How to prepare for high altitude treks/trekking
(This Article has been written by Ashutosh (BCMT Handle ashutosh69) & is being posted with his due permission.)
Preparing The mind:
Map and data of region:
Lehmann maps, Survey of India Maps, Google Earth Scan with print out of top view as well as view with 70/80 degree tilt of the target area.
Cases, experiences and travelogues:
A search in the net or, now a days, membership in some community forums with trekking interests (indiamike.com) provide several pieces of useful and critical information about the targeted trek. This also throws up information about agencies or support resources that come handy for arranging logistics.
Preparing the body:
Treks are about having playful adventure, high amount of fun and enjoyment balanced with high degree of safety and survival capability. This requires optimization of body mass and maximizing cardio vascular activity in order for the body not to trouble the mind. One can start training with a 30 minute jog or Tread mill in the gym at moderate speed and steadily increase each week to reach a speed of 10/12 Kms in 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stepper exercises (1000 steps a day at least) prepare the leg muscles well. In absence of steppers, step climbing can be done. Such a regimen to be continued for at least 6/8 week. More, the better. The exercise should be regular and not discontinued at any cost. People who are fond of gyming can do weight training etc, but not some exercise that can potentially lead to muscle and ligament injuries.
Shoes- Shoes and feet are the vehicles that carry us in the trek. Any failure of this – we don’t have a spare tyre. The shoes should be high enough to provide ankle support, deep treads to grip through mud and snow, yet special grip sole that would not slip on rocks. They should be snow and water proof and yet the shoe should be well breathable. I have a Solomon pair which I have been using for 8 years now. If access to foreign brands is there, one might like to obtain a North Face. But in India, Woodlands makes good trekking shoes although they are a bit heavy compared to similar synthetic shoes available from the International Brands. Always carry an extra pair of shoe lace -that acts as the stepni in the unfortunate even of the lace being broken.
Rucksack/Day-pack- Rucksacks are strap on shoulder bags used to carry material during treks. Rucksacks come in various sizes from 40ltrs to 90 ltrs and above. The larger the capacity, the longer and bigger it would be. Good rucksacks would always have a metal frame support, made of good, lightweight-tough snow and water proof material (or come with a stashable rain-cover), excellent stitching quality, several pockets and holding areas to carry more stuff, Wide and padded straps, adjustment possible of the vertical support joints of the straps, good quality snap on buckles, elastic binders, easy adjustable straps. Again I have a Solomon 60 Ltrs sack and I would recommend one to every body or a North Face. In India the Ruck-sacks sold by Woodlands are again good. They are 65 ltrs bags and good, though the stitch quality and strength of material are a bit inferior compared to the more International Brands. One should still have rainproof carry bags to seal material inside rucksack. I have a Nalgen drinking water bottle that I attatch as standard accessory with my rucksack. Its tied on top with a drinking pipe extending to the trekkers mouth with a chewable control valve. Principles remain the same for Day-pack. But the day packs are usually less expensive. Basically the straps and binds must be of good quality and ride comfortably well on the back.
Shoulder/waist Pouch- Shoulder cum waist pouches are very handy with dual support on waist and shoulder can carry good enough load 4-6kgs. If its large enough, its useful for carrying even a video cam corder and other material like sunglasses, lip balms, still camera, candy bar…and other such things that might come handy during the walk. I bought some real good ones in Kathmandu that were locally made. They are good- water proof and adjustable high quality straps.
Ski-pole/Walking stick- Are most necessary additional support that a trekker carries. On a steep incline one uses the hand to use it as anchor pulling up. In a steep down, it helps arrest quick descent and takes some shock off knees. Always prefer a compressible ski pole. Ski pole feels additionally assuring some how crossing a snow field. The strap and the grip of the stick must be good and adjustable for fitting. The screwing mechanism for height adjustment must be operating smoothly. Now-a-days several Korean make sticks are available – costing anywhere between 600 to 800 Rs.
