It was 6 AM on a Monday in May 2019. I had drafted my resignation mail; all that was left was for me to hit the ‘send’ button. It was a big decision for me. I was afraid of giving up on a corporate life that was seemingly “safe and stable” as per society’s standard.
On the other hand, I had applied for a role on the other end of the spectrum — to be a Trek Leader in the Himalayas with Indiahikes. I was not sure about what it would be like to work as a Trek Leader; something that every trek leader is asked by his/her trekkers now and then.
After all, Trek Leaders live a visibly hard life, leaving behind their families and social ties to work tirelessly in snow, rain and harsh sun, away from all the comforts of civilization.
Nevertheless, I did quit. I joined Indiahikes as a Trek Leader and it has been almost 1.5 years of me leading people on high altitude treks across the Indian Himalayas.
Now that I look back on my journey, I can easily answer the question ‘what it means to be a trek leader at Indiahikes’ and that too, with a lot of pride.
Being a master of outdoor skills
The first thing that comes to my mind is how many survival skills I have picked up working at Indiahikes. With the legacy that Indiahikes has built of being the pioneers in trekking in India, any new Trek Leader feels the pressure and responsibility to gain a lot of hard skills and quickly at that. After all, to help give trekkers a safe high altitude experience, one needs to be a master of outdoor skills himself.
I remember, I had to undergo an intense training of 15 days after joining Indiahikes curated by the senior Trek Leaders along the lines of a Basic Mountaineering Course. Right from learning how to pack my backpack properly, to wielding ice axes on snowy slopes and evacuating trekkers, I was taught everything. The two weeks of training instilled such a sense of confidence in me that, now, I know I can survive by myself almost anywhere and in any situation; a belief that helps me lead trekkers with confidence.
Learning the art of people management
Along with the technical skills, it takes a lot of soft skills and people management skills to handle difficult situations in high altitude wilderness. Taking on the role of a Trek Leader at Indiahikes ensured that I develop a strong personality and can make decisions at the drop of a hat and make my team have faith in my decisions.
Along with decision-making skills, I honed my communication skills. After handing briefing after briefing to a team of 20+ trekkers, I slowly got over my fear of public speaking. Now, I can bravely address a room full of people without breaking a sweat.
Being a caregiver to trekkers
Over the past 1.5 years, I think I have developed a strong sense of compassion and empathy for others as a result of the strong value system Indiahikes has. This is inculcated into each individual working with the organization.
The time I managed a clinically depressed young girl going through a mental breakdown in the middle of a trek made me believe working as a Trek Leader has helped me develop a well-rounded personality that can fit into any mould: a leader, a friend, a speaker, a motivator, an empathetic shoulder to lean on.
Understanding your responsibility towards the environment
Working with Indiahikes has also made me a responsible citizen of the world, something I take huge pride in. Green Trails, a wing of Indiahikes, based on the creed “Leave the mountains better than we find them,” ensures our trekking is sustainable. In fact, sustainability is one of the dearest values of Indiahikes, and working here, I have myself become more conscious of my choices, not just in the mountains, but also back in the cities.
In fact, I started my journey at Indiahikes as a Green Trails intern, working on the Manali slope, implementing sustainable practices, and conducting workshops for local villagers. It was my experience there that introduced me to this value system at Indiahikes and finally made me join them as a Trek Leader.
Shouldering the responsibility of representing the safest trekking organization in India
Being in the position of leadership at Indiahikes is no easy task. We are the safest trekking organization in India and this position comes with a lot of responsibility. The trust and faith our trekkers put in us to keep them safe has its own weight on a Trek Leader’s shoulder.
That is why each Trek Leader undergoes extensive medical training, not just once but several times during his / her career as a Trek Leader. In fact, it is so extensive it made me capable of responding to almost any medical situation in wilderness, including the worst cases of altitude sickness.
Recently, I had a trekker on the Gaumukh Tapovan trek, who got hit with severe AMS at 14,000 ft. Her oxygen dropped to a life-threatening 55. I had to put her on oxygen support as well as give her Dexamethasone to evacuate her. Throughout this evacuation, I was not nervous even for a second. I was sure of exactly what I needed to do to keep her safe because of the training and safety protocols we have at Indiahikes.
This experience reminded me of a quote by a senior Trek Leader, “Things may go wrong only with one trekker out of 500, but you need to be ready at all times for that one trekker.”
Taking the organisation forward
Zooming out a bit, working at Indiahikes means you are never limited to just your designated role. Everyone is expected to contribute to the organization’s growth directly by looking into not just their role, but also at other areas of work — operations, the Indiahikes Trekipedia, Green Trails and Experiential Learning.
Additionally, as you grow within the organisation, you’re expected to take on larger roles to train younger Trek Leaders, help mentor them, help them understand the culture of the organisation and take the organisation’s vision forward in a cohesive way.
I think everybody does this almost naturally, given the passion and ownership everyone at Indiahikes has for defining the future of trekking in India. You have to wear so many feathers in your hat that you are never just just a trek leader; you are a manager, an innovator, an explorer, a master organizer and planner.
A chance to get closer to yourself
Lastly, I believe that working in the outdoors has its own charm. We get to travel to far off lands, away from civilization, closer to nature and experience local culture. But working here at Indiahikes also gives me the opportunity to be closer to myself.
The way Indiahikes looks at trekking not only truly resonates with my beliefs about trekking but also has enriched my experience of being in the outdoors. I have had a huge internal transformation and become so much aware of myself.
Helping trekkers look at trekking for what it is — a mind, body and spirit transformation — makes me find meaning and satisfaction in my work, which I have not found anywhere else.
I believe all of us working here at Indiahikes, whether on the slopes or in Bangalore, truly believe in the philosophy of enjoying our work. We all take immense pride in working at Indiahikes.
We are almost like a band of misfits, who are looking for meaning in their work more than any materialistic gains, coming together to change the face of trekking and being celebrated for our audacity to think so!