People always keep telling me how lucky I am to be in the mountains all the time. Pointing to visible signs of their own body fat, they go on with tales of mild self-pity and how they wish they could complete a trek.
A basic level of fitness is required for all those heading outdoors. But for all those yet to begin their adventures, it’s not the climb-up-and-down-a- mountain-in-a-few-hours fitness that is required to complete your first trek.
Running is a test of fitness. Trekking is not. Everyone can trek.
Many will warn you that you shouldn’t be in the outdoors if you can’t move your own weight around and haul your belongings up the hill. Screw them. You can still trek. Take 8 hours to reach the campsite when others take 6. Carry only a pair of extra clothes for the entire trek to reduce the weight on your shoulders. Or simply hire a porter or put your backpack on a mule.
Point here is, be in the outdoors if you simply want to be in the outdoors. Make a start, however difficult it may seem at first. Don’t let your own perceived lack of fitness stop you. The only thing that can be a problem is your willpower. Your heart will pound heavily and seem to thump straight out of your chest at times. You will get there in the end though, if your heart truly desires the experience and your willpower is sky high.
No, we don’t mean don’t train hard or improve your fitness. The fitter you are the more enjoyable the trek will be. You won’t have to count every step that you’re taking and pause ever so often. Long slow walks are good for introspection and the oft repeated - ‘I am just a speck of dust inside a giant sky’ kind of feeling.
But fitness apart, you will still enjoy your campsite at the edge of the lake. You will cherish and remember the early morning views out of your tent long after the trek is over. But you will be less inclined to climb that stub of a hill to see the mist rising from the ridge beyond, to click those picture-perfect photographs the other trekkers seem to have, to push yourself just that little bit harder to get some more of what the mountains have to offer.
Everything said and done, and as you knew it, a fitness plan was surely coming your way. Read through till the end so you can start working your way towards getting more out of your treks and avoid that ‘Why the hell did I sign up for this?’ feeling.
Check with your doctor first before starting a new fitness training program. Ensure that there are no injuries or seemingly harmless niggles that might get aggravated and worsen with exercise.
We will concentrate on these broad categories to improve fitness for the mountains and high altitude trekking in particular.
Fitness plans are based on your specific trekking goals. The training activities remain the same, training duration and difficulty level increases as you train towards preparing for a hard trek.
Fitness Plan and Goals for an easy trek
Trekking for 4-5 hours over easy to gradual inclines with a 8-10 kg backpack.
Trekking involves walking at a pace that is not taxing to you. Aerobic exercises like walking with a heavy backpack, jogging on a an incline, climbing staircases are all good full body exercises that build aerobic endurance as well as leg and upper body strength. Cycling a few kilometres everyday is another way of building stellar aerobic endurance and leg muscles to die for.
Halfway through your jog or cycling activity, stop and stretch your muscles. A good way usually is the bottom to top or top to bottom approach. Start from your toes and work up to your head or vice-versa, for the stretching exercise. Stretch a little more with each passing day, with due precautions though.
Work steadily to achieve these goals and give your body enough time to get there. If you feel your body is responding well, extend the time or repetitions for some of the activities you are most comfortable with.
In addition to the above, do the following for strength training
Fitness Plan and Goals for a moderate trek
Trekking for 5-6 hours or more every day over moderate gradients with a 8-10 kg backpack.
At least two of the exercises below to be practiced regularly with either the cycling or jogging part done on an incline.
Fitness Plan and Goals for a difficult trek
Trekking for 6-7 hours or more every day over moderate and steep gradients with a 10-12 kg backpack.
You should be able to do all of the below in a single session with appropriate breaks.
As you have read through above, for each higher fitness goal, the duration of the activity of number of repetitions increases. To train harder, perform repetitions slowly, pausing or holding a position of strain slightly longer to make the exercise more effective.
Listen to your body
Start slowly and build gradually. Do not attempt to do many things too soon. Push yourself but not so hard that may cause an injury. Most importantly – enjoy your time out training. It should be fun and not something you dread each day.
