Partnr Profiles: Sandeep Nain of Ascent Outdoors
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Sandeep has established three first ascents in the Miyar Valley of the Himalayas after which he named his guiding company—Miyar Adventures. Learn about Sandeep’s experience getting into the outdoors and trailblazing a path for POC in outdoor leadership!
When did you first become hooked on the outdoors?
Growing up in Haryana (India), the mountains were not really accessible until I was an adult, and even then a weekend adventure in the mountains wasn't really possible. I enjoyed going to my village and spending time outdoors on farms.
One of my first serious hiking trips was when I moved to Massachusetts for work and did some hiking in New Hampshire. I went with a colleague in January up Mount Washington and the weather turned really bad with snowfall and winds up to 70-80 mph. I ended up spending a night in the observatory because I became hypothermic. I just didn’t know enough—I was wearing cotton and was definitely not prepared for a hike like this, but kept pushing on behind my colleague. On this trip, I realized how important training, outdoor education and appropriate outdoor gear is when venturing out on adventures.
After that I started to buy gear. At that time there were not a lot of resources to buy affordable gear for the outdoors like Switchbackr, but I started to save up and do some regular hikes. I was getting bored of just staying in Bangalore working on computers and having no access to the outdoors. I was planning to quit my job and go on a bike ride in Southern India. Back then, if you had a good paying job and you told your boss that you’re quitting to go on a solo bike ride, people thought you were crazy. Nobody bicycled in India at that time for recreation. I was about to quit when my boss offered me a job with Amazon in Seattle. Working in the US allows you to get paid more, so I figured I would go to Amazon and save some extra money, and then do the bike trip.
From the day I landed in Seattle, I fell in love with the mountains, the greenery, the lakes and just the beauty of this area. I quickly discovered opportunities to engage in the outdoors. I didn’t have a car but I got my friends to drop me off on one end of the Olympic range and pick me up on the other. I remember carrying this old heavy rucksack, a quilt and a car camping stove; not the lightest gear, but I still had a great trip.
I started taking mountaineering courses and spent as many weekends in the mountains as I could. At the end of every work week I was going off on trips to climb or hike. I went up Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, and by then I was hooked on the Pacific Northwest and was looking for opportunities to extend my stay. I got a full time job at Microsoft and was lucky to make this place my home. My job afforded me the time and resources to pursue weekend adventures with a close knit community of friends, which fueled my passion. I got into more technical climbing—multi pitch, alpine rock climbing. Coming from India, I didn’t know many people and it was hard to get into the community, but thanks to climbing, I had a ton of friends. By then, I knew this is my place, this is where I want to be the rest of my life.
What inspired you to found Miyar Adventures?
Even though I didn’t have a lot of access to outdoor activities growing up, I found I had an aptitude for outdoor activities like mountaineering and climbing. About 5 years before starting Miyar, I had started a fundraising climbing program for a charity with whom I volunteered, called Asha for Education. We helped train people to climb the local peaks, training for about 6 months culminating into the final climb of Mt. Rainier. This became a very popular program with Asha as well as a fairly successful fundraiser.
Running this program for several years gave me more confidence and helped me build on my leadership skills. When I started the program, my only goal was fundraising, but over time I found I really enjoyed my role enabling people to climb big peaks like Mt Baker and Mt. Rainier, who otherwise may have been intimidated to set a goal like this. In 2014, while on paternity leave for my first daughter, I realized it would be challenging to manage a demanding job, be actively involved in my daughter’s early years as well as find time for outdoor adventures. With all this in mind, I decided to start my guiding company with a goal of combining my work with my love of outdoors.
What were some of the greatest challenges in founding Miyar Adventures?
There is a lot of red tape of course whether it’s permitting or insurance. It’s one thing to be guiding voluntarily but when you make it a business there is a lot of work involved. Plus, coming into the outdoor industry, I felt an outsider. There are hardly any people of color in the guiding industry. I have lots of friends in the climbing community, but I felt at that time there wasn’t a lot of support for newcomers who wanted to get into guiding. Taking new climbers up a mountain comes with a lot of responsibilities when it’s your business.
How did you decide to acquire Ascent?
When I was at Miyar, I was running trips from my home but realized I needed a place to keep the guide and rental gear. I decided to open a little retail shop in Redmond: Miyar Adventures & Outfitters. We were primarily focused on climbing and mountaineering and started to get tons of people coming into our tiny shop. At that point, Miyar was doing well and I had gained a lot of experience starting my own business so I decided to take up the challenge and acquire Ascent. Ascent was also founded originally as a second hand gear shop so I thought it would be great to continue the used gear sales and help make the outdoors more accessible for newcomers.
How is Ascent doing now?
Ascent Outdoors has had its fair share of difficulties over the year—the sudden closure in 2019, and now with Covid hitting—but we have had so much support from our local community. Many people bought gift cards and once we reopened with restricted shopping and in-store pick up our business has been doing well.
Ascent has many loyal customers that helped with our reopening in mid 2019, and many people shop at Ascent because we have employees who have worked at the shop for many years. There are also local brand reps and pro climbers who worked at Ascent over the years so it’s really cool to see them doing different things in the outdoor community and still supporting Ascent. Since we are a small business, we work with local outdoor nonprofits and smaller guiding companies. Our employees are better trained in knowing and recommending the right gear for adventures in the PNW each season. We typically offer a lot of events—gear nights, movie nights and presentations by local skiers and climbers. People feel comfortable in the store.
What would you like to change about the outdoor community?
I would like to see more women and more PoC in the outdoors, especially in leadership roles. I feel good about starting a guiding company and opening the store but I feel a special kind of personal satisfaction knowing that I was instrumental in helping more than 200 people climb Rainier and Baker, a goal which was made more accessible for them. For some, the Asha climbing program became a gateway to the mountains; many of them continued on to take courses with the Mountaineers, climb on their own, and build their skills and experience. As an Indian owner of a guide company and someone with an accent, it could be a hurdle in some ways, but I can also be seen as more approachable and relatable to people who look and sound like me. There are lots of people who are interested in the outdoors but don't have enough experience to feel confident about their abilities.
When I came to the U.S. I very much remember this one climbing area that I was biking by where I saw people on the wall. I thought that’s just something people from here do, it seems crazy, and not something I will be able to do. But if people see more PoC, it will feel more accessible to them. Talking about the prejudices that sometimes I face—those things can’t be changed on their own. People make decisions based on what they see. If there are more people like me guiding and being in leadership roles, it challenges stereotypes which should lead to less prejudice.
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