1. Human body can survive harsh weather if the mind is ready to!
There’s a reason why this is the first point I want to talk about. I took this trek (YHAI Dalhousie December snow trek) with my sister and her husband Hardik to introduce them to the beautiful aspects of Himalayas, that lay beyond the beaten tracks literally. But they quit midway!
There were about 50 people in the group and everyone faced the same weather yet some decided to quit the trek on the second day after the first day of intense cold and difficult walk (the trek in the mountains had not begin yet – this was Banikhet to Dalhousie). While those who stayed were equally skeptical of how the days ahead were going to be. We all faced the weather (subzero most of the time) with a compelling need to overcome it. The results were sweet; as we were blessed to experience snow fall at Khajjiar all the way to Mangala apart from other adventures through the 5 days of the trek. The weather was certainly harsh and walking through 2-3 feet of snow is no easy task for a first timer – but in spite of that it gave me (as a camp leader) great amount of satisfaction to see people endure it. Sadly my sister was the one who backed out, when Hardik was still ready to continue (and of course support her). Many were trekking with cold wet boots by the 4th and 5th day, but not one gave up. The point being – Do not quit, you have everything (material) it takes to survive the weather. Of course, you must not be foolish and bite more than you can chew, but you can always find out and judge how harsh it’s going to be. In this case, it was a well curated YHAI trek and a sure thing is that they manage it well. So beyond harsh weather in the real physical world, it finds relevance in the meta-physical world too!
Here I feel the need to mention about Nivedita – who had hurt her leg on 2nd or 3rd day but trekked without complaining of the pain all the way on her foot. Vaidehi also had issues walking but showed no signs of being affected.
2. Snow boots are important to keep you dry, but if wet keep walking.
Most of the trekkers were first times, if not at least they were trekking in snow for the first time. I am a regular trekker but this snow trek was unique for me too! Amidst confusion of what shoes to use, I placed my bet on Action Trekker (which according to me is the best thing for a trekkers feet in any terrain). My boots remained dry until the last day, but many Woodlands / Quechuas / Wildcraft did not prove as oleophobic as the Action Trekker. The idea is not to ridicule these brands or praise the other – the idea that worked with everyone regardless of their brand was to KEEP WALKING. Taking breaks is cool, warming your shoes and socks around a fire sounds exciting but nothing works like walking. It works at 2 layers – one is that it takes you closer to your destination and second that you actually generate heat while walking and the feet stop feeling cold – you stop and you’re numb. So, whatever your shoes are – even if torn, keep walking!
Snow boots come in various shape, sizes and budgets. Your best bet would be to make the best of what you have when on the trek. Upgrade to something better if you feel the need to, on your next trek. Using plastic sheets over your socks to protect your from snow is going to end up in blisters, so avoid. Tuck your trousers in your shoes and that should take care of most of the snow. Else, simply buy a pair of knee length snow shoes (Rs.700 for a fur lined pair) from local markets in Dalhousie. After the trek give it to a local at one of the hotels you ate for a free lunch and a warm hug.
3. Having adequate protection from the forces of nature is advisable.
Be prepared enough so that you can spend your time experiencing the beauty of the trek, the people around and the general air of the mountains at 3000-4000 meters. From mountain sickness to blisters – you could be a victim. From little inconvenience to major discomfort – the condition could be a show spoiler for you and others around. So carry your medicines and enough warm clothing. A good pair of shoes as learned earlier are essential. The chefs on the trek were kind to offer hot lasoon oil which when rubbed on the feet-palms makes your cold feet alive. There’s going to be enough support for you if needed, but its always better to not let the situation occur. Educate yourself of the weather and talk to someone who has done the trek before. (You can reach me on my facebook and twitter anytime). Do not assume age is going to be a factor – I’ve met 65 year olds trek with the same ease as me. That’s the time when you revisit my first point.
4. Trekking in the mountains is not same as walking on the roads along the mountains.
Of course, even the most amatuer trekker would agree that the latter is easier. But the point is not to bring out the obvious information; the wisdom that lies in the degree of difficulty. Do not transpose any estimation about your capacity (based on how much you can walk at home) pre-hand which will only land your mind expecting something which is unreal. When you swiftly walk on Bombay roads for even 5-7 Km and call yourself a walker – you have no idea what 5 Kg load on your back or 2 feet of snow is going to do to you! Keep your ‘city-walker’ tag at home and take this up as a completely new challenge involving different dynamics altogether.
