Why Trekkers need to take Safety on Treks more Seriously

This is the second part in a three series article that Arjun Majumdar, founder of Indiahikes, writes about safety, preparation and protocols in high altitude trekking. Read the first in the series here.  

I hate to say this but treks in our country are becoming increasingly unsafe. I’ll put an organization’s perspective on this. So please put up with this long post.

Sudha is 37, assistant manager at an MNC in Bangalore. At 5’ 6” she is tall and well built.  She signed up for the Deoriatal trek at the insistence of her husband who was a keen trekker. For her preparation she walked around her neighbourhood for about ten days before the trek.

Deoriatal is not a difficult trek, so with a bit of huff and puff Sudha got herself to camp every day. She was always the last to arrive. On most days she would be about an hour behind the team. For the trek leader this was a matter of concern though not overtly so. Deoriatal was not a trek where he couldn’t handle slow trekkers.

On the day the team attempted the Chandrashila summit, Sudha was at the head of the pack. But by the time everyone reached the summit Sudha had slipped behind. It took her more than an hour and half to get to the summit, as usual accompanied by the co-guide. While the trek leader could hardly conceal his concern, Sudha was jubilant. Tears of accomplishment ran down her cheeks. She knelt down at the shrine on the summit sobbing her heart out. Everyone at the summit cheered.

View from the Chandrashila summit
The Chandrashila summit

The trek changed Sudha completely. When she returned to work she was flying two feet off the ground. The trek made her lose a few kilos as well. She felt renewed — more at ease with her body. 

She told her trek stories to all and sundry. Her colleagues loved listening to her. None of them knew anything about trekking. Listening to Sudha and looking at her pictures brought about an interest in them.

When the next trekking season started we could see registrations for the Deoriatal trek from folks at her company. Sudha had recommended the trek strongly.

Sudha’s colleagues who got on the trek were very much like her. Middle aged, overweight, and with very little preparation. They struggled through the trek. It wasn’t surprising when one of her colleagues collapsed on arrival at the final camp. It didn’t take long for the trek leader to revive him, though things could have been dangerously close.

Most readers readily identify with Sudha’s story. They often see lots of Sudhas on treks. My next story is perhaps more chilling.

On a recent high altitude trek in Spiti, the trek leader noticed that within the group there were many experienced trekkers. What surprised (or has stopped surprising) him was that most of them were largely overweight. When he checked on their preparation he discovered they had done very little. In fact almost all of them confessed that their busy work life did not give them much preparation time. It was a story he had heard before.

As the trek progressed, trekkers managed to put up with the rigorous trek. They completed the trek in time. No one really fell sick or had to be sent down. The trek ended well. Trekkers were ecstatic as expected. Yet, the trek leader thought it important enough to bring it to our notice during our team meeting. He knew these experienced trekkers were loyal fans of Indiahikes. They also had a large circle of trekking friends. A couple of them were bloggers. The trek leader had seen enough to know the circle of bad influence this was spreading. The message that was being sent out was simple: It was OK not to prepare for a trek.   

Gone are the days when trekking meant extensive preparation for a month or two. Or how people walked long distances with loaded rucksacks in preparation for a trek. Even during the early days of Indiahikes trekkers moved in a pack with the trek leader. Now there is a guide, a trek leader and co-guide with the group — each one of them shepherding a bunch of trekkers. Somehow trekkers feel this is OK. In fact, I often get angry outbursts from trekkers. They demand that we have more support staff for trekkers. This is turning alarming.

I admit Indiahikes has made things easy for trekkers. A lot of risks of high altitude trekking have greatly reduced. High tech safety equipment has brought down slips and falls to a minimum. Trained trek leaders, support staff, health checks, fixed camps, multiple groups and easier routes have taken off safety responsibility from the trekker. Frankly, it has become very easy to do high altitude treks. You get on the trekking conveyor belt, sooner or later, you exit as well.

This, in short, is the problem with modern day trekking. In India trekking has made a quiet turn. What was an adventure sport a few years ago is now a leisure sport. More and more trekkers are getting on very high altitudes with very little preparation. A cautious approach to high altitude trekking has gone flying out the window. This not only puts trekkers at great risk, but also the organisation.

