Can You Help Trekkers Out Of This “Fitness Faking” Epidemic?

If you’re a trekker and you’re reading this, we need your help. It’s for something that has left all of us at Indiahikes in a fix.

It’s about the fitness criteria we have for our treks. 

We’ve noticed that many trekkers have started faking their fitness. Consequently, they’re struggling on their treks. Even our Trek Leaders and staff members find it difficult to handle unfit trekkers. And we need a way out.

Let me give you a quick backgrounder.

Back in 2016, we introduced a strict fitness criteria for all our treks. For easier treks, our criteria was that trekkers should be able to run 5 km in 45 mins. For tougher treks it was 5 km in 35 minutes. This would tell us whether they were physically fit to endure the demands of a high altitude trek or not.

What happened after we introduced the fitness criteria?

Ever since we introduced this criteria, the experience of our trekkers has improved tenfold. 

I’d like you to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. A trekker Pravin Shekar sent us this email last week. I’m pasting it as it came to us, without edits:

Testimonial: I hated it.

 

I hiked with IndiaHikes two years ago. It was a trek to the valley of flowers. I didn’t like the whole experience and blamed everything. The weather, the terrain, the padyaatra route, the accommodation, the works. I hated it, until I decided to get out of this victim mentality. The last couple of treks, I was fit – that’s what I thought! I was heavy and always the last one in the group to finish, my speed and stops for photography being the reason.

 

Mails from IndiaHikes kept landing in my inbox and I decided to read one at random. It was a mail on how to be fit for a trek and about the myths surrounding trek preparation. Then came the video series that made a lot of sense. IF YOU AREN’T FIT, DO NOT TREK, It’s not a holiday! Rather direct communication but it drove the message across! I took a break for two years from any kind of trekking.

 

In the last two years, I dropped 17.5 kilos, trained hard and got fit for my next trek. This was a trek to the Tarsar Marsar lakes in Kashmir. I still stopped quite often to photograph – and managed to finish the trek in the top 5-7 every day. No, it wasn’t a race, but a rally! There’s a stipulated time based on the terrain and weather and the trek guides ensured we stuck to it. Oxymeter readings were taken thrice everyday and the guide was constantly checking if all of us were fit. It was a moment of pride when I received the TREKFIT badge from Aashey (trek guide) and Heera (guide). Incidentally, Heera was the sweeper guide in my Valley of Flowers trek and appreciated my enhanced fitness!

 

The positive loop. I was fit, started well and kept on going without much of huffing and puffing! I could take more photo breaks as the rest of the group caught up and could just sit down and soak in more of the scenery, the tranquility and the beauty.

 

Liking something or hating…..Doesn’t it all start from within! I had to learn it the hard way; thanks to IndiaHikes and their learning sessions that dinned it right up.”

Well, if that doesn’t sum up the experience of a fit trekker, I don’t know what will. We receive such mails almost everyday. So we know the fitness criteria is very helpful.

But we also know that even one unfit trekker can bring the entire team’s experience down. And we see this happening often.

EverestBaseCamp-Indiahikes-SanthoshGovindarajulu
A fit team on Everest Base Camp trek. Picture by Santhosh Govindarajulu.

The problem we’re facing

Now coming to the problem. We notice that a chunk of trekkers fake their fitness. They fool us by sending fake fitness proofs.

To give you some recent stats, out of 72 trekkers that went on the Pin Bhaba Pass trek last month, around 11 trekkers struggled severely and 5 had to be sent back to the base camp without completing the trek. That’s 7% of all the trekkers, no small number. This was because they were not physically fit to do the trek. They had, however, uploaded screenshots fulfilling the required criteria.

Honestly, this is very disheartening. Our Trek Coordinators and Leaders put in a great deal of effort to make their trek experience the best. But when they don’t put in effort from their end for their own trek, it really undoes all our effort.

Plus, it’s extremely unfair to other trekkers who have worked on their fitness, when their experience comes down by many notches because of others’ lack of fitness.

Fitness-Indiahikes

How do trekkers fake fitness?

They have creative hacks. When our Trek Coordinators ask them to go for a run, record it on an app and send screenshots of their runs, they blatantly fake it. Either they turn off their GPS and run (this records wrong information), or they go on their bikes and record the distance. I was appalled to see some trekkers laughing at the thought of fooling us.

I know that such people will learn their lessons on the trek, but the problem is that unfit trekkers are a burden on the slopes.

They are slow; their steps falter; they end up having a guide all to themselves when the guide is supposed to be helping other trekkers too. They’re huge resource hoggers.

Added to that, they are more prone to altitude sickness. An unprepared body finds it difficult to cope with the pace of the group. As a result, you start to push yourself harder and breathe much harder than normal. This has a double effect. When you breathe hard, your body quickly depletes its oxygen levels. Added to this, there is lesser oxygen in the air. This can quickly develop into acute mountain sickness.

On difficult treks, this can even turn fatal.

Which is why it’s incredibly important to come up with a process that makes trekkers take fitness seriously. And this is where we’re in a fix. 

Do you think you can suggest a fool-proof method to check for trekkers’ fitness?

Here’s our current fitness protocol:

  1. We have a BMI upper limit of 28. Many trekkers have told me that this is not a good indication. We do understand that. But this is just to alert us. We don’t pay attention to their BMI, but we do pay attention to their fitness. Even if someone has a BMI of 30, but can run 5 km in 35 minutes, we have no issues.
  1. We ask all our trekkers (irrespective of their BMI) to send a fitness proof at least 20 days before they go on their trek. This is by recording their run and sending us a screenshot.

Outside of this, do you have any other ideas? Don’t hesitate to tell us even if it is radically different, bizarre, or seems downright silly.

Honestly, we’re at our wits’ end here, trying to figure out a way to enforce a fitness process. So please give it some thought and put your thoughts down in a comment below.

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy

Swathi Chatrapathy heads the digital content team at Indiahikes. She is also the face behind India's popular trekking video channel, Trek With Swathi. Unknown to many, Swathi also writes a weekly column at Indiahikes which has more than 100,000 followers. A TEDx speaker and a frequent guest at other events, Swathi is a much sought after resource for her expertise in digital content. Before joining Indiahikes, Swathi worked as a reporter and sub-editor at a daily newspaper. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications. Trekking, to her, is a sport that liberates the mind more than anything else. Through trekking, Swathi hopes to bring about a profound impact in a person's mind, body and spirit. Read Swathi's columns. Watch Swathi's videos.