Now go climb that stub of a hill near your campsite! :)
A must have for every serious trekker, this is one of those essential items that one must always carry but hope never to use it. The first aid kit must remain in your backpack at all times though. Outdoor or wilderness first aid kits are different from the standard first aid kits available mostly for household use. These standard first aid kits focus mainly on comforting the affected person before emergency services arrive. On a trek, far from civilization and where it can days for medical help to arrive, these first aid kits are not enough. A wilderness first aid kit is what you must carry along to the mountains. It is important to have at least one person in your trekking group to be trained in first aid or wilderness medicine to put the outdoor first aid kit to good use.
Pre-assembled first aid kits are common in the US and most European countries. Indian adventurists do not have such convenient options however. Even if a readymade kit is available, putting together your own kit is the best way to go about it. The first aid kit can be prepared keeping in mind the area in which you will be trekking, number of trekkers in the group, trek duration and special medical needs or prescribed medicines for the trekkers.
Remember the first point I made at the very beginning of this blog. Your aim should be to never have to use your first aid kit. This can be easily done by recognising your limits and not trying anything risky. Most trekkers underestimate the effects of high altitude which can prove very costly. Be aware of the common problems associated, especially with high altitude trekking. Sunburns, dehydration, headache, nausea, Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS – try to avoid these common illness by trekking cautiously and not pushing beyond your limits.
Based on the first aid courses I have attended and medical training received during climbing expeditions, I have compiled a list of contents that should ideally form part of your wilderness first aid kit.
This is no authority on what a first aid kit should contain, but the section below gives a good idea for those making their first aid kit by themselves.
wildmed.com, wildmedcenter.com, treksafe.com.au and ravenrescue.com are some sites referred to for information on this topic. Items not available in India have been removed or replaced with locally available variants and medicines for Himalayan trekkers in specific have been included.
Basic First Aid
Carry all first aid items in either a waterproof toiletries bag or a zip lock packet. I have been using a first aid kit pouch from WildCraft and it has served me well over the years.
Link below is for the excel sheet version of the first aid kit contents shown in the above picture.
IMPORTANT, Please Note:
Good to have in First Aid Kit:
In addition to the essentials listed above, these are a few items that can come handy in certain situations:
Survival accessories that can be added to your first aid kit:
Always remember though that the best of gear is useless without the proper knowledge required to use it. Same applies to the first aid kit. Do not carry stuff you don’t know how to use. Do not use what you have carried if unsure about it, unless there it is an emergency. A trained first aid practitioner should be the one to use the first aid kit when necessary.
What first aid supplies have bailed you out when in need? Comment and share your experiences with us.
Your first foray into the outdoors always makes you a bit nervous. But there’re always those who have been there and done that. From whom we can learn a lot. And there are some of my own tried and tested ways that I would like to share with you all.
Yes, we all love spending time in the outdoors, sometimes we do that for weeks together. But there’s a lot that should be done during your time at home too. The Internet is a source of information like no other and very often, hours and days go by when I am glued to my laptop. Reading one article after another and gobbling down as many tips and tricks that can be handy in the field.
The blogs coming your way over the next few weeks are an attempt to present what I’ve read online, all the second-hand knowledge gathered scouring corners of the net – to present it in a condensed, meaningful way. So that you can save some time and spend it more wisely outdoors.
So here are a few pointers you can keep in mind when starting out:
Choose your first trek wisely
First of all, trek difficulty and trek are to be considered. Start with short weekend hikes around your city before heading into the Himalayas. You will learn many things from shorter, easier treks that will make it much easier for that long
Select a trek keeping your specific interests in mind and what you want to experience. All treks are not made equal – some have more wildlife while others have spectacular waterfalls. Simply joining a trek because that’s where most of your friends have been before is not the right way to go about it. For you may simply want to relax and hike through forests rather than trek up a challenging mountain pass.