This is what we notice:

  1. People with very little idea about the trek, the camps, altitudes and distances are stepping into very high altitude zones of 15 and 16 thousand feet.
  2. Trekkers with almost negligible knowledge about risks, especially altitude sickness,  are happily climbing to these altitudes.
  3. Trekkers who are overweight have increased in numbers. Around 30% of trekkers in a group have high BMI — between 25 and 30 (normal is between 18 and 25). BMI is body mass index.     
  4. In our regular trekking groups, 4-5 trekkers have high Blood Pressure. Their BP readings are a lot more than is acceptable.
  5. Treks that used to take 5 hours to complete now take 6-7 hours. An 8 km regular trek is considered long. Trekkers’ endurance has greatly reduced.
  6. People who are slow are now incredibly slow — often an hour or two behind the group. They hog all the resources — because someone has to be with them. Often they are unwell, so the trek leader has to tag along too.  
  7. In a group, 10-15 % are affected by noticeable altitude sickness that requires treatment. In a trekking season Indiahikes carries out 5-6 evacuations that could have gone horribly wrong if not for timely steps taken. A similar number of evacuations is carried out by Indiahikes for other trekking organisations.
  8. Trekkers come badly prepared with their gear. Their shoes are amiss; warm clothes inadequate. At the last moment they are running around base camps gathering things. Most claim they have not read emails sent to them by Indiahikes.    
  9. Experienced trekkers prepare the least for a trek. They use their past experience of “successfully” doing a trek to gauge their fitness. They set a wrong example, which starts a chain of unprepared trekkers.

So what are the risks:

Despite the comforting presence of Indiahikes, the danger of high altitude trekking does not go away.

  1. Unfit trekkers are very prone to heart attacks. A trek to high altitudes mean that you need to climb continuously for long. This increases your blood pressure and your heart pounds. If you have not prepared for the trek then the stress on your heart is a lot higher, in fact many degrees higher. The heart can collapse and you can die. Age has nothing to do with it. Last year a 32 year old trekker died on one of our easy treks, even before he reached the first camp.
  2. Altitude sickness can happen on any trek, even on our moderate treks. On every trek we have affected trekkers. Strangely, almost 80 % of our affected trekkers are overweight. Evacuating an unfit trekker is difficult. Evacuating an overweight trekker is excruciatingly difficult. Vital time is lost. This can be critical.
  3. Altitude sickness can be treated. Unfortunately, under prepared trekkers do not know what medications to take when there is an emergency. In most cases we have noticed trekkers usually don’t know they are affected. Denial, under reporting has resulted in deaths on our treks.
  4. The quality of trek suffers. Unprepared trekkers like Sudha often complete a trek. The question is always about the quality. How well you do the trek is as important as completion. Given sufficient time and resources most people can complete a trek. Completion of a trek comes at a great personal stress and a strain on the organisation. Getting to a camp an hour or two behind everyone is not ok. The slow trekkers do not get sufficient rest or acclimatisation time, thereby starting a chain of unexpected events.
  5. From an organisational point of view, more and more resources are now being used by unprepared trekkers. This has become a vicious cycle. As more facilities are provided, the greater are the numbers of underprepared trekkers. This puts an enormous strain on the organisation. Increasing staff count does not increase safety.

What trekkers don’t understand is that despite the comforting presence of Indiahikes, the danger of high altitude trekking does not go away. An increasing number of trekkers are getting frighteningly close to being whisked away to another world. Safety evacuations have increased (safety evacuations happen when someone is sent down before a bad situation can take place).

Our trek leaders are strained by these events — physically and mentally. Trek leaders sometimes descend through the night to bring down trekkers to safety. It takes a big toll on their health. Leading a group after an evacuation is extremely difficult on the body. The rest of the trekking group’s safety is compromised too. On many treks there are now two trek leaders, often in the form of a leader under training.

Our statistics reveal that in most evacuation cases trekkers were inadequately prepared for the trek. This is turning into an epidemic. As trekking grows in popularity the spread of this disease is increasing in geometric progression. Nowhere in the world do trekkers take the sport as casually as in India.

Rupin Pass trek
Rupin pass trek – One of our harder treks that is very popular

Trekkers need to take safety on treks more seriously. Not doing so can result in a catastrophic disaster. Trekkers always imagine that such events can never happen to them. They think that once they are registered with Indiahikes they are taken care of. I’m afraid that is not so. The mountains spare no one. High altitude trekking comes with risks that not even an organisation like Indiahikes can insure against.

