Trekking Expeditions are always challenging and have always intrigued and fascinated the adventure enthusiasts. Whether you are a veteran or an amateur, trekking and mountaineering requires persistence, will power, motivation and high degree of preparedness. The Himalayan ranges offer us with a plethora of natural escapes to explore and try our mountaineering skills with varied levels of difficulty. No matter what kind of expedition you choose, the preparation is important and that’s what differentiates the novices from the experts; the latter never deviate from the basics. This article will help you to consider some of the basic factors to decide upon when you prepare for your expedition.
This is where you will consider spending the maximum time. It is like spending eight hours to sharpen your axe when you have ten hours to cut a tree. The outcome of your expedition depends upon how meticulously you prepare for the expedition. Gather all information into one place such as team size, duration of trek, things to carry, how to move, what to carry etc. In a team, the speed of the group is that of the slowest team member. So the speed of your team depends upon the slowest member of the team.
Preparing meticulously will help you to reduce lot of dead weight, which you may otherwise carry in the pretext of your requirements. It will also significantly reduce the physical fatigue of carrying overloads and help you to keep your energy levels intact for the campaign.
Every activity has a time. So does the trekking. The timing of the expedition is the most important factor to decide the variables of your expedition such as load to carry, duration of trek, routes to take etc. It is better to plan your treks between May and October. It would be a good idea to start in either mid of April or mid of October because the snow melting rate is slower. The season of May or June is high summer time and though the peaks may still have snow, the chances of landslides are higher, especially during the afternoons. Also, due to snow melting, the terrain becomes cloggy due to the melting snow and might make the tracks slippery and vulnerable with heavier loads. You may have a reduced winter clothing load though.
The time between September and October provides a balance when the conditions are favourable from all aspects. The snow completely melts, the landscape is clear, the weather is favourably cool and tracks are mostly clear, though for higher and tougher stretches, it may still be snowy.
Try to cross check your weather information with various sources, the local weather departments, websites, local travel agencies and guides. This will help you to have a clear picture of what you are about to encounter enroute.
The Himalayan ranges have a peculiar orientation with more rocky patches along the Northern Ranges such as Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Srinagar whereas more grasslands and gradual climbs towards the North Eastern Regions such as Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim etc. The terrain is what will decide the level of your challenge. Make no mistake in deciding this parameter carefully as all safety factors will surround the terrain you choose. If you are a novice, the best valleys to start with are towards the North East. The hills though have good altitude but the climb is gradual. Try starting with places around Tawang, such as Lungrola, Sela Pass, Jaswantgarh etc.
If you are a notch better than the novice then the Valley of Flowers in Uttarkhand can be a good place to advance your skills. The valleys of Shimla such as Manali, Lahaul and Spiti can also add up to a good experience.
Trekking Expeditions demand a good physical fitness and stamina. Much of your loads have to be carried on your backs and as you walk up, the levels of oxygen will get lower. The lungs will demand more oxygen in an environment with deficient supply. Also, the colder winds often lead to ‘High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema’, a condition in which the lungs are filled with water due to excessive palpitation. This may require the person for immediate evacuation and treatment. The condition generally reduces to normal once the victim is brought to normal atmosphere, but delay in evacuation may prove fatal.
Acclimatization is essential before you enter into a high altitude environment, so consider getting it done before you start your trek. This will include some deep breathing exercises, brisk walks with loads that increase over the duration of acclimatization, medical check-up for your blood pressure and pulse rates. Diving yourself into a high altitude environment without acclimatization can be a sure shot way of getting a HAPO. Acclimatization generally starts from an altitude of 10000 feet and increases in levels with every 5000 feet.
Speaking about trekking, the type of travel gear we use is as essential as anything else. Since you need to carry most of the stuff on your back, it is essential that you choose your gear carefully as it has to bear the most of the load you will be carrying in your expedition. The clothing should be of impermeable materials to prevent heat loss from the body. The same goes for the sleeping bags.
The back packs should be able to fit in the loads such that they are not clumsy while handling. The bag straps should be double-stitched, adjustable for height and should firmly lodge on the back to stay close to the body rather than being jumpy as you walk. The inside of the back pack should have cushion support to provide barrier between metal objects in your bag and your back. The waist belt at the bottom of the bag helps distribution of load on your back. Having a proper strap will ensure better load distribution which will help in lesser fatigue while walking and negotiating small and large obstacles and bumps.