Also keep in mind distance from the nearest city. Unlike countries with a more developed rescue options we do not have the luxury or the means to call for a rescue. In case anything untoward happens you’ll be far away from civilisation and days away from any help. Start small, with easy treks and slowly build up your confidence in the wilderness.
Know your trekking style
Decide if you want to trek independently or with a trek organizing company. For beginners it might be more reassuring to get the logistics sorted out by the trek organizers even for the shortest of treks. Customizing a trek to suit your needs can be a slightly expensive affair though, if you’re not in a group of 4-5 trekkers or more. Alternatively, there are the fixed departure treks where you can simply sign up for a trek starting on a particular date and join other trekkers who have also signed up the same trek.
You can also trek independently though this will definitely require more grit and determination. You will have plan and arrange the trek logistics by yourself. This should only be opted for by experienced trekkers though, or when accompanied by an experienced partner / team.
Go along with an experienced partner
Solo treks can be extremely rewarding but resist the urge to venture out on your own, especially when you’re new to the outdoors. Unless you are a seasoned trekker with plenty of experience, avoid heading out alone. Join like-minded adventurers and head out along with a group. Accompany someone who knows their way around and can get you out of tricky situations, so that you don’t find yourself completely over your head if anything goes wrong.
Carry appropriate gear
Gear to be carried depends on the region that you’re heading out in and the season you are trekking in. Your gear should cover all probable incidents that you might face.
The ten essential pieces of gear to carry to be prepared for emergency situations has evolved over the year and is now referred to as these ten systems:
Leave No Trace
You must have heard this before and you will keep hearing it. And you must, for this is the mantra all trekkers MUST follow.
It is a lot of fun to be out in the wild but it is also very important to keep the wilderness as we found it. Indians are known for their dismal ways when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. I’ve come across campsites littered with food wrappers and toilet paper flying in the wind. The pollution so common in the cities will only spread to the mountains, if not conscious of your actions. Better stay indoors and let the outdoors be, if you cannot take care of your surroundings and keep them clean.
Leave No Trace (www.LNT.org) lists seven principles that promote ethical, low impact outdoor recreation. The major principles: carry back your own garbage and stay away from wildlife. Ethical outdoor recreation in detail will also follow in another blog.
Cleaning up your own trash is the least that you can do. If possible, try and carry back some garbage other trekkers might have left behind. Go ahead, set an example for the others!
Your trekking plans and expected date of return must be communicated to someone. A family member, friend or any other responsible person must know about this. It helps to sound an alarm if your return is delayed for whatever reason. It also helps rescue teams to plan their search & rescue properly based on the information you have passed on to someone before leaving.
More trekking tips for beginners
Keep these things in mind and your first trek should go well. You will surely make mistakes and learn from them. We all do, even experienced trekkers go wrong every now and then. But trust the outdoors to teach you in its own style, slowly but surely. Eventually you will understand your own body, its shortcomings; your trekking style and how you need to prepare for the tougher treks you always dreamed of.
This is by no means all there is to keep in mind for beginners. Do share more points you feel will help those who are yet to head out on a trek...
No, the Sandakphu Trek is not the only trek in the world with views of 4 of the 5 tallest mountains in the world. There’s an easier trek and one that promises an insane number of rhododendrons on display. Just look at this tree draped in red. And yes, the red bunches bloom in vast numbers on trees, plants and shrubs alike. After all we are talking about the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary here.
We had just completed the Sandakphu trek and had to head back to Yuksom in Sikkim. The plan was to trek onward to Gorkhey and head off towards Hilley, from where one enters the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. Leave Sirikhola we did, but Taashi and friends had some other plans in mind. The next stop was Samandin – a lovely village on an upland just half an hour before Gorkhey. And such was the hospitality that a planned stay for a night extended to three days of fun and adventure. Fishing in the Rammam Khola and scavenging for frogs under the riverside boulders made up the adventure quotient. A game of football with another team of trekkers, carrom with the local kids and the old folks with rounds of ‘chaang’ (rice beer) ensured enough merriment throughout our stay.