In my next post I’ll talk about steps Indiahikes has taken to tackle this epidemic problem. Indiahikes has put in numerous processes that addresses the issue in a multi-pronged manner. Meanwhile, I would like your thoughts as well. Perhaps in your thoughts I can find a suggestion that can be used. Put them in the comments box below.

This is the second of a three-part series written by Arjun Majumdar about safety on a high altitude trek. Read the next post here.

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Arjun Majumdar

Arjun Majumdar

An entrepreneur by profession and a trekker by passion, Arjun started Indiahikes in 2008. Long years of trekking and facing problems in getting information about trails led Arjun to start Indiahikes. With a vision to explore and document new trails, solve problems in the mountains and implement sustainable ways of trekking, he leads Indaihikes, a community that has changed the face of trekking in India.

34 thoughts on “Why Trekkers need to take Safety on Treks more Seriously

  1. Completely agree with your point that unpreparedness is spreading as an epidemic. Unfortunately, people don’t understand the seriousness involved. My suggestions are as follows-
    1. when a trekker registers for a trek, can the ground cordinator team conduct a quick orientation/briefing/counselling session one on one on a call with the trekkers, making them aware of the dos and donts. This will atleast put some psychological pressure on them to prepare atleast a bit. I know you all send emails but then people don’t read emails or don’t take then seriously. If somebody from IH calls them, that may make a better impact.
    2. Often there is no clarity/visibility to the trekkers about the climatic conditions that time. For e.g. for a Kedarkantha trek, on thr website it is written that expected temp are about -5°c in the night. But when I did my kedarkantha trek, it fell upto-15 on one campsite. Can IH inform the trekkers the actual climatic condition say a week before so that the trekkers get a realistic data points instead of mere estimations.
    3. Though I understand that preparation is a trekkers responsibility, it will help if weekly automated emails are sent to trekkers to remind them to prepare well. This may build psychological pressure to prepare.
    4. For even the easy grade treks, plz mention that prior trekking experience in any other region of india is mist. For e.g. people could do a sahyadri trek and assess their fitness before attempt Himalayan trek.

    1. Smita

      All your points are valid, except where you think a one to one call with the ground coordinator would help in preparation. It most certainly will. Unfortunately, that’s possible when we have a small group of trekkers to deal with. The number of trekkers who join is large. It is not possible for a ground coordinator, or even a team of ground coordinators to talk to each and every trekker.

      More information on the website, emails is the only option so far. Already, Indiahikes has intensified selection, and regular reminders by emails.

      We have also rolled out few other features. I’ll cover them in my next article.

      Thanks for the constructive suggestions!

      Arjun

  2. A great deal of information and facts pertaining to the risks of high altitude trekking are presented in this article. It is indeed very apt to say that an inadequate preparation of trekkers for a high altitude trek is burdening Indiahikes. I have myself seen the trek leaders going out of their way to ensure the safety of trekkers. This is one such a default and a vital article to be sent to every trekker who registers for a trek.

  3. great post! Indiahikes could have simply ignored this and let the money flow in with all those unprepared trekkers, but you guys decided to bring this to attention. Speaks a lot about the company’s culture.

    When I did my first trek last year I was very scared, so I made sure I prepared for 3 months for it. All that preparation really came in handy. Trekking at high altitudes is no joke. People need to understand that.

    I’m interested in knowing how Indiahikes is tackling this problem.

  4. Well I feel the fault lies on both the sides, it is a adventure sport but then the organisation does not take it that way, any sport to begin with has levels before one reaches the top, but when novice people are allowed to start with highest level it is sure to end in one or many casualties. I was surprised to find people doing their first ever trek to 15000ft, common man may not know but the people running the show they themselves are allowing it for monetary benefits it is a sad state. The doctor’s report, the physical check up form, nothing is thoroughly checked, people are just horded into the trek like cows and told to move on and just to save themselves indiahikes gets a form signed so that they can’t be blamed if something happens to someone. People are given delicious and sumptuous food all day along, as if one is coming to a resort for picnic, there is no care about taken about the diet. No stretching, no warm ups before the start of the trek nor any cooling down exercises after the end of the day. We Indians don’t have a culture of being physically fit, like going out on nature walk or a day hike or taking sporting activity during weekends how can indiahikes imagine that people even in their 20’s will ever prepare for a high altitude treks, and then there is this circle of friends and it goes like a chain 8, 10, 12 friend’s form a group and then just get into a high altitude treks without any expertise and experience, they take it as an holiday or may be to show off social media, i feel trekking is a solitary sport where one challenges himself to reach the next level, there is lot of hard work and preparation which goes in one high altitude trek, however when these kind of mockeries are played around one can only sit back and observe. A proper night sleep is of utmost importance if one needs to be mentally and physically agile there also people are told to adjust as three people in one tent, I ask why ? am i not eligible to get a good night sleep when i have followed all the protocols and trekked to the best of my ability the whole day, doesn’t my body needs proper rest and space to recoup for the next day. So is it about the care of the individual or monetary benefits ? The problem is we indians don’t believe in being the best and taking utmost care of ourselves then how can we think about others and care about others however i still hold on to the faith that some day the people will change and i think this article is a proof…. Nothing personal just an observation from the last 4 treks with indiahikes. I hope indiahikes goes back to the ideal with which it started rather than becoming a tour operator.