The right trekking shoes is quintessential. You can also hire one of these from the local trekking and travel agencies. They are generally high ankle shoes with firm soles to give support on the ground and also prevents from slipping on the rough edges. It is essential to have a better grip especially downslope as it is more tiring to walk downslope than upslope.
Choosing the right camping equipment is equally as important as the travel gear. As it will be a part of your back pack, it is essential that you choose a light weight material, and also a sturdy one. The tent material should be able to withstand extreme temperatures and should prevent exchange of heat as much as possible. It should be simple to install and uninstall. Generally, the frame is of lightweight aluminium and can be anchored on the sides with nylon ropes for firm support.
While the latest gadgets are at our disposal these days, it is nevertheless necessary to be firm on the basic pen and paper planning. Carefully chalking out the routes might be a tedious job initially, but will save you a lot of effort and emergency at a later stage. Your route chart should cover things such as the base camp location, where you will do your acclimatization, start point, halting points, where you can take a break and prepare for the next stage, the completion point etc. The route may be a circuit or a touch and back route. Your route chart will depend upon the terrain conditions, duration of expedition, safety factors against wildlife and landslides, etc.
For beginners, it is suggested that try to start with an already existing route which is adopted by the experts. You may choose to learn how to make route charts as it is fun to learn them, try to learn identifying the landmark places and gradually change over to higher difficulty levels. Often, on the ground, the situation is much different though, as you may have to deviate off the regular routes due to landslides, snowfall, etc. but having a route chart will help you to decide the next route in case you are in such situations. The expert trekkers have a knack of the terrain and often, experience and instincts take over in such situations.
Maps & Navigation
While having a handheld GPS can be fruitful and can save your time and energy in the initial part of the journey, I suggest, you keep the batteries alive for vital situations and for emergencies. Most of the GPS help to get real time co-ordinates and can be operated like a cell phone using satellite transmission. But it drains the battery drastically. So, save it for the critical. Acquiring basic map reading skills is fun and interesting and you will also enjoy the unique ways in which you will be able to find your ways through the tough treks.
The reference maps that can generally be used for the purpose are the Leomann Series, Nelles Verlag, US Military U502 Series, Olizane, and NI series of maps. These are available in varied scales and can be used to plot your routes. Navigation is the most important attribute to be inculcated in any traveller as without that, the entire purpose of the travel is destroyed. Using the map and magnetic compass to navigate through your waypoints is not only fun but also a learning experience. While GPS is an automated way to navigate through your waypoints, it will always a memorable experience to have navigated through the route in the most conventional method.
Please carry enough supplies for yourself. The dry powdered meals are ‘Ready to Eat’ and can be cooked easily by adding hot water. Do not expect lavish as it is survival and you need to be prepared. Your meals will depend upon the duration of your treks. Take plenty of fluids as water retention by your body tends to reduce drastically due to cold weather.
You can carry high calorie foods such as milk chocolates and assortments. One chocolate brick has enough calories to keep you going for an entire day. Still don’t trust me?? Try it at home and you can witness it for yourself. The other choices can be salted dry fruits. They are light weight, have enough proteins and calories and keep you going the whole day. Above all, they are healthy too. You can also consider carrying some herbal tea.
One of the most important aspects of your expedition will be to avoid danger zones. On snow covered hills, it is difficult to spot the crevices and can be dangerous. Also, the snow levels up most of the existing routes and tracks because of which it becomes challenging to identify the routes. If you are a starter, the best way is to have a guide with you who is familiar and can help you avoid such danger zones. As you pick up the basics, you will realize that with experience, it is easier to pick up the natural signals.
There should always be an alternate route to divert the course in case the main route gets blocked for some reason. Nonetheless, one should be prepared for such situations. In peak summers, a slightest vibration can lead to a devastating snowball. This often happens in the peak afternoons, when the loose ice splits from the main ice block and starts rolling downwards. As it rolls down, it gathers up the snow on the way leading to a devastating landslide.
