Ceaseless curiosity inspired Sandeep Nain to leave behind software engineering and pursue alpine guiding.
Sandeep Nain was at a crossroads familiar to many middle-age adults. He had a steadfast passion — in Nain’s case, climbing mountains — that he wasn’t able to fully pursue because of growing work responsibilities and a baby at home.
But, unlike many middle-agers, Nain decided to turn play into work and do so in a way that would leave time for fatherhood. So, after 15 years as a software engineer, he started international guiding company Miyar Adventures.
Nain grew up in Haryana state in India, a flat area better suited for producing farmers than alpinists. Still, Nain relished playing in fields and forests as a youth. Those earliest days outside instilled a love for exploring that eventually brought him from India to Woodinville.
He began his career at Infosys, a technology consulting company that occasionally sent him to the United States for projects. After six years with Infosys, Nain was about to take a sabbatical to travel India’s coast when an appealing yearlong project began at Amazon’s office in Seattle. Nain postponed his travel to work and save money. The trip never happened.
“I fell in love with all the green and mountains and lakes in Washington,” says Nain. “I wanted to stay.”
Nain also fell in love with outdoor recreation in the area. When a coworker planned to spend a long weekend driving around the Olympic Peninsula, Nain decided to hitch a ride to the Hoh Rain Forest and made plans for the coworker to pick him up at the other end of the trail four days later. It was his first backpacking trip.
“I was carrying a car-camping stove and a very basic backpack,” Nain says. “I used a blanket for a sleeping bag. It was a heavy, heavy pack. But I loved the experience.”
A few people on the trail suggested he look into classes offered by The Mountaineers. He took snowshoeing and winter-travel courses from the nonprofit, and eventually found his way into the organization’s introductory climbing class.
“I realized I was good at rock climbing and really enjoyed the technical aspects,” Nain says. “I was able to control the fear factor. I loved the feedback from the instructor that I was doing good.”
Nain became an accomplished climber and especially enjoyed alpine climbing, which combines the technical aspects of rock climbing with the wilderness navigation and survival skills necessary to spend time in mountainous areas. He climbed in the Cascade Mountains as much as he could and took a few international expeditions. In 2009, he traveled to Nepal to climb some peaks and trek near the Mount Everest base camp, staying with locals along the way. “Climbing is just one part of these trips,” Nain says. “I love meeting people, staying in their houses. I love the cultural part of travel.”
That same year, Nain became involved with Asha for Education, an Indian education nonprofit. Nain raised money for the group by leading teams of donors on climbs up Mount Rainier. Nain taught the donors mountaineering basics in classroom sessions, helped them plan their training, and guided them to the summit. In doing so, he discovered that sharing his outdoor skills was extremely gratifying.
“I really like teaching people and taking them out and helping them explore their boundaries and do something they otherwise wouldn’t do on their own,” Nain says.
Nain, determined to stay in Washington after his Amazon contract expired, landed engineering jobs at Microsoft and Expedia. He was quickly promoted to management at Expedia, and began leading a team of developers and designers. He enjoyed aspects of the job, but found too little time to climb. “I was growing in my career and still enjoying it, but it was taking more and more of my time,” he says. “When you come home, the work comes with you. There’s no time away to get your mind right.”
In August 2013, Nain and friends Jason Schilling and Tim Halder traveled to India’s Miyar Valley to attempt first ascents on several unnamed peaks. They spent a month deep in the Western Himalayas after traveling by plane, bus, and foot (with pack mules by their side) to get to their remote base camp near the Takdung Glacier. The trio summited and named three peaks: Sanjana Peak, after Nain’s late sister; Mount Sealth; and David’s 62 Nose.
“Climbing on these peaks where nobody has been before was really satisfying. You’re really out there fully on your own,” Nain says. “It’s so pristine.”
While in India, Nain decided to find a way to spend more time outdoors without sacrificing time with his daughter, Jiya, who was born in 2013. In July 2014, he launched Miyar Adventures in Woodinville so he could do just that.
Miyar caters to less-experienced recreationists, so the company’s trips are far less technical and dangerous than the climbing expeditions Nain takes on in his own time. “Some people want to just check off the bucket list and maybe they’re not so crazy about what they’re doing,” Nain says. “They’re uncomfortable or scared or tired, but you help them get beyond discomfort, the fear.”
In January, Nain led Miyar’s first guided trip up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. In addition to the Kilimanjaro trip, Nain plans to offer trips to Aconcagua in Argentina and climbs on Mount Rainier and Mount Baker, as well as other hikes and backpacking trips in the Cascades.
Turning your hobby into your job comes with the risk of killing your passion, bu that hasn’t happened to Nain so far. “Leading trips has added a new experience in my life,” he says.
It helps, too, that Nain still finds time to occasionally get out and climb by himself or with his climbing partners. “Sometimes it’s nice to go where I don’t have to think about dealing with clients and their challenges,” he says. “I still love to just go by myself.”
Time in the mountains still stirs Nain’s soul. “I still get the same fulfilling experience from my time out in nature, looking at beautiful views.”
Nain’s twisting career journey might seem like a fluke, but he feels it’s the logical path for someone driven by ceaseless curiosity.
“Most people from my village only ever experience the same community, same people, same caste,” Nain says. “I went away to college and met people from all over India. I lived all over the country and now the U.S. I think my motivation has always been a desire to reach more, travel more, experience more.”
There’s an ever-present risk of falling in climbing, so it is imperative that potential climbers purchase the following gear that is specifically manufactured for climbing:
- Comfortable, flexible clothing
- Climbing shoes
- Belay devices
- Chalk bag and chalk
- Climbing ropes
- Crash pad for bouldering
WHERE TO CLIMB
Washington is home to world-class climbing opportunities, from rock walls just off the highway to volcanoes deep in the Cascades’ wilderness. Here are a few good options close to the 425:
Hit climbing gyms to help you build your strength, hone your skills, and learn from professionals before you take to the crags.
Vertical World Redmond
15036 NE 95th St.
Stone Gardens Bellevue
15600 NE 8th St.
As the name implies, Exit 32 is located off Interstate 90 at exit 32, along the Little Si trail. It is one of the closest outdoor climbing areas to the Eastside and features more than 90 sport climbing routes, most in the intermediate to advanced 5.10-5.14 rating range.
Located just off Interstate 90 on the east side of the Columbia River, Vantage, or Frenchman’s Coulee, is an extremely popular climbing area. It has more than 700 routes of varying difficulty with options for both sport and traditional climbing.
When Nain doesn’t have time to climb mountains, he heads to Index. The granite walls located just off Highway 2 near the town with the same name are considered some of the best in Washington. There are more than 600 routes, most of which are in the intermediate range of 5.10-5.12.