You and your friend went on a same trek but with different trekking operators. When you both returned from the trek, there was a difference in your experiences.
Your friend knew the names of the plants and birds he captured, the peaks he saw, and folklores of all the villages he crossed on his trek.
You wonder why your friend had a much more enriching experience than you.
It is because his trek leader was well versed with the mountains and his job. And, he happily passed all his knowledge to the participants who joined him on the trek.
This ain’t no short term Career Break assignment!
A job of a trek leader gleams attractive to those people who want to quit their mundane jobs and go travel. It is as stressful as a profession of a doctor.
It is not something you do while you take a year long hiatus from the job and return back. To become a trek leader, you need at least 1-2 years of hard work and experience. To become a pro, you need years of experience which you will only attain after you have put yourself through expeditions varying in difficulty and skills.
Yes, you may belong from any professional background, but you require determination and long-term commitment along with BMC and AMC to thrive in the industry.
The role that is described above cannot be delivered in 1 or 2 years. It takes years of training & development to be anywhere close to being a Coach, Tripadvisor, Supervisor, Knowledge Bank, and Rescuer at the same time.
Let us briefly see what all roles does he juggle..
The role is obvious since he manages the participants along with staff and all the events conducted on the trek. Something goes out of order and we seek for our trek leader. One need not be a graduate from IIM to be a trek leader. But keenness to learn and alacrity help a lot.
Do you ever check if your trek leader is trained in first-aid or not? Medical emergencies can knock at your door anywhere, especially in the mountains where there are no hospitals and clinics. Who would you seek for help in such adverse situations? Of course, your trek leader.
The trek leaders at Bikat Adventures carry a fully-equipped medical kit which contains antihistamines, pain-relievers, antiseptics, electrolytes, Dexamethasone, Nifedipine, and all kinds of bandages at all times on the trek. On high altitude treks, they also carry equipment like Oximeter. Every year, they undergo first-aid workshops, where they are trained on using these equipment and administering such medicines along with administering CPR and dealing with all kinds of injuries and accidents.
They don't just spend a lot of time on trekking trails but also continuously read and learn about the flora and fauna of the place. They know about local cuisines to try, tourist places to visit in the town, interesting folk tales related to town & villages; your trek leader is the guide book for all these queries. And if he takes his job seriously, he would definitely know all these answers already.
Which bird is that? What is that plant used for? What all peaks are visible on the trek? Bombard your trek leader with all sorts of questions. If he is experienced and knowledgeable, he will answer all your questions with much fervor and patience.
All our trek leaders are not just trained in basic and advanced mountaineering skills but also in delivering learning modules on the same. From how to pitch a tent to how to climb an ice-wall, they teach it all. They follow all these learning modules on the trek so that they can pass on their learning to the participants. Of course, the opportunity to learn is more on longer treks where they have more time but by the end of your trek, you will have at least one trekking or mountaineering skill under your belt.
Just like every parent wants teacher’s attention towards his child, every participant also wants adequate attention of a Trek Leader. Thus, we maintain 8:1 participant and leader ratio on all our treks. The performance of each and every individual is monitored by our trek leaders. They make sure no one is left behind and provide extra attention to those who are lagging behind.
Their role doesn’t even end here.
Since safety is our foremost concern, we train all our trek leaders in rescue operation from NIM, Uttarakhand. They carry all the safety equipment like ropes, jumars, carabiners, harness, and pulley on the treks which alone weighs 4-5 kgs. Come what may, they are prepared for any situation. They are trained in many rescue techniques like C & Z pulley mechanisms among others and improvise or use them in various ways under different situations.
Wow! All that in one person. A job of trek leader is strenuous and tough.
Those are not the only things I have learned about the trek leading. Closely observing the role of a leader on the trek has also made me realize a few things about the profession:
A job of a trek leader is challenging yet full of new avenues.
Anyone who thinks that a job of a trek leader is all about carrying a walkie-talkie and making people walk in a line in the mountains has a distorted opinion about the job of trek leaders.
There is as much scope of growth and learning as any other profession. At Bikat, I have seen trek leaders starting their careers from treks like Nag Tibba to heading extremely challenging expeditions like Gangotri III and Auden’s Col.
As the experience and years add to his work, there is a tremendous growth in his skills and personality. His experience becomes useful for freshers and his juniors.
Creating future leaders
Managing a team of people is a tough job. And doing that in the wilderness is even tougher. Like a good leader, he has to inspire and encourage people and ensure team spirit in the group. He needs to be decisive and clear headed to face all the challenges that may come his way.
It's a tough job, people. Some people are born with leadership skills, some people learn it on the job. But it still is not everyone’s cup of tea.
This is why trekking companies are willing to invest time and resources on such people so that they can create leaders for tomorrow.
New world of employment
Trek leaders are to trekking industries what software engineers are to IT industry. Over the years, adventure tourism in India and abroad has increased exponentially. India’s world’s 7th largest tourism economy in terms of GDP and Adventure Tourism has a great role to play in the growth of this industry.
According to ATOAI (Adventure Tour Operators Association of India) in the last five years the demand by Indian tourists for adventure sports has shown a 400% rise as compared to International tourists demand.
And this is just the beginning.ATOAI also predicts that the Adventure industry is expected to grow 200% in the coming days. Good days are finally coming!
According to a survey conducted by Tourism of India in 2016, there were only 39% of organized trekking operators in the industry. To overcome this huge gap, trekking industry requires highly skilled people who can carry out the role with much efficiency and responsibility.
After all, it's the trek leaders who enact as pillars of trekking business. This is why these pillars should be strong (read as experienced and ambitious) so that mountain lovers continue to have fun on treks and also be safe.
In the end, I leave you with something that our Founder, Sushant had to say on this topic:
“Expedition or Trek Leaders are the most critical resource in this industry because they are the pillars who can enhance an average experience to a special one where one can not just enjoy but also learn. To ensure this, we do not need people coming to get managerial training for 2 years so that they can go back to their otherwise mundane jobs. We need people who are ready to bet their careers on this industry! They will be the ones creating examples and ensuring that we deliver best adventure experiences in India, nothing less than the developed world.”