    1. Dear Chetan

      What you say is largely true. There really isn’t a culture in our country to prepare for a trek. But not everyone is like that. There is a good percentage of trekkers who do prepare. Unfortunately those who don’t absorb a lot of resources that is meant for the good trekkers. We are trying to stop this.

      We would like to bring back the culture of trekking being an active sport and not a leisure sport. Hopefully, our new protocols will address these issues.

      You’ve mentioned couple of times about IH doing things for monetary benefits. I am not sure why every argument has to be linked with the motive of a monetary benefit. The Hillman tents are large enough for 3 people to sleep in. They are extremely comfortable. Bigger tents than these are not suitable for high altitude trekking — wind is a big reason for that. A larger surface area in an open meadow can rip apart even an expedition tent.

      Also, there is nothing wrong in a first timer attempting a high altitude trek — even going to altitudes of 15,000 feet.. What is wrong is in not preparing for it. This is what we are trying to bring in — a culture of preparation.

      Arjun

  5. Arujun, I do not completely agree with you, yes people going for trek should be aware of the risk they are taking, and should also be briefed at base camp briefing. BMI alone cannot define a person’s fitness level.It depends on the person s effort on getting ready for trek. I personally being of a BMI of 30 and have successfully done 8 high alt treks.
    I personally have refrained from IH only for one reason that your rate of ascend is in much faster pace and descend is slower.Yes it is much better for seasoned trekkers, but not for novice/ intermediate level trekkers.one cannot put both In the same shoe. I have done treks with multiple operators hards anyone has briefed anytime abt AMS or the risk s. Only after the recent casualties such things have come under discussion.
    Trekkers should understand the fitness required and the tour operators to should plan their itenary such that there is no life threatening stress on the trekkers, if required a day or two can be increased for better aclamitization.

    1. Dear Palit

      When we are dealing with hundreds of trekkers we have to go by an internationally accepted norm to do initial checks. BMI is one of them. A high BMI does indicate an overweight person. In our experience we have noticed overweight folks unprepared for the trek (not all, but a large enough percentage for us to get very concerned). They are usually slow and delay an entire group.

      Indiahikes trek pace is not fast. All camp timings are calculated from an average trekker’s point of view. Our rate of ascent is also regular. However, you must keep in mind, in India most treks climb quickly. This is something that we call a “forced accent”. It is not something that is desirable, but the geographical difficulties of a trek. For example, there may not be a camp at an altitude where we want. Or a water source.

      Our trek leaders carry out extensive briefings on AMS and other issues of high altitude trekking. That’s one of the reasons why people trek with Indiahikes. It is the safest organisation to go with.

      Arjun

  6. Good article Arjun.

    I have been trekking with your organisation for 4 years now and have seen couple of such incidents ( evacuation through night, AMS). Unprepared trekkers is a common thing in all the trek groups. I was even annoyed at times and used to complain that India hikes takes everyone in trek groups, (I was part of a trek where group of uncles and unties were included who had no idea what trekking is !!). it creates inconvenience to trekkers that are very diligent in preparing and staying fit and go to trek considering it as a adventure sport .

    It is good to see that you guys are now taking steps to prevent that. Hope in the coming days you will be able to create a bunch of serious trekkers who will be aware of the risks and learn to respect the mountains . Best wishes.

  7. Hi Arjun, I’m sorry I don’t agree with you. BMI alone does not determine weather you can do a trek or not. Mental strength is the most important aspect of any trek. I did not like the way you talk about people who are overweight either. Some people have genuine problems with their weight. Does that mean none of them should do any high altitude trek? If you’re really so concerned about this trend becoming epidemic, then why don’t you screen the people first hand and not allow them to go on the trek? But you won’t because I’m sure you would loose out on so much of monetary benefits if you were to do that. Your comment “They often see so many Sudhas on the trek” is particularly disappointing and disrespectful. I will have to think twice now before doing any trek with Indiahikes.

