August 8, 2017 Samrat Chakraborty

Trek Planning, beginning a trek

Why trek planning is important?

In a theoretical sense – Trekking is a necessary routine within a sport called Mountaineering. Any mountaineering expedition must involve trekking unless the full expedition team is being flown(by helicopter/small aeroplane) all the way to the climbing base camp of the target mountain. The more remote a mountain is , the more time and resources(i.e fuel,food,porter,pony/yak) are invested in trek just to reach a base camp.

In a more practical sense – Trekking is just hiking through any terrain , given you have the following major things in place –

  1. RESOURCES :Managing resources comes under administration. This is one thing which plays the most crucial role in a trek. Even without adequate planning ,information, or first aid, a trek can be done just because you have resources in place; but of course it will bevery risky and very childish. Or we can put it this way – if resources are not present , trek does not even start.In life threatening or simply challenging situations in a trek, quality ,quantity and management of resources decide the outcome.
  2. Types –Human resources – Other than trekker, Team leader , Guide , Cook, Sweeper , Porter , Horse man, Doctor etcetera.Fuel – Kerosene , Butane cylinders. Often plays a vital role in any trek.Water – A proper understanding and knowledge of where to get water that will be safe to drink is a must.Ration – Food like Dahlia, Mueslie, Dry fruit, Chocolate , Biscuit, Sugar, Tea , Coffee along with Rice,Dahl,Soyabins,Vegetables,tins of fish/meat, ready to cook food etcetera.Equipments – Kitchen tent, Sleeping tent, Toilet tent, Hiking shoes, Gum boots, Trekking sticks, Warm clothings , Sleeping bags, Mattress, Rope, Ice axe , Descender , Carabbiner , Sickle , Compass , Tarpaulin etcetera.Other resources – Load carrying animals like Yak or horse.
  3. Well thought out PLAN & RESEARCH:a) Knowing the area – Get a good geographical map, try to understand the region first. Research, try and understand – through what sort of terrain the trek advances.- Is it a river gorge with steep side-walls?
    – A plateau?
    – A riverine valley?
    – Does it pass over a ridge(i.e col/pass)?
    – Maybe it is just a lower slope of a mountain?
    – Could be a high or low altitude desert.
    – Snow slopes, loose rocks or slippery muddy patches of soil?
    – Or is it a gully beneath a pass, covered with sheet of ice ?…… Ok. There could be unimaginably diverse types of terrains to negotiate. I list just a few to provoke your imagination.In almost all cases it involves a lot more than only one type of terrain.b) Climate – A trek is planned according to the general climate of the region.
    General climate provides general indication of –
    > The range of temperature(day/night time) to expect.
    > Average humidity.
    > Strength of sun rays.
    > Sunrise / Sunset timing.
    > Safe period/window for hiking during the day.
    > If and how much snowfall/Rain to expect in general.
    c) Weather & Season – Weather dictates your trek. Season often dictates how y weather is.
    Season can be broadly categorised into “Open” and “Closed” season. In an open season the weather condition is generally clear, with no or minimum rain/snowfall/lightening/forest-fire/landslide/hail/storm/hailstorm/blizzard etcetera. The closed season means all these weather conditions can be “expected”, thus rendering any chance of sustained and safe trekking all but impossible.d) History of Natural Disaster in the Region: It’s imperative that you check the facts about the region’s recent disastrous events like Landslide, Famine, Draught or any occurrence of massive storm or massive cloud burst that has happened in the region’s recent history. It must also be noted in which season that disaster has happened and what kind of circumstances preceded that disaster (example – massive flood followed ‘non-stop drizzle for 5 days in the height of summer of 20XX’) . Accordingly the team will decide whether to trek in a certain region in a certain season, or not; and/or exactly when to evacuate the region before the disaster sets in.e) Rationing : I am placing this point last, but it is as important if not more. If it was about “mountaineering”, I would have given it more importance. Still , trekking, justifiably has a lot of dependency on rationing.
    Rationing is the way you spend your resources in a trek. In ideal case the resources must have some buffer to spend. Imagine a situation like this –
    you are doing Kalindi Khal pass , a long , difficult trek in Garhwal. After crossing Gaumukh, Nandanvan and Vasuki tal region you gradually enter in such a terrain that there is no simple way out. Now say, a huge snow storm strikes when you are crossing Kalindi khal, and continues for days. Your team has to sit out the storm. There is escape. To reach the nearest settlement you would need five to seven days of risky trekking, which is impossible in a snow storm. Here , everything and everybody’s life depends on “HOW YOU DO YOUR RATIONING”. To sit out the storm for five days, you have to re-evaluate remaining resources and re-distribute them over the extra five days plus the original remaining days. Proper rationing and keeping buffer resources can make the difference between life and death; or success and failure.
  4. Chalked out METHOD and MINDSET to TACKLE OBSTACLES => When you know your obstacles the job is half done.
    Broadly , there are two types of obstacles – Objective & Subjective

