Essential skills to be a pro mountain trekker
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
As beautiful as our mountains may seem, traversing their length and breadth is a not a mild affair. Trekkers face harshness born out of difficulty of terrain and altitude as well as variation and extremity in weather conditions. Sometimes, a lack of know how in dealing with mountain challenges can make a difference between life and death.
4Play aims to create awareness about the best practices, specific to the Indian outdoors. And enable you to step out with confidence. By making accessible an ocean of empirical knowledge gathered by the Indian Bear Grylls – Pranav Rawat himself.
Pranav Rawat is a seasoned mountaineer and an ice-climber, with a decade long experience as a summiteer. Pranav is also an UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Preparedness and knowledge to face adversity are paramount and is the defining hallmark of a trekkers. How many of you have been stuck on while trekking in the Indian Himalayas because you lacked a particular skill necessary for safe trek completion?
Here 4Play touches upon the set of skills required to become an expert trekker.
Every newbie trekker aiming to become a pro must get clothing right. The cardinal rule of the mountain is to dress up in layers. Layering is a way of wearing clothes in which one can add or remove layers of clothes with variation in temperature. Dressing up in layers is the key to remaining warm in a changing mountain environment and the way to do it properly is a skill every trekker must have.
Navigate, don’t grope
An important skill necessary to become an expert mountain trekker is the art of navigating mountains to reach from one point to another. Charting a safe passage, avoiding risky cliffs and avalanches, locating one’s own self on a map (GPS or not) are just some of the essential trekking skills.
A thorough understanding of distance and pacing, taking and using bearings, usage of natural landmarks and stars to find routes are all must have skills to become an expert mountain trekker.
Pack right, carry light
Trekking in the Indian Himalayas, a trekker must learn how to pack what is absolutely necessary and how to pack it correctly, not just cram it in the rucksack. Organising and distributing the load correctly helps in creating balance while walking, and contributes in making long treks more comfortable. Every expert mountain trekker must have this skill.
Know your equipment
Every trekker worth his salt must know what equipment to use and where, depending on whether he/she is attempting single day hikes or multi day arduous treks. Equipment varies according to terrain and climate and falls in several categories:
- Carrying methods (rucksacks, day pouches, waist packs)
- Safety equipment (ropes, safety harness etc)
- Apparel (crampons, trekking shoes, clothing)
- Shelter (tents, sleeping bags, rain ponchos)
- Navigational equipment (compass, maps, weather prediction watches)
- Basic equipment and utilities (ice axe, flashlights, first aid kit, sun protection, cutting tools)
- Cooking (Stove, gas, fuel, utensils)
Besides these, essential trekking skills would also include an updated understanding of technological equipment, a sense of tech savviness to utilize apps, digital communication tools and smart devices.
Certifications. You’ll need them
A trekker must have all the necessary certifications to successfully complete trekking expeditions. In remote and challenging environments, safety on treks becomes important. The knowledge to safely trek in hostile and unforgiving, often technically dangerous terrain is achieved by attending several courses like the Basic and Advanced Mountaineering Courses, Wilderness Medicine, Search and Rescue Course etc.
Most of these are offered by various government run mountaineering institutes in India and abroad. One that stands out is the 10 day Wilderness First Responder Course by NOLS at Ranikhet, India – an industry benchmark, it is a desirable course for trekking leaders, professional guides and Search and Rescue teams.
Do you know enough of the wild?
Camping and trekking through the mountains will invariably involve passing through wildlife sanctuaries. A clear understanding of rules and regulations, permits and procedures to pass through reserved forests is not only desirable but also essential for any trekker.
Besides this, a good understanding of the local topography and a detailed knowledge of the flora and fauna of the region are required. The idiosyncrasies of the wild of every particular region where the trekker is setting foot must be known in advance.
H20 makes every hiker GO!
No trekker has dared to go beyond the ordinary without a properly hydrated body. A good trekker understands that dehydration or over saturation of electrolytes in the body can result in spasms, cramps, nausea and often altitude sickness and increases the chances of muscle tear. Trekkers often use urine tint to determine if they are properly hydrated, pale yellow implying good hydration.
Precaution, not cure
Trekkers are indeed an enthusiastic species, desiring to scale higher and hike longer. But it is the trek leader’s responsibility to understand altitude and its ramifications. A pro trekker must have clear understanding about the environment and the risks associated with being at altitude and in the wild.
Injuries on a trek are very common. One should be well versed with cases of altitude sickness and must know how to manage emergencies, evacuations and provide first aid to him/herself as well as others.
Miscellaneous can be life saving
There are a lot of other important everyday skills that can help a trekker immensely. How to build a fire, how to pitch a tent correctly and set up camp, and reading weather are just a few of them.
Soft skills make tough trekkers
Soft and life skills are a cluster of personal, productive traits that are often desirable in a trekker. Characteristics like resourcefulness, patience, ability to take quick decisions under pressure, friendliness and approachability, as well as good planning all go a long way in making a trekker pro.
Some other important soft skills include empathy for the environment and fellow trekkers, tolerance towards changing and unpredictable circumstances (ever so often on a trek) and ability to apply critical thought under stressful situations.
Leave no trace
All pro trekkers have this ingrained deeply in their psyches: preservation of the environment. A very strong set of ethics to conserve natural resources, minimally impact the mountains while pursuing trekking activities and not to leave behind any trash, govern good trekkers. With a recent spike in the numbers of irresponsible trekkers, the one important characteristic which separates the good ones from the others is the higher awareness around conservation of the natural mountain ecology.
If your experience made you believe in a skill which is a must have for any trekker, do share it with us below.
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Author: Pranav Manocha
Pranav is a Nepal earthquake survivor with a flair for marketing. Beginning with a Quote T-Shirt business with a school friend after grade 12, he did his graduation in Literature from the University of Delhi. In his free time he loves reading Camus, trail riding and skinny dipping in rivulets around Manali.