    1. Hi Irfan,
      Before saying anything I would like to make myself clear about the fact that I am not patronizing Indiahikes. What I am going to say is entirely my opinion gathered from several high altitude treks in India and Nepal. I have only done Hampta Pass with IH and I am pretty pleased with everything. I agree with Arjun about the fact that why everything has to be dragged into money. Yes of course it matters, why wouldn’t, they are into a business also. But there is also immense love for mountains and nature and its preservation. They do it not to show off but because they love to. You completely misunderstood Arjun’s point about trekkers having high BMI. He didn’t mean to insult anybody but he expressed his severe concerns about it. Yes they do make you sign a bond for any bad incident but that doesn’t mean it does not hurt like hell to them to see a person fell terribly ill or worse. I know how it feels to suffer from acute AMS. I was literally dying on the Nepal Himalays during the Annapurna Base Camp Trek (alt approx 4200 mt) but was saved by the Nepali porters. I completed the trek merely, limping. We are into trekking because of the immense love for mountains and not to show off, but for that we have to be prepared well enough. You cannot just choose someone before a trek that he/she is fit or not, its entirely the trekkers responsibilty to understand the risks involved and then only to sign up. Its a passion for some and an ”lets go camping” for some, there is a difference. But also if you are into a group trek you have to be a team player and need to be patient, not everyone is as fast or as slow as you are. No one told you to go with IH for a trek. In fact they encourage you to organize your own trek and teach you lots of mountaineering skill that you have to pay for in training schools otherwise. Its not about completing a trek, its about the journey, always. Don’t loose heart. Keep walking on the ridges.

  8. I agree a lot with your sentiments Arjun. Having finished Rupin with IH I was shocked to say the least. In my experience there is a trek ladder one must climb. It’s got a lot to do with body conditioning. If someone hasn’t done a single 15K plus trek, they should be made to begin with one at a lower altitude. I don’t see any shame in that. As for your point on BMI, I think fitness for treks has more to do about preparation. For e.g. on my trek a lot of the trekkers got irritated because they were being held back by slow paced folks up ahead. These folks while extremely enthusiastic, didn’t look like they had gone through the necessary preparations.
    Another factor which counts over everything else is our general mentality of not giving a hoot about rules and advice. I don’t think I’d blame IH for that. That’s for the trekkers to take a hit on.
    Finally, as a solo trekker, trekking with a group was an eye opener. In that so many had come under prepared but got through simply because of your technical staff. Kudos on that!

  9. Dear Arjun
    Totally agree with you. In fact in many of the treks, I used to wonder if the trend of organised treks will be sustainable in the long run in its current form! I used to get a feel that many people take it as an active holiday rather than a far more serious and hazardous sport. The growth of organised treks has definitely helped a lot of the serious people who genuinely have no bandwidth to organise a trek on their own but at the same time people who are not serious enough have also joined. This, as usual, causes frustration amongst the serious guys in a mixed batch. But then, we know that already and compromise in our minds.
    I think, one option could be to stop carrying the backpack by mules or porters. This should be only a contingency option. Setting a minimum standard of speed can also be enforced before one is sent back to lower camps. You need to enforce it so that word spreads and people come prepared enough. High risk cases should not be allowed to start from the reporting camp. You need to do screening on the start day. Your trek leaders need to have more say on who continues and who not. Reducing the batch size is another option to reduce the number of problems.
    Regards

  10. Hi arjun

    I did the chader trek, which was my first trek with indiahikes in 2015. After registering and preparing for the Rupin Pass trek in 2016 may I couldn’t go due to some unavoidable reasons. You guys were nice to put the money in the wallet to be redeemed in the next one year. When I applied for the Rupin Pass trek 2017, I was surprised with the questionnaire they sent me. I filled up the same and sent it back only to receive a mail asking me to download Nike run, jog for five consecutive days and send screenshots from the app. I was surprised and shocked and angered a bit. But after reading your article I feel u guys are not wrong. Going on treks these has become more of a social fad and an “in thing”. I am 42 now and passionate about Trekking. But now I realize that for me to continue my passion for the next 5-6 years I have to be fit. And believe me fitness is not age centric. It has to be a universal practice across all ages. As for being money minded as some guys have expressed, I would like to tell them that which organization does let u use the money for the next one year if for some reason you are not able to do the trek after registering. And which organization lets you do the same trek free of cost the next year if you have loved the trek. Business combined with passion and ethics is the lethal combination and a dream Job very few poses. Keep up the good work indiahikes team. We will keep spreading the word. And keep posting your valuable inputs.