Samandin is also known as the lost valley of Sikkim is an undeniably beautiful place with extremely friendly and hospitable locals. The farms and houses are spread out neatly across a scenic plateau with narrow little pathways that allow you to for delightful stroll around the village. There are a few camping spots for those who love to amble and lie around lazily on smooth grassy patches. An adventurous hike through the woods nearby provides access to the Rammam Khola hidden away in the forest – no marked trails though, so you need to hustle your way through. Fishing seems to be the favourite pass-time of the locals here, and we too indulged in this activity and were rewarded with some prized catches.
We finally moved on toward Hilley, at noon on 21st March, aiming to stop at Barsey for the night. Passing through Gorkhey, we moved towards Bhareng, an hour’s trek away from Gorkhey. Trekkers returning from the Sandakphu-Phalut trail can head to Bhareng, instead of going down to Sirikhola and end their trek here as well. A new road coming up connects Bareng to Jorethang and transport can be arranged from here to NJP / Siliguri.
From Bhareng we joined the under construction road that climbed up to Ribdi. It was a broad mud path, an uncompleted road winding up to a few huts located higher above. Ribdi is a well equipped, relatively large town about an hour’s trek away from Bhareng. We stopped here for a short while to ready our supplies for the trek ahead and sip on a few cups of tea in the meantime. And good we did take this short break, for the trek ahead was a long steep climb for 2 straight hours all the way to Hilley. Yes, we could have trekked along the road for most part, but that would have been a bit boring. It would have taken us more than 3 hours too. So we took a shortcut that climbed up steeply from the Ribdhi school and high above the houses of Ribdhi. The trail through forests and farm plot with views of the surroundings, as always provided some relief from the demanding trek.
Two tiring hours of trekking since our short halt at Ribdhi, we made our way towards the huts of Hilley, at the far end of the town where the road coming in from Jorethang ends. As we walked into Hilley, the weather changed completely. The dry, hot weather had now given way to cold, misty conditions at the 2900m altitude. The windy conditions and our clothes soaking with sweat meant our jackets came out much earlier than anticipated. A snack was long due as well and soupy Wai-Wai noodles provided much needed nourishment near the tourist huts.
Hilley is a popular tourist destination in West Sikkim with many visiting it just for the good weather and the greenery around. It is one of the entry points for the Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary as well. And inside the Park is where we were headed. With the dues paid and paperwork completed at the entry gate, we entered the thick bamboo and rhododendron forests within the Sanctuary.
The Barsey Sanctuary or ‘Varsey’ as it also known, occupies a vast densely forested area of 100 sq. kms. and is home several varieties of rhododendrons, magnolia, primula, bamboo, orchids oaks and pines. The trekking trails within the park are mostly easy but there are chances of losing one’s way and getting lost within the dense jungles. With green hills all around, hidden waterfalls, diverse flora and fauna the Barsey Sanctuary is worth a visit for bird-watchers, trekkers or simply nature lovers.
Barsey was about an hour’s trek or 4kms away from the entry gate and we moved at a leisurely pace, enjoying hiking on the green trail. Natural light barely made its presence felt through the thick growth of bamboo and rhododendron trees. It was 6 pm by the time we reached the lovely trekkers hut inside the park. Set in the midst of the forest, the trekkers hut has a private room on the ground floor and more dormitory style beds. A kitchen maintained by the locals serves up food for travellers passing through. There is plenty of open space around the trekkers hut to pitch your tent too, if required. There was no electricity however, which brought out the small chess board that Dhandu carries all the time. I hadn’t played a lot of chess before this trek, but Dhandu and Taashi got me hooked on to the board very fast. Working up the grey matter for some reason seemed to be a good way to wind up the day after a tiring trek J
The day always starts early in the mountains and today was no different. We were packed up and ready for breakfast before 6 am. Some commotion ensued just outside the trekkers hut and we walked over to investigate. The Kanchenjunga Range has just made itself visible in the early morning light and all trekkers were enamoured with what was on display. Having just completed the Sandakphu Trek in glorious weather and brilliant panoramas of the Sleeping Buddha, the view probably didn’t delight us as much. But who can resist the pretty sight of mountain tops basking in yellow-golden sunlight. Out came the cameras and we gazed at the beautiful nature on display yet again.