    Objective obstacles:
    These are challenges that are directly thrown by the nature. The trekker has to follow certain methods to counter these. Remember , the methods and equipments will depend on the nature of the challenge. I’ll use some examples to clarify these.Suppose the trekking trail is passing through a dark , damp , moist boulder region. So – trekking shoes with typical rubber soles may not work there. What you do? you carry a pair of light , locally made gum boot which will provide you required traction in that specific type terrain.
    Maybe, the trail goes through a crisply frozen snow field which is steep. So you carry walking crampon to get a better grip there.
    Or suppose in your map you can see clearly that your remote trail is crossing a stream in several points , and you are not sure if there will be a bridge or not. You carry a coil of rope for a safe river crossing.Subjective obstacles: These obstacles are manufactured by the negligence and overconfidence of trekker or may be the trekker was not equipped with required information so he makes a wrong decision. Let’s see some examples.Suppose a high altitude trekker is in a course of Diamox( a prescription drug used for quick acclimating) just because somebody asked him to be so, irrespective of whether the natural acclimating process would have been sufficient for him or not. Diamox de-hydrates. Trekker in a course of Diamox must be drinking at least couple of litres more water than someone not in Diamox. If he does not drink enough, severe de-hydration followed by a bad AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) hit could ensue, which will require an immediate evacuation.
    In another case – consider a trekker who is physically fit and healthy. He is pushing himself with all his resolve from day one , and gaining more than 2000 feet altitude a day. He will definitely be in risk of being turned into an AMS victim.
    Or, a trekker who never wears a head cover at high altitudes and does not make any effort to change his wet clothes, gets a really bad cold and cough – which potentially could turn into very deadly case of HAPO (High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema).
    A trekker who thinks he knows how to make a bowline knot(a self anchoring knot) on rope while crossing a river, but actually he does not. If the knot fails he may fall into ice cold white water. These kind of technical faults or overconfidence also features in this category.
  5. First aid Kit and Medical Knowledge:Again one of the very major part for any trek. First aid kit is not for curing a disease, it’s aim is to prevent/delay the onset of any infection or any life threatening condition like AMS, HAPO, HACO.Example – Often, a trek traverses a region which comprise of difficult route, cuts and bruises are a common thing. A small bottle of iodine can prevent any chance of infection. A bandage simply means that there is no open wound , so less chance of infection. Small things make a big difference eventually.The kit must contain medicines for headache, diarrhoea, pain relieve, cold and cough etcetera.It also must contain medicines that helps in acclimating like Diamox, steroids like Dex, pulse oxymeter, blood pressure monitor etcetera.*It must be stated that – Administering first aid requires knowledge and practice. Administering medicines without proper knowledge is strictly not to be done.

Apart from these major things , there are other things as well , which are thought to be very very important, but I would say – They are not, they are overrated. Such a thing is physical fitness.

A physically fit human body does not always ensure that trek will go well if he does not enjoy ; whereas a trekker just with a proper idea of his own physical capability can ensure success/safety all while enjoying it. It’s the knowledge of how and when exactly to spend your energy and focus makes bigger difference.

Trekking is a team game (if not someone is soloing in Alpine style) . The pace of a team should be that of the slowest member of the team. The sweeper, who walks at the back end of the team, is responsible to ensure that nobody is falling behind. The stronger members of the team will keep an eye on each and everyone and will inform the leader if someone is struggling.

Mental strength is as important if not more, than physical fitness. Mental strength comes from one’s inner ability to enjoy the nature, its elements, its flora and fauna, its diversity and cycle of change. Trekking presents better scope than mountaineering , when it comes to opportunity of learning and studying the mother nature.
When one’s mind is fully engaged in amazing events like blooming of a particular species of flower, congregation of a particular species of plant, summer/winter migration of a particular species of bird or just the ever changing scenery – the physical struggle does not burn you out.

Yes, physical training comes handy in emergency situations – but only when you are mentally sorted. So, do lots of cardio , train with load on your back …. definitely do.
But most of all – Do not overlook the tiny details in a trek. Find your subjects of interest and indulge in it. It could very well be the physical effort that you enjoy. No harm there. Just , spend yourself keeping some buffer. See – rationing comes here too.

Happy Trekking!


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About the Author

Samrat Chakraborty
Samrat Chakraborty Mountain climber, blogger. Been trekking and climbing in Indian Himalayas for the last 13 years. Special interests - Wildlife , Geography Believes in - Conservation of natural flora and fauna

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