  11. Dear Arjun,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head !

    I can completely understand the concern and frustration reflected in this article !
    I myself had to deal with a guy who just refused to prepare for the trek…my husband.

    When I registered myself and my husband for the KGL trek this year, I hoped, this will be trigger for us to start working on our fitness. How wrong could I have been ?
    While I religiously worked out at the gym, my husband enjoyed his morning sleep.
    When bought him new running shoes, he wore it only to office.
    When I warned him about AMS, he thought I was being bookish (or Googlish).
    While I packed only the things that are absolutely necessary, he packed all the junk from Kurkure to energy bars to raisins to glucose to cookies !

    To cut the long story short, he just didn’t prepare for the trek and we were on the way to Srinagar.

    At the base camp, the trek leader briefed us about dangers of AMS, what symptoms to look out for, how to pack the backpack etc. Something clicked and my husband not only did away with all the junk he had packed, he also agreed to take Diamox ! Thank God !

    Ironically, when day one ended, he finished among the first three and I was one of the last three.
    I struggled and he trekked like a pro !!!
    I felt like a loser and thought all my training was a waste of time…I was about to be proved wrong !

    At the first campsite, we were offered hot Chai and delicious onion pakodas which we gorged on.
    That night I was sleepless as my stomach was in knots. I vomited and had loose motion.
    By morning, I was very weak and dehydrated but the uneasiness was gone, oxygen reading was great.
    The TL suggested to have a light breakfast, keep drinking plenty of water and walk at a comfortable and steady pace. I did just that.
    It was the toughest day. It tested my endurance to the limit. I pushed on and reached the next camp !

    Had I not prepared before the trek, it would have been impossible to complete the trek !

    Based on my first time experience, I would suggest these points:

    – You may consider introducing additional tests to get medically certified.
    The current tests are very basic.
    – Based on BMI and age, first time trekkers should be suggested against taking up difficult treks.
    – Please avoid providing fried foods (like Poori, Pakoda),noodles, macaroni and pastas. I’m not sure if these are easy to digest, especially at high altitudes.

    I believe IH genuinely cares for it’s trekkers’ safety and comfort.
    This is culture can be seen from ground coordinators to support staff to TLs.
    Had they worked only for money, they would not offer their fleece when we are shivering.
    They would not offer to carry our backpack when we are struggling.
    I have seen them even offering their shoes and poncho to trekkers who come ill prepared.

    Keep up the great service and good luck !

    Sushma

    PS: My husband is allowed to go for the next trek only if he beats my time on the treadmill 😉

    1. Sushma

      It is hard to find as candid comments as yours! Trolling your husband was superb — and it shows the deep love as well!

      We are doing away with deep fried snacks at Indiahikes. Our team’s coming up with some terrific tasty alternatives. There’s the new moong dhokla that you must try on our treks.

      About your suggestions on safety look out for my next post.

      Arjun

  12. Good One Arjun…
    Healthy trekker is not only doing good for himself and lead, it is also good for co-trekkers who can enjoy the trek instead of looking after a person who is lagging/suffering…

    Also, you hit the point, being experienced trekker is not an excuse for being underprepared.

    1. That’s true Gaurav

      Most experienced trekkers squirm when we point this out to them. They are hardly the role models.

      Everyone needs to prepare for a trek. No matter how many times you have been to the mountains. I would go as far as to say, if trekking is something you love, then an everyday fitness plan is required. When an opportunity to trek crops up, then the thought, oh, hell, I haven’t prepared won’t come up.

      Arjun

  13. I do agree that trekkers need to realise that trekking is not just to reach the summit somehow by counting pebbles. The joy of trekking is the journey immersed in nature. Unless one is fit enough, one cannot appreciate this immersive nature. However, I feel IH as a organisation can do a lot to improve this situation by providing content, guidance through website and regular mails in a structured way. Few suggestions are:-

    1. BMI : Put an upper limit to BMI based on the nature, duration, altitude and season of the trek – not a ‘fit for all’ purpose upper limit. I am sure that a person with 28 BMI can do Chandrashila but may not be Roopkund. If they are not within the upper limit, do not allow them.

