Trekking 101

I’m back in Mumbai from an exhausting and challenging trek in the mountains of the Lesser Himalayas in Uttarakhand and I’m still recovering from the fatigue that has sunk in as a result of the constant travel and the battering that my skin received courtesy the harsh summer sun of the mountains.

This was my second outing in Uttarakhand; the previous excursion took place in 2011 and saw me trek to an elevation of 3200m. over a period of four days that stretched from Uttarkashi and the banks of the Assiganga through Dodital and Darwa, finally terminating at Hanumanchatti.

Doditaal Trek

This trek was spread over six days and took me to an elevation of 4000m., beginning at Ghat and passing through the villages of Ghuni and Jhinjhi, over Kuari Pass and into Auli – a popular winter games’ resort just south of Joshimath.

Kuari Pass Trek

Trekking in Himalayas deserves a lot of respect and preparation, especially for someone who is used to frequent hikes along the many popular trails on the Western Ghats. The weather changes are extreme and sudden and temperatures swing to both sides of the scale in a span of hours. And at the higher altitudes of the Lesser Himalayas, one runs the risk of countering snow, even in the summer months of April and May.

a. Shoes: Your shoes are the biggest and most important investment you will make on a trek along the trails in the Himalayas. There are a lot of resources on the internet that help you determine the kind of shoes you should buy but do keep in mind that you will encounter many different types of terrains on the Himalayas and your shoes should be able to traverse all of them. My last purchase for the Dodital trek was a disaster that led to this:

DSC_0358

DSC_0357

Timberland and Salomon are some of the expensive options available, in addition to Quechua – a brand that offers reasonably-priced products that are equally good. Quechua is sold by Decathlon, which has five stores in India in addition to its online operations. It is however a good idea to purchase your shoes after trying them on in a brick-and-mortar establishment rather than purchase them on the internet.

b. Headlamps: My last purchase for the Dodital trek was an expensive Maglite torch from a store called Base Camp in Phoenix Mills, which broke as I tripped over a tent peg on the second day itself. This time around I did not purchase another torch but used a cheap one that was lying around unused at home. And in hindsight, it wasn’t such a good decision considering the fact that we began the ascent for Kuari early in the morning. With dawn well over two hours away, traversing the narrow ridges with a trekking pole in one hand and a torch in the other was a tad uncomfortable.

c. Shirt: If you’re trekking in the summer months of April and May, then expect a lot of sweat. And thus, a specially designed shirt with pocket-like openings at the sides for better ventilation seems like a good idea. Breathability and transmission of moisture and sweat are important properties to be considered, in addition to the obvious – protection from the sun.

d. Thermals: Even on the lower altitudes of the Lesser Himalayas, the temperatures drop significantly early in the morning and it is best to be prepared for a cool night with a pair of thermals. However, it might be a good idea to wash these before you wear them for the first time, just the same way you might want to break into your new shoes before the trek. Your skin already faces a lot of abuse throughout the day from the sun and the nettles on the shrubs that grow along the many trails in these mountains, and the last thing you need is a nasty reaction to the fabric of your thermals.

e. Sunglasses: It might not be a good idea to carry your aviators or wayfarers on these treks; the open sides allow for foreign objects carried by the wind to enter and irritate your eyes. Invest in a pair of sports glasses that wrap around your eyes and cover them completely, thus eliminating the possibility of any object entering your eyes from the sides.

f. Medicines: This is another important aspect of your preparations for the trek that often faces a lot of neglect. Divide your medicines into five groups: travel sickness (Avomine), mountain sickness, muscles and joints (Combiflam or other ibuprofen-based drugs to battle inflammation and rubefacient analgesics), cuts and bruises (a small first-aid kit complete with bandages, clean dressing, antiseptic liquids, and duct tape), and allergies (Avil) and sun burn (sunscreen, SPF 50).

There are a lot of other resources on the internet that address each of these specifically and comprehensively but these pointers are things I’ve learnt the hard way and should hopefully get you started. Do keep in mind that these terrains are some of the most difficult and challenging in the world and you might want to sign up with a reputed adventure travel company with a lot of experience and expertise and a history of  safety. Don’t forget to read reviews of the company you’re signing up with on internet platforms that have been designed specifically for these reasons and go through a detailed itinerary of your trek.

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