Among various adventure sports / activities followed these days, hiking is one of the most popular & sought after outdoor activity. The popularity of Hiking as an outdoor activity is majorly because of the challenge it offers and the fact that it requires least of equipments/skill/formal training to start. For a single day hike you just have to pack your bag with few meals & water and you are good to go. Then there are multi day hikes/treks which require the help of a local mountain guide who is well versed with the trek route & soft skills of camping. But as the hiker gains experience with each trip, the urge to explore more scenic & challenging trails becomes a craving. There are certain mountain zones on trails that blur the line between hiking & mountaineering and bring with it the pre-requisite of certain technical & medical skills to negotiate these hazards. In order to achieve a next level in hiking/trekking, some formal training becomes desired. In India, we don’t have many options of formal training as of now except the govt. run institutes where there is usually a big queue. I applied to one of the best in India, Nehru Institute of Mountaineering for the Basic Mountaineering Course that they offer. Before I started, I thought this would be a good educational training for me to grow my passion for trekking but as I ended, I have realized that the course offered me much more…training, knowledge, networks, information and the most important thing – inspiration to scale the next level!
So, here am I, sharing with you guys my 6 reasons for a trekker to join the course
1. The inspiration – Well I start with the most intangible of all the reasons but I think this is the most important one. At the same time, I have realized that this is not talked about often. The course takes you out of your ordinary context into the extraordinary terrains of the Himalayas. It takes you away from the routine hustle & bustle to the serenity and peace. Inspirational real stories are screened for you every day during the course that incidentally are the only source of entertainment! For 25 days, the schedule is harsh on you and pushes you to your limits but on the last day of felicitation, you realize that what you completed has made you special. The days have made you love the mountains even more and have inspired to come back to them more often.
2. From a Hiker to a Team Man – Since mountaineering is a team sport, the courses offered emphasizes on training in groups/teams. The tasks are divided amongst each team member that develops a sense of responsibility and every member gets the opportunity to lead the group. The success or failure is celebrated as a team, and not as an individual, which compels everyone in team to help out the slower one. This kind of leadership or team spirit is required in the wilderness or extreme trails where your group is your family.
3. From Hiking to Skilled Hiking – Hiking skills acquired on summer backpacking trips miss the cold / winter aspects of camping & walking in snow/ice, negotiating a steep rock face & other mountain hazards. A basic course in mountaineering covers all the aspects of rock craft, ice craft and snow craft which one encounters in our winter hikes or any high altitude trek. This course teaches you the ascending & descending techniques on rock, snow & ice, how to make anchors, to fix a rope & making improvised shelters in case of eventuality. The training also imparts the use of basic mountaineering equipments like crampons, snow boots, ice-axe, harness and ropes which are a must for any high altitude trek or trekking in winter. The training comes in handy and easily differentiates a seasoned hiker with training from the one without it.
4. Emergency Responder in the Wilderness – Once you are in the wilderness or mountains there can be any kind of medical emergency and to get a medical help from a doctor or a hospital is far from impossible. But if you have someone in your team who has a basic training in first aid or is a certified emergency responder then preliminary treatment can be administered to the patient or victim. The basic course teaches all the mountain related illnesses like cold injuries, AMS, HAPO & HACO one encounters and their possible treatments like the use of a HAPO bag or chamber. The acclimatization aspect, CPR technique, use of bandages and splinters for fracture & other wounds are also covered to face off any kind of medical emergency. Doing this emergency responder program separately also burns a hole in the pocket.
5. Navigation Skill – Once you are in the wilderness, relying on technology is a very perilous thing as sometimes GPS for navigation doesn’t work due to one reason or the other. In order to navigate yourself and the team one should know the conventional method of navigation like map reading, using a compass or a service protractor and how to give out one’s location to rescue team in case of any eventuality. This aspect is covered in the basic mountaineering course both theoretically & practically and concludes with a navigation exercise which every team has to complete.
6. A basic of Rescue / Survivor Techniques - The hiking or mountaineering always involves certain kind of hazards which can be easily avoided if one follows certain rules. But still if someone is faced with any kind of unforeseen circumstances or eventuality like falling in a crevasse or a river, avalanche, snow storm to name a few. One should be prepared for such events by training themselves with basic rescue & survival techniques. The course in mountaineering teaches how to make an improvised shelter in snow bound areas both above & below a tree line. The rescue of a victim from crevasse through C & Z pulley method, techniques to evacuate a casualty to safety to name a few. Click to read more on common mistakes by trekkers
Well, the caveat remains: This is my list of reasons and someone else might have some others but I think no one who has done the course would deny that it leaves a lasting imprint on your mind and memories. You may like it or hate it but surely, cannot ignore it :)
In India, the basic course in Mountaineering is offered by some of the prestigious government institutions like NIM Uttarkashi, JIM & WS Pahalgam, HMI Darjeeling, ABVIMAS Manali, and some others. Complete list can be downloaded from IMF website ( http://www.indmount.org ). These courses are heavily subsidized (around 5-7K for a month!). Because of the time required at a stretch, the course becomes a bit difficult to join for those who are working but best for the college or school pass out students as they can easily spare a month time for it. Even for those who are working, I would say , if you really want it you can always plan for it!
If a mountain is where you feel truly yourself, if the challenging trails give you a kick, if you get immersed in the calmness of a mountain valley, if you get inspired while standing at a mountain peak, and if you love the dumb focus of climbing, then, this course is a must for you!