    2. Exercise regime – put up recommended exercises on web-site based on one’s (a) age (b) gender (c) BMI and of course (d) nature, duration, altitude and season of the trek. IH used to recommend 4 km jogging in 20 mins which is not necessary at all for any trek. Many of my trekker friends do not run – but they can do Everest base camp, Stok Kangri comfortably. I know few of them daily walks for about 15 mins a day on a incline of 5 with a 6.5 speed and does core strength training- but never ever run or jog.

    3. Recommended tests – IH can ask to report BP, PFT test etc and clearly set out how dangerous it can be if people are not within permissible limits. I am not a medical expert so cannot comment on these tests – but once you make them provide this data through a APP or website and do a online assessment they will be much more aware.

    4. Recommended gears – based on the season and nature of trek, IH can prescribe gears. Sometimes first time trekkers are confused whether they need to wear a cotton base layer or non-cotton base layer during winter treks (not in camp). So clarity is always a virtue.

    5. Recommended diet to follow 3 weeks before trek and an online health assessment tool

    6. Regular reminders through email to carry on with fitness regime and the consequences if any parameter is not within permissible limits

  14. Hi Arjun,

    Great article. Even though I knew that one had to be in great shape for an high altitude trek, it did not really sink in that it is more complicated than it looks. I have a few questions as part of preparing for your high altitude treks. Apart from BMI how would you define the fitness level required for a difficult trek high altitude trek? What is ‘Proof of Performance’ and how do we go about it? What kind of preparation is required for a difficult high altitude trek? Are there any articles or resources that we can use as a guide, apart from ‘How Indiahikes is making your trek safe’ and ‘Why Trekkers need to take Safety on Treks more Seriously’ authored by you? Looking forward to your input.

    Regards,

    Alex

  15. Perhaps this is by far the most honest review that the head of a leading trek company could have made. Quite true that trekking in India has now become an industry in itself. It’s good on one level but on another level it’s transforming into a profit churning mechanism. Every other month I witness a new startup that is taking “clients” to hike in the Himalayas. Probably a couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I had the kind of capital that it needs and a few bunch of people around me with the same passion. I AM GLAD that I never managed the kind money and people it needs. It was around 3 years back when I was 20 that I developed an ambition of making it big in mountaineering. I have seen a dozen of novice mountaineers and aspirants who come into the field with sole intention of climbing Everest and some more passionate ones eyeing all 8000ers! Quite frankly, I was not any different. Perhaps the way things have been commercialized is the foremost reason that such a thing is happening. The fact that there was a company such as the IndiaHikes (and a few others) was an assurance for me that a career in trekking is possible even in India. But however lucrative this trekking business seems, it is actually not so. It took me a while and some serious efforts to realize that taking people for a hike on the mountains is job of big RESPONSIBILITY! It seems to me that it has got into people’s psyche that trekking is a business industry! It is NOT so. Probably the initial trekkers (talking about international arena) who guided people in the mountains saw it as a way of sustaining their own dreams. As a leading trek documentation company IndiaHikes can play a big role in fixing these things. Because most young people look upto company like yours to map their own ambitions. I was one of them too! And I am quite sure that IndiaHikes is doing it quite well.
    Now talking about the training part. I personally trained for around 18 months before I completed my BMC from NIM. The dreams were still novice but I knew that it needs immense endurance and mental preparation. There were no climbing gyms around and neither an opportunity to trek somewhere so I took to running. Gradually moving from 5K to 10Ks I made it a point to run at least 40Kms plus at least twice before I go for the mountaineering course. And as the saying goes, “You’re never over prepared for the mountains”. Even after immense preparation I saw there was room to do so much more. But anyway I completed the course successfully but the real essence was in the preparation not in completion. The mountains overwhelmed me and I realised that I must give up my plans of a trekking company. BECAUSE IT IS NOT A INDUSTRY. However the passion for the mountains, particularly Himalaya still endures! And as a young trekking aspirant it’s a big lesson learnt.
    Thank You.
    Vishal

