How to pick a rock-solid guide for Himalayan treks
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
Decades ago mountains weren’t considered as places to go for a vacation. They were considered dangerous, the abode of gods and demons. A few motivated men tried to venture into these unknown lands but most of them disappeared or died before they could share their information with others. The ones that were successful relied heavily on the help of ‘locals’, people who understood the lay of the land.
These people weren’t certified by international agencies or educated in mountaineering institutes. They occasionally climbed mountains, crossed passes with their flocks but never recorded any of their exploits. Today these facts may seem irrelevant but there are two important lessons to be learned from this story. Firstly it highlights the potential dangers of travelling in the mountains and secondly it solidifies the importance of guides.
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.
Why do you need a guide?
The purpose of hiring a guide is often misunderstood. The trekking agency you are consulting asserts that you need to hire one as per protocol; purists in your group frown, while the weakest members nod in approval. In the middle of all this confusion the real purpose of hiring a guide is often forgotten.
You don’t really need a guide for navigation if you are hiking on a popular trail or if are experienced enough to rely on your own judgment. Guiding is a service industry but don’t expect your guide to be your chauffeur and cook. A guide’s main role is to assess risks and take responsibility for the client’s actions. Mountain guides are trained to recognize objective hazards, such as avalanche danger, potential rock fall, and bad weather, and have rescue skills. They help you plan the best route, will know exactly what kind of equipment to bring. Will help you learn and practice technical skills.
Criteria for selecting a guide
Choosing a guide in India can be a bit of a challenge. If we compare the standards prescribed by organisations as UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation), IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) and NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) then we find that the Indian Outdoor industry does not take into account many hazards and accidents that are common when travelling on high-altitude. And guides employed in the industry are a function determined by price rather than skill and experience.
The criteria for selection that we prescribe is a mix between International and domestic standards and aims to help you choose the best guide according to your own specifications.
- Mountain guides in India are generally trained by the various government mountaineering institutes. There are three different levels of training –Basic, Advance, and Search & Rescue. Your guide should have completed all three levels.
- The best practice for a guide is to get a Wilderness Medicine First Response certification. To be able to handle medical emergencies in the wilderness with dexterity.
- Since Indian mountaineering courses do not specifically cater to building skills in guiding, your guide should be able to provide a log book of authenticated records of mountaineering experience, to establish his/her expertise in the domain.
- For guides operating in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, a registration with local authorities is imperative. It will be an additional plus if the agency is also empanelled with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
- If your trek is a technical one, than all of the safety equipment like ropes, harnesses, carabiners and the like, should be certified by UIAA or CE.
- AFMGA and IFMGA guides if guiding in Alpine and Rock surroundings typically work with one or two clients in mostly technical terrain, and they limit teaching to what clients need to know to move efficiently through the guided terrain. Ski Guides typically work with larger numbers of clients in technical terrain.
We recommend a 1:5 ratio between guides and clients for non technical terrains and 1:4/3 for technical (depending upon technicalities), to ensure that everyone stays safe and the guide doesn’t get overwhelmed with the amount of people in case of emergencies.
Remember your guide will be your companion and leader. So ask them as many questions as you want and once you hire them trust their judgment and listen to them.
Have you come across any kick ass guides on your outdoor adventures? If yes, put in their details below. And let the world know.
The great outdoors is always full of surprises! With its fair share of challenges, risks, and rewards. You never know what may come around the bend.
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Author: Sukrit Gupta
An avid climber, ultrarunner and day dreamer, Sukrit is a fan of everything that is self-managed and solo. A flag bearer for self sufficiency and pushing beyond limits, he loves to spend his time slithering over rock faces and devising cruel trail running courses in his mountainous backyard in Manali.