Breakfast consumed, we wasted no time in hiking up to Deoningalidhap – a campsite about an hour away from the Barsey trekkers hut. Another group was already camping here and we moved on quietly, careful not to disturb some of the trekkers sleeping inside the tents. Well rested from the previous night, we moved fast through the now narrow trail in between thick bamboo forest. We were headed to Achaley. One need to be careful on this part of the trail as it does disappear at times and can trick one into taking an unwarranted detour.
Mostly consisting of gradual ups and downs, the trail is not challenging for the experienced trekkers. But every now and then the trail opens up and offers a glimpse of the hills all around with green forests and rhododendrons in abundance. We were a bit late for
From Achaley or Achalley Dara, one trekking route heads towards the Singalila Ridge. Trekker can connect to Phalut and Gorkhey from here or trek towards Thulo Dhaap, Kalijhar and Chewabhanjyang on a longer route to Uttarey. Another alternate, is to descend to Uttarey, the shortest route to get to there through the newly constructed Tenzing Hillary Park. Phokteydara a short hike up from Kalizar promises 360 degree views of the Himalayan peaks and 4 of the 5 tallest mountains in the world, just like Sandakphu and Phalut. Although we did not hike up to Phokteydara, being close to the Singalila Pass and closer to the Kanchenjunga range than Sandakphu and Phalut, it surely must pack some stunning views for the trekkers.
We took the direct, short route to Uttarey and started our descent. The trail was steep at times but there was plenty of cool forest cover along the way. It took about two hours to get down all the way to Uttarey. An hour into the descent we reached a few huts and a diversion along a kachcha road that lead to this memorial in honor of Tenzing and Hillary.
From here on, Uttarey was clearly visible far down and across on the other side of the valley. We trekked through Sherpa Gaon and Gumpadara villages on our way down before reaching the road-head at Uttarey.
Uttarey is another tourist destination in West Sikkim is frequented by many travellers and trekkers seeking the Singalila Ridge. The Singalila Pass and the sites of Phoktey Dara and Kalijhar near the base of the Kanchenjunga Range are good spots to trek to.
We had been trekking at a fast pace since 6:30 in the morning and it was by 12:30 pm by the time we completed the trek. Lunch was important before we headed any further. Rice and noodles and momos disappeared in no time once set on the table.
We were to drive to Pelling and then to Yuksom was what I had anticipated. But Taashi and friends were in no mood to go back so soon. We started on a short trek again, out of Uttarey but in the opposite direction. We trekked to the end of the road ahead of Uttarey, past the trout breeding centre by the riverside and up to another lovely village, Semphok – only after a refreshing dip in the river though.
Semphok was half an hour’s trek up from the road. There is a motorable road that leads up to the village too. But few vehicle ply here from Uttarey and trekking it up seemed a better idea than waiting for a ride. Some fun and games were on for the evening then – a game of volleyball in an improvised volleyball court followed by copious amounts of Chaang.
Our ride picked us up from Semphok early next morning for a drop to Uttarey. We hopped on to a jeep heading to Geyzing and the drive continued. Close to Uttarey, we drove over the Singshore bridge: Asia’s 2nd highest suspension cable bridge! The height was dizzying and there were some very anxious moments while crossing the bridge. Why no bungee jumping was a thought that came to mind, only once we were safely across on the other side though ;)
We crossed Pelling soon after and reached Geyzing for another surprise. It was the festival of Holi that day and the entire town had shut shop – only to celebrate the festival on the streets. Music, dancing and splashing water and colors on one and all – it was a great way to end our little adventure. We joined in the celebrations for a while and then headed on to get back to Yuksam late in the afternoon. Places and friends to be visited again another time for sure!