Rain-cover- Important accessory for rainy days or weeks bordering the monsoon seasons. Absence of good rain cover on body and ruck sack can mar the entire mood and fun in the trek by making things wetter than required. Should be light weight and easily foldable. Synthetic raincover cum snow jackets cum wind cheaters are available- ones that one can zip open to let air in and just zip up as the drizzles happen. …but brands one would have to look for. I got some very good Ponchos in Kathmandu which are adjustable and are designed to cover the ruck sack as well.
Cap/ Headcover- A trekker would usually a cap or head cover, at whatever altitude of the trek. At those altitudes, the UV exposure on the skin is high. Not only would exposure leave behind a tanned and scorched skin, but also the hazard on the skin for UV exposure. Caps of whatever make or style should provide breathing space, of lighter shade, wide brimmed (a brim shadow covering the whole of the shoulder) and should have a tieing mechanism with the neck so that it remains in place and does not fly off in wind. A normal Monkey cap with a light towel worn like Arabic Kaffeihya can also serve well in higher reaches. At very high reaches a balaclava and snow goggles become the standard head gear where wind and snow conditions both prevail..
Goggles- Most essential items in higher altis. Polarised sun glasses are fine (with deeper shades) but should be designed to block all side view from the eyes. There are goggles with elastic rubber bands that snugly fit. Any thing to prevent the glare from entering from any angle.
Trek wear- During trek one needs to protect from cold, at the same time provide breathing and ventilation space to the incessantly working body. Light cotton or synthetic track suits that are loose and airy at the same time of toughend material to handle some rough handling. Good material was available in Adidas…its kinda tough syntetic but very comfortable. Another thing about the trekking suite is also how easy to dry it is, just in case one gets drenched in rain. Multiple zippable pockets help stash away important tools.
Knee Support- I find knee support an essential item for trekkers young or old. The Velcro mounted elastic supports made of synthetic material is a must have on the body. Not only it feels better climbing, it helps quite a lot going down as well. If there is a pain in the joints, one can apply some pain relieving cream and put on the support on top. It works wonders.
Night/camp wear- Nights are going to be cold. Thermal inner wears topped up with several layers of thin warm woolens, coverup with a jacket and slip into the sleeping bag. Those three category of things are an absolute must in the cold nights. Woollen socks, gloves and monkey caps are added necessities. I also carry a synthetic camp boots that act as sleepers at snow laden camp sites. Got tht one from Stikage in Delhi.
Day wear- One should carry several light weight T shirts. Even the synthetic soccer game variety are easily driable. Woollen fleece jacket is a must for roaming around the camp during early hours and late hours of the day. Other wind cheating warm jackets or Parkas are recommended. Fo very high places in winters and late autumns etc, Down Jackets are a good idea. If one is expecting sub-zero at night, downs always help. I bought a pair at Stikage.Helped me immensely in the Manasarovar trek.
Inner wear- Thermal inner wear- at least 2 pairs are necessary. Some of them are not woollen and some are. The woollen ones are really good.
Gloves and Socks: Hands and feet need to be covered the most well since they get exposed the most. A good pair of socks and gloves always help. Couple of pair of gloves and 3/4 pair of Woollen socks and couple of pair of normal cotton socks is a good idea. Cotton socks can be worn in less cold areas.
People using specs or other optical devices need to be careful. Carry repair tools or at least duct tapes to hold together things if the frame gives way. Sunscreen lotion with a SPF 90 and above is recommended. Lip gloss helps handle chaffed lips. Personal Ipod and such things must be well prepared with the required battery life in mind. The cold reduce battery life by 75% in certain cases. Even radios work at times…I have heard Radio Mirchi loud and clear at Nandanvan. Carrying a pen and a paper comes handy several times and those extra copies of Google earth print outs and route map. I saw some ready to use waterless soap at a store in Singapore. Was quite handy in the Bamsarukhal trek. Lighters are essential items, but never the zippo variety. The disposable Japanese lighters that come in transparent bodies are much better in terms of reliable firing mechanism (Stone and Flint) and preservation of combustible gas. Toilet Rolls, baby wipes and/or small mug for personal ablutions are a must, since one would not have water a plenty in all places, neither is it advised to dirty the water sources. Tooth brush/ paste and shaving kit go without mention. It should however be kep in mind, it might not be possible to shave everywhere everyday. Any other personal medications and related articles come under this.