Unlike what we see in movies though, it does not happen everywhere. There are specific junctions or gorges where the possibility of such things may arise. You must avoid such routes if they are falling in your way. Avoid walking on the crevasses where the water is flowing underneath. They are dangerous and can break apart anytime.
Health & Hygiene
It is essential to maintain personal as well as environmental hygiene. With increase in the trekking and expedition routes, more and more travellers pass through the existing waypoints and often leave them behind in a bad shape. We are answerable to the environment and we are obliged to keep the surroundings and the nature clean for others to use. Consider closing the burial toilet pits at your stoppages before you move on to the next spot. Do not litter the surroundings with plastic wrappers and bags. You may keep them in your bag to be disposed off at a later stage when you come back. It is essential to respect the environment so that it can respect you back.
Do not push yourself. The only competitor that you have is yourself. If you are weak and frail in your constitution, you will know at the start itself. Trekking expeditions are often a team effort and it is okay if you are not able to do it. Do not jeopardize your team if you have health issues.
Choose your stoppages carefully. It should not be at the foot of a gorge. Try to look for a preferably flat land. Also, check the terrain. You will definitely not like to camp yourself between two hills creating a ‘funnel effect’ in between as it will not let your tentage to be properly erected due to massive wind speeds. Choose a vantage point or a water source where there is a water stream available. Do not use snow from the ground. They are generally not pure even after they are melted and can affect your throat. Choose water from a stream instead. As they flow downstream, most of the impurities are filtered with flowing water and you can get crystal clear water without any requirement of filtering them.
Firewood will be a rare commodity and might not be often available for you on the way. Instead, it is better to keep yourself internally warm rather than from outside. Carrying a bottle of rum can often save your life. With your dry fruit combination, it can save you from annihilation.
Taking care of your foot as you walk on the snow is crucial to your expedition. Check your feet. Carry some foot powder and prevent gathering of snow inside the shoes as it may lead to frost bites. The effects of frost bites are permanent and they leave a permanent mark on the affected skin. It is important to protect your body at all times.
Emergency, First Aid & Resuscitation
As mentioned earlier, this is where you can use your GPS to communicate with the base camp. Emergency prepared ness can help you save lives under vital circumstances. It is always better to carry a First Aid Kit with some basic medicines for fever, cough and cold and of course prevention from frost bites. The resuscitation against HAPO is only rest and relaxation. However, once affected, it is wise for the trekker to descend down as the complications may arise if he/she pushes further.
As your team moves ahead in the expedition, you might notice the gap between the group increasing as the weaker members take more time to cope up with the rest of the team. It is the responsibility of the guides or the expert members in the team to bear patience and perseverance and lead the team as the activity is quite taxing.
It is often likely that the experienced members due to their good speed may move so much ahead as to get the weaker members out of notice. The isolation can be a dreaded experience in such situations. Keeping the team together is most important and hence the communication between the team is essential. In open spaces, the whistle often works better and the shrill noise travels to longer distances. Hence, it is advisable to keep a whistle with yourself so that in case you are left behind, you can always blow the whistle and let the other team members know of your whereabouts.
Get yourself abreast with the ways to reach your trekking destinations. The nearest railway stations or the airports, the services available to reach the foothills, the travel agencies, the hire and rental services available, the places for acclimatization, medical camps, emergency contact numbers, trekking guides etc. This will save you the valuable time of having to look around for things when you reach there. Keep a note of all these numbers in a small diary as they will come handy at times of despair.
The gateway to the Northern Himalayas is New Delhi and that of the North Eastern Himalayas is Guwahati or Bagdogra Airports, depending upon the modes of travel. If you are travelling by air, then for the North Eastern Himalayas, Bagdogra Airport is the most convenient, and if travelling by train, Guwahati station will be more convenient.
There are regular bus and taxi services available to take you to your desired trekking destination. For solo travellers, the deals might be a little tough as medium sized hotel rooms are costly, especially in New Delhi. Consider anywhere between Rs. 1000 to Rs. 2000 for a single room. However, travelling in a group can save you both money and resources required as the budget can be shared amongst the group.
The North Eastern Region is comparatively cheaper, however, the recent trends show increase in inflation and the rates increase in the peak and festive seasons.