Soul search second, Safety measures while trekking is paramount
This blog is a part of our Trekking 101 series, powered by ULTIMATE TREKKER – the Outdoor Leadership Programme for pro trekkers.
The purpose of safety measures while trekking is often misunderstood; it’s the last thing on one’s mind before leaving home and isn’t a buzzword among your friends. The question really is whether it’s really worth the headache? Your trekking buddies may frown upon it but only experienced trekkers and mountain guides understand the real purpose of mountain safety.
Every year multiple trekking accidents are reported through social media. While the Indian Tourism industry proudly advertises Kashmir’s emerald lakes, Himachal’s snowy passes, it often forgets to acknowledge the trekking accidents that occur in these places.
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 a UIAA certified Himalayan Mountain Guide and Wilderness First Responder, which makes him an unparalleled expert on climbing and trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Safety measures while trekking are neglected by both the Tourism Ministry and local trekking agencies. They focus only on the ‘pleasures’ travellers experience while hazards and hardships are usually sidelined. Due to seasonal nature of treks and cut throat competition, too many hikers are admitted in one group. Often a single guide manages a group of 15 to 30 people against the prescribed guide-line of 1:4 by International Federation of Mountain Guides Association (IFMGA). Usually travellers are inexperienced and their ability to assess risk is quite poor. Only one first-aid kit is carried in most trekking groups and the government doesn’t provide any emergency backups for remote high-altitude evacuations. In other words your safety is in your own hands if you’re trekking in the Indian Himalayas.
Outdoor safety hazards can be divided into 4 categories:
1-Navigation and Ethics
4-Agency Induced Risks
1-Navigation and Ethics
–The most common problem faced by Trekkers is Navigation: Be prepared. Have you done any research before leaving home? In case you lose your guide or are stuck due to a landslide do you have any other backup for navigation? Trails change throughout the year. If you plan to go in the pre-monsoon season then chances are, you’ll find more snow, and prominent landmarks won’t be visible.
–They are called ‘ethics’ for a reason: Do you know when and why you should break camp? How you should pack your bag? When not to cross snow bridges? These tasks might seem simple and intuitive but are the reason behind more than half the trekking accidents that occur each year.
–A ‘First-Aid kit’ is more than a necessity: From a slight bruise to pulmonary edema, a first aid kit is a solution to many problems, be sure to pack one before you leave home. If you’re planning to go for any of the top ten treks in India, remember the closest road-head is at least 50 km away – hence carry all medical necessities you might need.
–Winters or summers, the probability of frostbites is very high: Frostbites occur when human skin is exposed to extreme cold conditions for too long. Just like water turns to ice when the temperature drops; your fingers, hands, toes, feet – even your nose and ears -can freeze if not covered properly.
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-Beware of Hypothermia: Normal body temperature averages at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. With hypothermia, core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can occur due to two main reasons – Exposure to extreme cold or increased heat loss. 33% to 73% of hypothermia cases are complicated by alcohol consumption. Alcohol gives a false sense of warmth in the body because alcohol causes the blood vessels in your skin to dilate. Greater blood flow to the limbs causes a sensation of warmth but leads to heat loss, resulting in lower core body temperature. Critical cases can lead to hypothermia.
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The Hanuman Tibba Incident – Large trekking groups are generally composed of strangers who sign up for a trek or expedition and meet up for the first time. Generally you tend to think that any hazard faced on a trip would be due to oversight or a safety measure not followed by an agency or the trip leader. But sometimes there are inexplicable cases where you have individuals simply not following protocols and hiding pre-existing or developing medical conditions in the fear that they will be forced out of a trek. They sincerely believe that through sheer will power they will be able to simply pull it off. No amount of pre trek awareness talks, information changes it.
A few years ago I went to Mt. Hanuman Tibba (5928 mtr) as an expeditions First-Aid Medical assistant. Before the climbing began members were briefed on possible ailments and conditions faced by trekkers due to altitude and exhaustion. By the third day one of the members started behaving a little oddly. I approached him and asked if there was something wrong? He refused, next day I found him stumbling, lagging behind, sweating profusely and went to him. Again I asked him, what’s happening. Do you have a headache, are you feeling disoriented? He denied despite being in discomfort. I asked him to remove his sunglasses, he refused. When I firmly told him he wouldn’t be going further if he didn’t cooperate he reluctantly removed his glasses to reveal a pair of eyes that were so horribly inflamed that it looked like he had conjunctivitis.
You could very clearly tell he was in sheer agony and yet he chose to hide it when he had the option to have it treated the first day itself. Because he tried hiding his condition he jeopardized the entire group’s safety- now a porter had to be sent down with him for his own safety. This seems to be the one factor that newcomers generally face; they think that will power and stubbornness alone will help them overcome their lack of preparation and ability. When stuck in adverse conditions something that sounds as trite as this can blow up into being a full-fledged emergency. –Anne Mathias
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– All lightning-related deaths occur outdoors: Warmer weather increases the chances of getting caught in a thunderstorm. Lightning accidents are common in open areas; hiking sticks, tent poles and other pointy objects attract lightning while in a storm. So learn how to protect yourself, otherwise you might end up getting ‘Thunderstruck’.
-See and ensure being seen during a whiteout: Whiteout is a condition of decreased visibility, it occurs when a snow storm blows up with little or no warning. Visibility is reduced to mere feet, and hikers can lose track of where they are going, even losing the sense of which way is going up or down.
4-Agency Induced Risks
–Your guide can ‘make’ or ‘break’ your trek: A knowledgeable guide can safely lead you to the best places for wilderness exploration, back-country travel or mountaineering while tending to logistics such as transportation, food and lodging, but if he/she proves incompetent then they can ruin your entire experience. So ask a few more questions before you hire a guide this time – Does your guide have any recommendations from previous clients? Do they have a medical or first aid training? Is he/she familiar with the local topography, fauna and flora?
–Can you assess your own safety? If you don’t know how to work with ropes and tie basic knots then chances are you’ll always require assistance and you won’t be able to question the quality of your safety equipment or the scope of knowledge of the service provider/guide.
Remember only when you feel secure can you cherish an experience. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst.
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Author: Aditya Pande
A climber hailing from a quaint hill town of Kumaon, Uttaranchal. Focused towards staying healthy and efficient, in the mountains and in the cities.