Camping and Special Gear
Tent- The basic choice is Alpine or Dome tents? Alpine tents are the triangular looking ones and the dome tents are those igloo look aikes that one sees in NGC shows. Several homemade Alpine tents are available in all metros. They are cheap and simple. But are usually heavy and are unreliable in stormy conditions that are so prevalent in the higher reaches. I recommend dome tents. European makes are better. But I find some excellent Korean make dome tents that are extremely compact and foldable. One doesn’t even have to fix those sticks in. Its like an umbrella that opens up and one just needs to fix and put the .outer. All tents have ground mat (usually water proof, the main tent body (usually the two are stitched one piece only) and on outer covering. The Outer is generally of a lighter material with the main purpose of providing a covering (from snow, sun and rain) to the main body of the tent.
Sleeping bag: Most essential item for spending the night in the tent. Sleeping bags come with altitude and temperature grading. Extreme high altitudes require Down sleeping bags. The sleeping bag should be light weight and warm. While original Down sleeping bags are quite warm, the synthetic Down sleeping bags are comparatively less warm but easy to dry (in case of wet conditions).
Multifunction –watch- Essential instrument that I use for frequent altitude check, barometer readings to have some forecasting of oncoming weather. In a particular night at Kedarkharak it also helped record the -22 degs. I use a Casio- Protrek which I find quite useful and handy. My first battery went on for 3 years which I consider as good life. Easy to replace battery and maintain.
Camp light- One realizes the utility till one sees a camp member easily going about things with these. One head mounted LED light surely helps in the dark camp evening situations e.g. if one had to go to the corner for ablutions. Head mounted lights would either have a three way head strap or would be mountable on the visor of a cap etc. They come in various designs. I found lot of cheap Chinese makes which refused to work after I came back to India. Better to buy Petzel LED lights. They also provide good camp torches…I had got a Chinese make crankable one….which you can crank several times to charge the battery up for 2 nights light. Has been quite reliable in my treks so far, unlike the headlamp.
Handy tools- Standard swiss army knife- the more tools the better, one never knows what comes handy where. I have seen some swiss-knife-looking having foldable spoons and forks as well. Wonder glue/feviquick etc can also be handy tools at times
Crampons- In treks where ice walks and heavy ice/snow conditions are expected, crampons become must. Usually support agencies provide it but I have bought my own. Crampons differ by 2 design aspects- No of spikes and adjustability of sole dimensions. Lesser spikes (6 spikes) mean better grip, less hold strength and but dangerous on thin snow. More spikes (12 spikes) would mean more force to be applied for same grip but better hold strength and can handle relatively thin ice. Some crampons now a days are available with 12 spikes on the sole and extra spikes on the toe front for firmer grip when required. Also have adjustable soles. Stikage sold this Korean make to me at 5000 Rs.
Gaiters- Good desi stuff is available in this category. There are ones haveing elastic edges and a buckling mechanism that fit into any shoe even while crampon is put one. I bought few pairs below Rs 500 each from Stikage.
Ice Axe- Must have equipment where extended snow walk is expected. Is a large multifaceted tools for snow conditions. Digging holes for tentsor sewerage, cutting steps in snow slopes, uses as walking stick in soft snow, used to arrest fall, use as a belay where required. Got one curved one with excellent steel quality from some K Mart store in US for 60 $. Looked like worth the purchase. Don’t remember the brand. But has excellent grip, slightly angled towards the front and is so light!!
Emergency blanket and heat pads- Little stamp sized aluminum blankets are excellent safety items and so are commercially available heat pads that can help warm up body parts in emergencies.
Expedition stove and gas cylinders- Saw some exceptionally handy expedition stoves, under a thousand Rupees, again Korean make in a store in GK1. It had stoves that could even be screwed to the top of gas cylinder- complete with a pan holder. Little 400g cylinders are also available. These stoves can be self lighting..with out requiring a match box.
Food and Medical Supplies
Food and Beverages
The best way is to put F&B and all cooking utensils and stove etc in one lightweight yet sturdy box and call it the kitchen kit. This would also include small pails for carrying and heating water.
