In 2011, Bikat Adventures held its very first trek in India. A competent trek leader and a guide were the only staff to accompany the team. There were no porters or cooks. The trekkers carried their food, ration, sleeping bag, and tent, a practice that was uncommon in the industry then.
Today, we are one of the few organisations in the country who have made mountaineering expeditions (that require technical skills in climbing) safe and accessible to the trekking community.
From then till now, there are some unconventional choices we have had to make.
- We made Adventure Insurance mandatory on all activities in our portfolio. This made our treks slightly more expensive when compared to other operators but we believe this was a small price to pay for safety.
- We decided not to conduct any of the popular treks we found to be DIY (and therefore do not require any operator assistance) such as the Valley of Flowers and Chopta Tungnath.
- We opened the winter versions of some much-loved treks such as Pangarchulla, Goechala and Markha Valley. Other winter sports like Skiiing & Wildlife tours were also started to ensure alternative ‘moderate to challenging’ options were available for trekkers in the winters as well. Prior to this, hordes of trekkers were being directed to a handful of easy winter treks such as Kedarkantha, Nag Tibba and Brahmatal. This was not only more convenient but also profitable as an option for the industry. For more insights, please read: Over-crowded Himalayan Treks : Some insights from past data.
- We decided to rate the difficulty level of our treks using numbers that were arrived at on the basis of a trek’s climatic and geographic factors. Subjective terms like easy, moderate and difficult that were commonly used in the industry failed to convey the rigour a trail required. To know more, please read: The Bikat Rating Scale
- More recently, we have started taking seasoned trekkers along with AMC/BMC qualified climbers on our Mountaineering expeditions.
While these moves have been applauded and welcomed by many in the Trekking Community, it has also raised certain questions along the way.
- Can seasoned trekkers who haven’t completed BMC / AMC undertake mountaineering expeditions?
- Is it safe to attempt treks like Goechala, Pangarchulla & Markha Valley in the winters?
- Don’t winter versions of summer treks experience comparatively lower summit rates? Why do you hold them then?
In today’s article we will be discussing all of this and more.
Can seasoned trekkers who haven’t completed BMC/AMC undertake mountaineering expeditions?
It is perfectly alright for trekkers with no formal training in BMC/AMC to undertake mountaineering expeditions, provided they have adequate high altitude trekking experience.
According to the guidelines provided by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the composition of any mountaineering team is required to fit the following criteria:
- 50 % of the members including the leader should be certified in AMC with experience in mountaineering expeditions.
- The rest need to be certified in BMC.
- Up to 2 members with high altitude trekking or rock climbing and related experience (with no BMC/AMC qualifications) can also participate.
Unlike treks, one needs to get prior permission from the IMF to attempt a mountaineering expedition.
The application process is quite elaborate and takes time. It asks for information on the profiles of the expedition leaders and each participant. This is then scrutinised and studied meticulously by the IMF before issuing approvals.
What this essentially means is that the profile of every participant in a climbing team is combed through twice, first by Bikat Adventures (in accordance with the Bikat Rating Scale) and then by the IMF before he/she attempts the trail.
It does not and cannot get safer than this.
Is it safe to attempt treks like Goechala, Pangarchulla & Markha Valley in the winters?
Globally speaking, winter expeditions are nothing out of the ordinary in the world of hiking. Just last month, a Nepalese Team of ten mountaineers had conquered the unimaginable; a winter ascent to K2, the second highest and the most untamed of mountains.
If you ask us, there is a thin line between a trek getting challenging and a trek becoming dangerous.
A trek becomes dangerous when the wrong goals are set.
For example, a goal of ‘reaching the summit no matter what’ could make a trek dangerous, irrespective of whether it is held in the summers or winters.
Following this line of thought, attempting summer treks in the winters is definitely challenging. The weather is unpredictable, the terrain is tricky to navigate and acclimatisation is harder.
But they are by no means unsafe or dangerous.
At Bikat Adventures, the trek/expedition leaders undergo extensive first-aid and rescue trainings every year. The participants are insured as well which means a Helicopter rescue can be called for when needed.
But over and above all the caution, if we were to pick one singular trait that makes our winter expeditions as safe as their summer counterparts, it is this:
Our prudent Trek Leaders know when to turn back.
Which brings us to the next question:
Don’t winter versions of summer treks experience comparatively lower summit rates?
Yes, winter versions of summer treks experience comparatively lower summit rates.
Not only are the weather and terrain harsher to endure but there is a greater chance of them turning bad during winter season.
Our data from previous years show that the summit rate is 20-30% less in winter hikes when compared to their summer counterparts.
Amusingly, the only exception to this has been the Goechala trek where the summit rates during winters have been better than the summers!
If the summit rates are lower, why do you hold summer treks in the winters then?
We do because trekking has always been and will always be a sport to us, a sport to test our limits, push us out of our comfort zones, to learn from, explore and grow as individuals.
Attempting some of the summer treks during winters does exactly that. It tests our mental and physical endurance in compelling ways never imagined before.
When we first entered the industry ten years ago, we noticed that trekking was largely promoted as a leisure activity in India.
Aiming to touch greater altitudes, winter attempts, lower summit rates on tougher expeditions were not only frowned upon, some operators even resorted to using them as tools of intimidation. Lack of safety was often recited to stop trekkers from looking beyond the limited itineraries they offered.
Just recently, we read an article that spoke of low summit rates on summer treks done in winters as a bad thing. We, at Bikat Adventures, were quite appalled and surprised by the facile explanation and judgement that ensued on the topic.
If you pause to think about it, a low summit rate on a winter trek does not indicate recklessness or incompetence of a team/group. It instead shows tenacity and is reflective of a mind-set that prioritises safety over adventure at the end of the day.
Aspiring to touch newer heights and pushing beyond existing boundaries is not necessarily a bad thing as long as one remembers this immutable rule:
A successful summit is never about touching the highest point of a mountain. It is about returning safely to the base.
We want to nudge our trekkers out of their comfort zones, motivate them to aspire for unique challenges and touch greater heights. We want them to look beyond trekking as a leisure activity.
And for us, attempting some of the summer treks during the winters is one way to go about it.