  16. Hi Arjun,

    I am planning to book the Kashmir Great Lakes trek with Indiahikes for July 2017. I have never done a trekking before, but I have already started my preparation for the trek and I have gone through the entire trek article on your site and other sites. I am preparing to be fit enough to keep pace with the group and not cause any hindrance. Also, I am going with two brothers of mine who are fitter than me so need to keep up with them.
    About your article, I agree completely that everyone should be well read and well prepared. Trekking IS indeed an adventure sport after all. However, since you are running a business and you need to accommodate all customers, my suggestion is that you create the trekking groups according to fitness level. One group for people that trek at a normal pace, another for the slower lot. I agree that this would divide up a group of friends where someone maybe fitter while someone unfit. However, if you make this a rule, either people will try harder to get fit before coming or they would tag along in the unfit group. But this way, the issue is resolved, because the unfit group can have its own guide, and they can take their own time and necessary precautions etc. However, this approach may hamper your business because if this rule is a mandate, then there will be people who opt out of the trek because they dont want to trek with strangers, but that’s a trade-off that you need to consider if you want to achieve what you intend to. Thanks.

    Rahul

  17. Hey Arjun,

    It was a good article, which clarifies a lot of general queries regarding Safety on trek.
    You gave good information about do’s and dont’s – before and during the treks.
    Well I have one individual query, hope you will clarify it too:
    – Well I am suffering from allergy bronchitis (kind of asthma).
    – I am planning to go for Brahamatal Trek (first trek of my life).
    – I am preparing for trek from last three and a half month.
    – I am doing 5.5 km running in 40 minutes (06 days a week) nowadays.
    – I am walking daily 2-3 km with 12 kg additional weight & 4-6 km without additional weight (06 days a week).
    – I am doing some muscle strengthening & stretching exercises also (4-5 days a week).
    – My BMI is around 23.
    – Apart than this I am doing site job (not a desk/ office job).

    What would you like to suggest, is this a good idea to go on a high altitude trek with above mention condition?
    And if you like to suggest any other idea/ exercise/ diet, please let me know.

    Regards,
    Arpit

  18. I read your article with interest. I was tracking in India this past winter with a different group and recognized the trends that you are describing. One thing they had was a deadline by which we had to reach a certain point by a certain time or else we couldn’t continue up to the summit.

    I found this helpful – though I was near the back of the group that made it up in time to continue, I knew the goal and was able to pace myself to reach it. Another idea is to give people specific minimal training parameters- like walk 20 km a week and do 30 flights of stairs.

    I am American and was traveling mostly with Americans who were largely prepared, but because it was a spiritual track, there were several people who had not prepared at all. Mostly the unprepared did not do the more ambitious hikes, but if you were overcoming health challenges and achieving goals they had set for themselves to overcome a difficult situation. The trucking company was willing to have extra staff help everyone succeed.

    Only 22 out of 54 made it to Tughanat in time to ascend to Chandra Shila. I was probably the weakest link in my group and appreciated help on the steep descent. I think minimal ascending times and a clearance of altitude sickness symptoms is reasonable before continuing. That said, I really appreciate the experience and I’m happy I succeeded and appreciate the extra help I received to track such to such a glorious place. Highlight of my life.

    I was shocked at the number of Indians trekking in tennis shoes and no provisions at all – so that is another story! We looked overprepared with poles and packs – the right gear is also key. One idea, is to have gear to rent to people who don’t bring adequate gear – and make the renting mandatory.

  19. Your content team is doing a remarkable job with the informative videos.

    Perhaps you can do a ‘ reality vs expectation ‘ video series with interviews with trekkers highlighting their experience ( expectation ) and the physical challenge ( reality ) of it as well. Make it light-hearted but at the same time getting across the stern, yet important message of how important preparation is.

    And thanks again – I think IndiaHikes is doing a wonderful job!

    K

  20. Why not have a mandatory fitness test before any trek? Tests that scale with their Oxygen capacity. Those who don’t pass, can’t go on the treks. BMI is pretty discriminatory and doesn’t reveal a person’s capacity to hike.

    For instance, before an easy trek, participants need to walk 10km with their rucksacks within 2 hours on a flat trail.

    Before a hard trek, participants need to run a 5k within 35 min, followed by 5K hike with a rucksack within 60min.

    Both these targets are pretty easy to train for.

    1. Hi Surya
      We do ask our trekkers to do the run in preparation for the trek. Asking them to send us screenshots is trusting that you would have prepared for the trek. I don’t know if asking each one to run before the trek would be a good idea. Many trekkers prefer brisk walking over running owing to certain limitations. However, we do stress as much as we can on fitness so that all our trekkers enjoy the trek 🙂

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