Death of a mountaineer leaves the community with mixed feelings

Updated: Jan 24

Many people dream a life, very few actually live it and only a handful live it right till the end and Arun Sawant was one of them. He lived 43 years of his life traveling, exploring and climbing mountains and big walls and now at the age of 62, the entire adventure community of Maharashtra bid him goodbye. As he said, "Not how many years you live but how you lived your life is important." Nutan Shinde who was first introduced to mountaineering by him says these words still resonate in my mind.


Shivam Aher who is an adventure filmmaker says, "I remember one day I got a Facebook message where someone asked me if I can come and shoot giant rope swing in Sandhan Valley. That person was Arun sir and shooting that event made me realize my potential of shooting adventure sports and to explore my perspective which I could have never known if he did not call me. Arun sir was kind of a person who could make any person realize his capability and go beyond his limitation and I am one of them. He had unique eyes to identify people."


"Born in 1957, Arun Sawant left behind his legacy and those dreams which now resides in the eyes of his admirers."
Arun Sawant at Ajoba Top in 1979

Rohit Vartak, a professional rock climber and one of the rescue members of Shivdurga Lonavala says, "I know him from the day I entered the field of mountaineering and climbing. He was the first person to climb and summit Duke’s Nose in 1985, one of the toughest climbing peaks even now which has become famous climbing spots for climber all around the nation."


After his Duke's Nose climb, he became known in the climbing community. He has also done big expeditions, rescue operations. He was the first one to conduct a rescue operation on Konkankada in 1986 in order to recover his friend Arvind Barve's body. This made him gain a lot of attention in the adventure field.


Later he entered commercial events where again he explored so many different types of adventure activities like rappelling, giant swing, valley crossing, cave explorations, etc. He was the first person to explore Sandhan Valley which is also known as the 'Valley of Shadows' and is located on the Western side of the beautiful Bhandardara region near Samrad village and one of the famous trekking/adventure spot in Maharashtra. He has also done Giant Swing commercial events at the time when no one even knew what kind of activity it is.

“ After Konkan Kada rescue operation, I was being called at many rescue operations. But…it was a thrilling experience, I will never forget it."
Duke's Nose 800' Climbing Expedition - April 1985

Rohit said, " I climbed Duke’s Nose in 2010 exactly after 25 years when Arun Sawant opened that route. When we climbed we had a proper team, the best pieces of equipment but even after that, we faced problems but when he climbed he used improvised gear. Same with the rescue because there also he had very limited types of equipment plus a limited number of people who could have helped him. On the other side at that time, it was very difficult to let people understand about climbing, mountaineering, rescue and all the activities which he used to do and conduct. "

"After the Konkankada rescue operation, he faced so many controversies because there was no awareness plus it was monsoon season in Maharashtra when western ghats receive heavy rainfall. We even struggle to imagine the situation which he had faced."
Bhagirathi II Himalayan Expedition 1984

He added, " so once people got to know about Arun Sawant’s accident in Konkan Kada, the rescue teams like the Nisarga Mitra rescue team, Shailbhramar, Bhramti, Petzl, Giripremi, Giriviraj, Shivdurga team along with some friends and family members started to reach there. When we reached Konkan Kada, past stories of him conducting rescue operations flashed in my mind. The reason why all rescue teams and other groups of people gathered because he was very well known in the community.


The accident happened on the evening of 18th January while he was conducting group activity with kids in Konkan Kada with his climbing partner Suraj Malusare. As Suraj said when Arun Sawant was setting up ropes for participants he asked him to bring participants and at that moment when he should be with Arun, he left to bring participants and things happened. The exact reason for his death is still not clear. But his body was found without a harness or self anchor. One could predict that the self-protection he had, was removed for some reason such as taking a leak or a break.

Shendi Pinnacle Climbing Expedition - April 1984

The body was found in the worst situation. His body was found below 600 ft approx. The accident happened around 5 or 6 pm in the evening and the body was found in the morning, of course, because we could not rescue when it’s dark.

The fact is when you organize a commercial event, you have to take extra care of everything and a single mistake could cost a life. One can not afford to take safety casually.

At the time of rescue operation, the Mumbai team (a group of 29 people) was trying to locate his body from the summit and other teams were at the base. When the Mumbai team with 5 people started the descent to locate, on the other side they also rescued kids along with Suraj who was stuck at traverse at night. Finally, they located his body and then we rescued all of them together."

Kulangad top in 1982

When asked about the cause of accident Rohit said, "As per my opinion the reason for his death is conducting commercial events at Konkankada which is a huge 1800 ft rock wall and the very dangerous place itself. I mean anything can happen there at any time. Konkankada is famous for loose rocks and sudden mishappenings. That place is not meant for these kinds of activities. Personally I have never supported commercial activities that happen in Konkan Kada. If someone goes there, then he has to be extra careful for every single moment he spends there. We are getting to hear more accidents these days in commercial events."


Having said that, Arun Sawant was also one of the active members of the group working on to make mountaineering rules in Maharashtra. In past years, when people were hardly aware of rescue activity, at that period of time Arun Sawant successfully managed to rescue his friend’s body in the 80s in Konkan Kada. No one had ever imagined that he could be rescued someday in the lap of mighty Konkan Kada itself.


Things have changed in the past 45 years since Arun Sawant started his own journey of adventure. The entire community has come a long way. He had introduced so many people of different ages to the outdoors. People might have joined him just for a session but the experience stayed with them.


To know more about Arun Sawant and his journey of what brought him to the mountains, name of the pinnacles he climber and other facts, read his interview with Adtire Mountainous Talk With Arun Sawant

Shendi Pinnacle climbing expedition April 1984

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