Hot Drinks- Carry enough Tea and coffe supplies, tea bags are obviously handy and so are sugar packets. There should be a tea kit where in all tea/coffee related material can be kept. A small tin of Chocolate powder is not only handy but also adds to the variety during the hike. I always relish the feeling of Pradeep asking me "Sir- Tea-Coffee ya Chocolate" with 3 feet of snow and -10 deg outside the tent.
Breakfast- Can be creative and variated with some imagination. Corn flakes, Porridge, Bread packets, Butter, Jam, Honey, Packets of Maggi or Top Ramen noodles, Chocolate bars. Guys at my agency tops it up with "Egg to order".
Packed lunch - Bread Sandwiches (Would require carrying some fresh and green veggies and onions etc. which can be carried if porters are going along). Some fruits can help- Apples, banana etc, Chocolate bars, Sufficient Sandwiches, Boiled eggs and some fruits can make for excellent packed lunch.
Dinner - Dinner could be of pre-cooked packed food. But ideally should be mixed up with a plan to include noodles/rice/dal/mashed potaoe/Soyabean nuggets in lower altitude conditions where plenty of water is available. Variety comes in with bit of Achar, Papad etc. Packets of soup powder become handy appetisers before dinner, particularly in cold evenings.
Energisers and coolers - Sufficient supply of chocolates and candy bars necessary for replenishing energy during the trek. During sunny summit conditions we carry a bottle of squash or lime water to sip during the trudge.
- Water purificatrion tablets or these nice filter bottles available in the US
- AMS -(Acute Mountain sickness) Helps accelarate acclimatisation Diamox - 6/8 tabs per person
- Cold and allergy- Coldarin, D Cold, any Antihistamines
- Pain and Sprains - Sprays of Moov/Iodex, Analgin, Nizer- (Nimusulide+Beta Cyclodextrin)
- Fever - Codein+ Tylenol, Paracetamol
- Stomach disorder - Fasigyn DS, Nortid (Norfloxacin+Tinidazole )
- Emergency Steroid- For Hypothermia and extreme conditions- Dexamethasone injectables
- Antibiotic - Ciprofloxacin, Nebasulf poweder, Neospirin Ointment
- Antacid - Riflux forte or any ranitidine based antacid to handle acute cases
- Bandages/Adhesive - Adhesive plasters, Scissors, Gauge pads/bandages, crepe bandage
- Antiseptic - Betadine liquid and ointment
- Antiemetic - Avomine, Stemetil
- Splints etc
- Disposable Syringes for injections
- Medication for specific known ailments like vertin, asthma inhaler, anti migrine, anti blood pressure etc.
Movie Camera- Usual problems is battery charge. Buy one of those jumbo batteries that run for 7/8 hours once charged. Use more of the eye piece for view finding rather than the LCD screen. Spare DV cassettes, DVDs so one doesnt run out of recording media. Carry a headcleaning cassette as well. Some times cameras start acting funny up there. If its those 30/40GB wala Cams, nothing like it.
Still camera- Again the problem of spare batteries. Sufficient supplies of batteries and spare fully charged batts. Carrying and extra memory card is a good idea. Spare rolls necessary if its an anlogue camera. Lens cases, Tripods, Snow and rain cover are necessary. A CPL and UV filter for SLR lenses always helps to cut out the glare of snow fields and snow peaks and also to highlight the cloud features in the sky.
Music- IPods are a good company. Need to take care of the battery. As mentioned earlier, FM radios are a possibility in extra high reaches, where Delhi FM broadcasts are recieved well..probably because of elevation that puts Delhi in almost "Line of Sight"range of the mountains.
PS: If one takes help of a good agency, they usually take care of the specialised gears like Tent Sleeping bag etc and the F&B requirements as well. Such a deal usually involves provision of F&B facility, all boarding facility, specialised equipment if any, transport till starting point and transport back from starting point, utensils, expert guides and portrage of personal loads to the extent of 15/20 Kilos. But still its always a good idea to strap on a day pack or a lightly loaded ruck sack on the back - helps balancing during the trek and also helps burning those extra fat cells that I so dearly look for burning out.
(Ashutosh writes in the name of Him Pathik & his blog is Snowscapes of The Himalayas)