded by artificial light in artificial environments, but when we do go out in the actual environment, we cover up by wearing sunglasses, so we’re not actually absorbing any of the nutrients from the sun that we should be. Especially in the UK, people are starved of sunlight, but as soon as the sun is out, they’re wearing sunglasses. If you look at helio-therapy, the highest absorption of D3 is around the eyes. There was a study recognizing that sun exposure helped kids with TB recover, but it also found that when they put sunglasses on, they didn’t get the results.


TOJ: If you were the superintendent of a school, what changes would you make if you are in charge?

“The educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again.”

Tony Riddle: It’s almost like the educational system has to be scrunched up, thrown in a bin and restarted again. It’s flawed and it’s not working. In countries that are trying to do something about it, in particular, Finland in Scandinavia, it’s completely different. People are starting to wake up to the fact that it’s not biologically normal to be indoors all day, it’s not biologically normal to sit down all day, it’s not biologically normal to eat processed foods. But, that’s the environment where we’re growing these young bodies and minds.

The future is unraveling at such a rapid rate with tech. My understanding is, the current iteration of the educational system will have to die because of the way that the tech world is transforming things. So what can we possibly take from the educational model of today for five years time or 10 years time, where are we actually going to be in terms of the evolution of tech?

Like father like daughter, training their hanging L-sits on the olympic rings.

There’s almost like a natural pendulum. It’s swinging way back over this way. Now we’ll start to explore more biologically normal ways. With my barefoot run, I’m trying to raise awareness of these issues like sustainability in the environment and I can reach a wide audience through technology.

“It comes down to small changes.”

It comes down to small changes. You can drive yourself nuts thinking, “I’ve got to do this and do this…”, but actually, there’s value in just assessing things that are in your hands, looking at what is a biological norm versus a biological extreme. If you can’t justify something, you have to let it go. Then, what you can start to do is whittle away at things that aren’t appropriate behaviors and that will improve in the next generation that is observing those behaviors.

You and I are walking around with the observations from those first six years of our lives, and then if you really unravel it, we’re walking around with the norms of our ancestors as well.

We need a different educational model. We need a schooling system based on educating kids about their fundamental needs, including movement and play, one that gets them involved in growing natural foods and learning about their own independent role within the interdependent social tribe.

We’re all unique, but we go to school and we’re taught to conform. You have to sit and do the same exams, but in a real tribal situation, there’s an interdependence of the tribe, When you have kids, you suddenly realize how important it is. I’ve got three kids and another one on the way. They’re all different. Nature didn’t design them to be the same. They’re designed to be uniquely different so they fulfill their role in our tribe. Why not nurture the fact that they are different in order to grow their individual talents at a very young age. How do I nurture their unique abilities and create the appropriate environment for them to learn and become uniquely awesome?

Tony’s coaching is individually tailored based upon the belief that we all have a unique role to play in our community.

Stay tuned for our REWILD series featuring an in-depth discussion of Tony Riddle’s socially extreme, yet biologically normal practices.

Part 1, Tony Riddle: Introducing REWILD
Part 2, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Children and Education
Part 3, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Transforming Your Body
Part 4, REWILD with Tony Riddle: Barefoot Running Across Great Britain

To connect with Tony, visit tonyriddle.com

Facebook: @naturallifestylist
Instagram: @thenaturallifestylist
Twitter: @feedthehuman
Youtube: Tony Riddle

Feature Image: Tony’s daughter working on her grip strength in Tony’s studio.

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