PHYSICAL & MENTAL PREPARATION FOR A TREK
Trekking is not a running race with the aim of reaching a destination in record time. You are expected to savor every moment, every sight of the trek. You want the mountains to penetrate your being. It’s the journey that matters not the destination.
Most situations happen when trekkers are not physically and mentally prepared for the trek. Usually, the website has an itinerary and everybody registers with their friends seeing only the start and end dates. They arrive on a trek without even reading the checklist, program and Fitness required. They have not spent time exercising or getting their kits in order. Everything is taken very lightly. Before the trek starts, trekkers need to familiarize themselves with the route, the highest altitude points, and camps on the way, the terrain, and a map of the trail. These are tasks that prepare you for the trek.
SadIy, treks in our country are becoming increasingly unsafe due to unprepared people.
Most of the people who sign up for treks have a very sedentary lifestyle and a few do some very basic activities like walking around their neighborhood for a couple of days before the trek. On any trek these people will lag behind, and come hours after the group has reached. With great difficulty they will somehow reach the endpoint (Summit or Campsite) and will be overjoyed with tears of accomplishment. Everyone in the group will cheer for this person.
Now when news of this person’s achievement gets around through their friends, all of them now feel that if an not-fit and unprepared person can complete a trek so I too can do this. So more such persons sign up for the next trek.
On the next trek a whole group of overweight and unprepared people will be huffing and puffing and will delay the entire group. All of them will also confess that their busy work life did not give them much preparation time and they were very complacent because of they thought they too can do it just like their friend did earlier. It was a story which we are hearing again and again.
The circle of bad influence is spreading. The message that was being sent out was simple: It was OK not to prepare for a trek.
This is what we notice:
People with very little idea about the trek, the camps, altitudes and distances are stepping into very high altitude zones.
Trekkers with almost negligible knowledge about risks, especially altitude sickness, are happily climbing to these altitudes.
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.
In regular trekking groups, 4-5 trekkers have high Blood Pressure. Their BP readings are a lot more than is acceptable.
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.
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.
Trekkers come badly prepared with their gear. Their shoes are either track shoes or old shoes; warm clothes inadequate. At the last moment they are running around gathering things. Most claim they have not read the mail or seen the checklist on the website
Some regular trekkers use their past experience of “successfully” doing a trek to gauge their fitness and say “If I have done one trek without fitness I can also do another”. They set a wrong example for unprepared trekkers.
Trek leaders are strained by these events — physically and mentally. Trek leaders sometimes have to trek in darkness to bring trekkers to safety. The rest of the trekking group’s safety and schedule is compromised too.
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. This, in short, is the problem with modern day trekking. 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 organization.
Trekkers need to prepare for treks more seriously. They think that once they are registered with group they are taken care of. I’m afraid that is not so. The mountains spare no one. Trekking comes with risks that no organization can insure against.
The preparation is 2 fold:
Trekking gear - Everything listed in the checklist on our website is a must. No compromises. If you are a 1st timer or someone with little experience in trekking be on the safe side by getting the “Optional” items too. It's always better to be over prepared than underprepared.
Physical Fitness - By looking at you we have no sure shot method for us to know if you are fit enough for the trek or not. If you have an active lifestyle and have good mental strength, a light day trek should not be difficult. Most of our trek dates are fixed at least one month in advance, so if you do intend to come, you should to get fit. Housewifes, children and even Senior Citizens can come for treks and age is not really a factor, but what determines whether you can do it or not is your fitness.
Here are some broad parameters of what fitness is expected from you:
Endurance & Strength training
Let me elaborate on each point:
Lung Capacity All treks involve some altitude which our bodies are not used to. Living in the plains we have more oxygen rich air to breathe and the lungs
A sedentary lifestyle means that we don't exert and so there is less work for the lungs
Air Pollution, smoking etc adds to the poor functioning of the lungs
So on a trek, you start losing your breath very soon and you will be huffing and puffing and you body would give up on you.
Activities that improve Lung Capacity :
Jogging or Running on a treadmill
Playing games like Shuttle, Tennis etc.
If you able to jog/run 5kms in 45 mins you can say that you have reasonably fit lungs
B. Endurance & Strength training
Endurance is the ability of your body to exert itself and remain active for a long period of time, as well as its ability to resist, withstand, recover from trauma or fatigue. On a trek you have to push your body for several kilometers under tough terrain in scorching heat. This is something your body is not used to and sometimes even reasonably “fit” or “healthy looking” people fail. That's because you don't have endurance.
Activities that improve endurance
Join a Gym and ask your trainer to give you strength training with dumbbells and weights
Abdominal crunches, Planks, leg raise, squats, lunges, Push ups, step ups, are all designed to strengthen your core muscles of the the lower body and leg muscles
Cycling long distances
Long walks with a loaded backpack
5 Helpful things that we have to say to someone trying to get fit for a Trek:
It's hard. Its supposed to be.
Suffer in silence.
One step at a time.
The Mountain doesn’t care !
C. Mental Makeup
Make sure that you read in detail about the trek, the route, the terrain, the level of difficulty etc. You can google and read reviews posted by other hikers. You can check with Hikers who have already done this route. This information will mentally prepare your mind for the challenges. While on a trek when you feel that you have exhausted all your energy reserves you suddenly see a steep hill to be climbed and you know you have to do it. The Amazing Human Brain is capable of psychologically bypassing your body’s physical exhaustion and pushing you on. Please see the movie"127_Hours". It's a true story about a mountain climber who is alone and gets his arm trapped under a boulder. Finally after 5 days and 7 hours he amputates his own arm with a pocket knife, rappels down a canyon, and treks to safety. This is an example of how the human brain can transcend the physical pain that your body feels. So a lot of trekkers have their own techniques to use their mind to push the body beyond your limits.
Some tips on how this can be done:
Forcing your mind to enjoy the scenery / talking to yourself / humming a tune etc...anything to divert your brain listening to your pain receptors
Focus on your walk. One step at a time, one step at a time again and again
Assume that your mind and your body are 2 separate individuals and your mind should be like a Army General commanding your your body like how he would to his soldiers.
Self motivation through Self Hypnosis - Here again the mind plays a role in self-motivation….I can do it, Yes I can, Move...Move, Keep Moving, Don't give up…...consciously repeating words like this will soon unconsciously program your body to keep pace with these instructions from your mind.
Stay positive throughout the trek - Negative comments like “How far still to go ?” “I can't climb this hill” “I don't think I can do it” etc, is sure to start working on your body and soon you will be ready to give up. So always keep your spirits up and also motivate others in the same manner.