5. YHAI treks are an experience to savour BUT don’t expect 5 starry treatment.
There are easily about a 100 companies that organize trek in various regions of the Indian Himalayas throughout the year. Ranging from white collar hippie treks to more adventurous bike / cycle treks there everything designed for you by someone or the other. But for Rs.3000-4000 YHAI treks I believe are cheaper than your pair of boots. Considering their warm hospitality and the immense experience of the field directors this amount is hardly a token of appreciation. The treks are very carefully curated such that it possible for the widest range of age groups. The accommodation is tented on most of the treks (not on this one though) which no one has ever disliked. The food they provide, in liquid and solid both is differently designed as per requirements of every trek. The little discipline they expect from you is understandable. On the other side, if something is amiss, don’t make a fuss about it. There are certain things you are entitled to – sleeping bags, foods and hygienic toilet arrangements. Beyond this is all I believe, their goodness. If there’s a problem you can always talk with the field director – they can try. So here’s a thing to remember (that I learned from Ladakh) – Be polite but firm. Don’t make unjustified demands, you have no idea what it takes to manage those treks. Oh did I mention you have to carry your own plates and wash them after meals – so share.
6. Pack your rucksack smartly. Use polythene inside for added protection.
A few youtube videos is all it takes to know efficient ways to pack your backpack. I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to unpack the entire content of the bag to take out one sweater when you’re cold. So apart from making it easy to access stuff, it even ensure a good load distribution and thus better efficiency on the trek. Keep the heavier stuff near your back, the lighter away. Drop everything that you don’t absolutely NEED. Most bags come with a water proof coating, but a rain cover always helps (even protect from dust in Ladakh type regions). There’s even a nice way to tie the rain cover on your haversack – google it out, you’ll love what people do. Also, if you’re flying, you must particularly tie the rain cover securely to the bag or else do not expect it to be on the bag after it passes through all the handling. Beside all this, secure your clothes in a polythene big enough to wrap around a couple of times.
On the last day, I reached the camp last to find everyone (the guys) almost naked. I figured they were all wet and their clothes drenched from the snow fall all day. I gave all my dry clothes, socks and spare pants to all those I could – and everyone was kind enough to return it later too! The girls sadly didn’t have any option but to head to the base camp where their spare clothes were deposited. So remember that there’s nothing more precious than dry clothes. And there’s nothing heavier than wet clothes.
7. Avoid any kind of alcohol on a trek! No justification needed.
Like the title read – No justification needed. I don’t know how harmful cigarettes can also be, but avoid anything artificial / synthetic. YHAI provides you with organic food and milk, tea, coffee which are mostly harmless. Give your body a chance to cleanse itself. The air is going to enhance that process anyway for you in the Himalayas. Basically detach from any kind of intoxicants that entrap your mind. Let the soul be free.
8. Carry small packing of creams, toothpaste and share as much with others.
You’re not a part of a Tibetan silk route caravan that is going to be in the mountains for months at a stretch facing the harshest weather ever! Carry the smallest packing of products you need. Share a bigger packet with others and let others do that for you with some other product. Avoid carrying anything that is not absolutely necessary. The plates for food can also be shared – so not everyone has to wash them in ice-cold water. Some days I even ate in the cook’s plate, which meant I didn’t even have to wash it. Remember I was telling you about their warmth. Don’t carry more clothes, rather carry more reliable piece of clothing. Carry one first aid kit in your group. Split and spread the packed lunch (boxes) among all members (so you can be safe that no one will finish one item he/she has alone). Be generous to offer help though – some people tire out faster than you. Share the physical stress too!
9. When trekking in a group, don’t leave the last person alone.
You would know now, why this is the last point. I was chosen to be the camp leader (for I had done one trek with YHAI earlier and was aware of how it worked). This meant I was to be at the last (with the homegaurd) and make sure all the trek participants are ahead of me and eventually reach the next camp safely. Being last means all your friends are ahead and more importantly not with you even if it means a distance of 500 meter. Being last meant you were performing worse than all others. I first learned what being last meant during our cycling trek to Jalori pass in May last year. Then there was a responsibility I was entrusted with this time to be last. It had to be put to purpose. On the 3rd day onwards, there were a constant set of people willingly being last with me – of course not very far away from their original group. I knew no one before the trek, but usually there are few people who are alone. So helping someone with their load, fatigue or at times even photographs, I made sure no one had to experience being last. Yet on the last day, 2 people lost their way in the dark completely out of my notice – but our brave homegaurd got them back after about 2 hours. It feels terrible to be last & alone. The homegaurd deserves a special mention – from carrying bags for people to enduring the snow in just a plastic sheet, became a good friend of mine – and he made sure he was always behind me.
P.S.: Every lesson I’ve learned from the trek is applicable even beyond the realm of a snow trek alone. It’s my deep desire that readers must try to get that or even make their own interpretations and share it with us here.
These are from mostly a male perspective – so at places some things I am sure will vary for female trekkers. If there’s anything you as a female reader want to (can) share, please feel free.
It was today a year ago (27th December 2014) that our trek began from Banikhet through Dalhousie – Kalatop – Khajjiar – Mangla. There on it has been a year of great adventures, more blogs on them later.