Anxious, excited and worried are the emotions that summed up what I felt when I signed up for a ‘family trek’ to Kedarkantha with Indiahikes (IH). Rather than sightseeing, the actual objective was for us to get closer to nature.
One of the reasons I was taking my kids trekking was to expose them to nature. Away from the gadgets and digital disturbances that are a bane of modern life. I was also looking at it as an opportunity to imbibe in them some humane traits – humility, sustainability, minimalism.
I was not sure if I was being over-adventurous in planning a trek with my family. Nevertheless, we did go on the trek and completed it successfully too.
I’m sure there are many other parents/families that are contemplating the same but have a lot of concerns and fears. Below are some of the aspects to consider while trekking with kids.
What is the right age for kids to start trekking?
If you’re trekking with children, this is a big question you may have. In my experience, trekking is apt for any active child of six years and above. It may be a good idea to start kids off on easier/day treks before embarking on high altitude ones. Parents can also encourage their kids to watch videos or read about treks to prepare them mentally.
What kind of groundwork is needed for trekking with children?
Contrary to what most parents believe, kids are generally fitter than their parents. They are better geared for trek conditions where oxygen levels, weight and fitness matter. This was a learning for me when I saw Deep, my 7-year-old son, in the front with the lead guide most days. Most of his health parameters were better than many of the adults.
Irrespective, the right preparation for children is to include a few long walks to test if they hold up. Indiahikes usually requires proof of fitness to be submitted before a trek. Use that opportunity to speak to your doctor about any child-specific checks – wheezing, cold, cough, etc.
During the pre-trek briefing, I told the trek leader that I was worried how Deep would fare in the next few days. His response was that I was better off taking care of myself than being worried about my kid. Harsh it seemed then, but what I saw over the next few days was testament to his confident response!
Parents also need to prepare kids mentally to be away from their usual home comforts – cushioned beds, favourite food, play time, friends, etc. Keep talking to them about this during the previous few weeks. This can also make them interested, inquisitive and possibly motivated and inspired.
Indiahikes trekkers are a lucky bunch. Because of the excellent food/shelter management by Indiahikes, it is easier for the trekkers to take care of themselves. Kids are usually finicky about food but they somehow magically adapt during treks. After all, “Paapi pet ka sawal hai!” You can expect parathas, rotis, rice, dal, salad at meals, apart from tea/coffee/hot water in the mornings. It’s fascinating to see the promptness of the Indiahikes cooks under those difficult circumstances.
It’s a good idea to pack some small eats, nuts, biscuits, etc. for the kids. However, be careful not to overpack as that can make your backpack very heavy. On some treks, you will find small dhabas serving omelette, which kids will love, especially after some strenuous trekking.
On Indiahikes treks, each trekker has to bring his own plate/glass and is responsible for cleaning it after every use. Parents must either prepare the child for this or take care of it themselves. To be honest, it can be daunting to wash up after meals with cold water at high altitudes without gloves.
You can carry your own backpacks or offload your backpacks at an additional cost. For young kids, I would recommend offloading their backpacks. However, they will still need to carry a daypack containing essentials such as water, small eats, cap, etc. It may be cumbersome for kids to remove the daypack every time to drink water, so a sipper / hydration pack is recommended.
What to wear
This is an important topic that often creates confusion, anxiety and sometimes panic in parents who are trekking with children. My advice is to adhere to the standard guidelines given by Trek Coordinators or Leaders.
Sometimes as parents we tend to be overcautious and make our kids wear extra layers. Bear in mind that even high up in the Himalayas the sun always shines. So during the day, kids might start feeling uncomfortably hot inside all the layers. This happened to us as we had put on a layer of thermals for a day trek. Eventually we caused a halt to change clothes in one of the huts!
The reverse also holds true. The nights and early mornings are chilly and kids will need extra layers. We had another unforgettable experience. My son Deep forgot to wear thermals on the summit day early morning trek. We discovered this only after we were some way up in the mountains. Deep sat down still, teeth chattering and unwilling to move ahead.
The trek leader (who came running down to help us) told us that these could be early signs of hypothermia. The cause – absence of thermals. My son and I had to descend to the basecamp and return after donning thermals. Not only did this create much drama, it also caused a lot of anxiety. This could have been easily avoided by wearing thermals as instructed.
Other things to keep in mind while trekking with children
Parents also need to be careful when using sleeping bags for small kids. Sometimes kids can get lost in the deep sleeping bags during heavy sleep.
While trekking, children require constant motivation to keep them going, though they do quite well on oxygen levels. Make it easier and interesting for them with chats/discussions, chocolate bars or light snacks. We were lucky to have a very chirpy group. Some members regularly fed us treats which kept us energised.
Children will usually disperse into different groups depending on their pace – ahead, middle or behind – which is fine. They may also tend to get competitive and try to reach the end point fast.
Let me conclude with a note of personal pride. Deep was selected for the ‘Trekkers Award’ by the trek leader for keeping the group motivated with his constant chatter, apart from his contribution to the Green Trails effort and, last but not the least, for summiting Kedarkantha despite his age!