Thursday, August 7, 2014

An appeal to all SOLO HIKERS

A discussion and pep-talk about a friend of mine (whom I owe a lot of respect and is known to be a solo- hiker) prompted me to pen this article. He ventures into the hills all alone without any team or companion and is almost addicted to it. While this is a great hobby, there are both- Pros and Cons to it. These are my 2 pennies on the matter of doing it solo.
I will not ridicule solo hiking outright. I am sure there are many benefits and experiences that you have liked about going solo and something about it has been a reason for this addiction to keep on doing it repeatedly. I also understand that solo hiking gives you flexibility of time and date, higher ability to introspect and lack of dominance from anyone. Obviously it could be seen as an easy way towards an adventurous enlightenment. 
However,  Let’s be clear on something-  Trekking / Hiking (whether solo or group)  is a high risk activity in India. We do not have specialized methods of safety and communication, easily available. All we harp on is experience. Our experience itself has blinded us to the fact, that we are still prone to hazards. It could be a natural hazard, animal hazard, human hazard, personal hazard and many more hazards, that we cannot define outright. A sport that’s gaining great popularity can also be a death trap if it is not tamed in the right way.
Firstly, this sport is not yet equipped to handle emergency situations. There are no standard rescue mechanisms, there are no satellite phones, there are no wilderness doctors. Overall, there is a severe lack of a reliable support system, that will come into play for any emergency.  Speaking about the hills in the Sahyadri ranges (Western ghats, India), there is a lot more missing. There are no defined routes (routes keep changing), no designated guides and no assessment of difficulty about any location etc etc. All these good practices will eventually  come into picture, may be in years or decades, but surely not at this moment. 

The sport will undoubtedly mature in terms of external support and a support system will surely come in place. But my friend, this will take some time.  To have an apple to apple comparison, think of F1 racing. Look at the safety norms they follow. Look at all the measures they consider for themselves while performing on the track. Do we even have 1% of that in Hiking ????? The answer is a big NO..!
Till that time, do you think it will be a good idea to hike solo ? Are you so shortsighted, and cannot identify, that one of your solo hikes may just be your last hike ? In the past 22 years of hiking, I have seen many untoward incidences that have compelled me to treat this as an extremely dangerous mindset. I still remember that phone call from a friend when her friend’s husband went missing from a hill in North Maharashtra and was found dead only after a few days. I still remember that shattering story of a person being hit by a boulder making him gasp his last breath on the spot. I still remember of reading of those anti social elements that operate in some well known areas of the hills and can kill (or atleast handicap you for the rest of your life) only for a few bucks.
Most of the incidences could have been avoided if the hiker was not alone. However weak or strong his companion would be, the chances to get help from others increases manifold and chances of seeing another mountain grow better..!
The problem with solo hiking is not only at a personal level. It affects the entire community. For every untoward incidence, you are influencing a percentage of commoners to not venture into this hobby. Don’t you really think that this is a great hobby to peruse and it should be nurtured with safety ?
Some(unasked and unwarranted) advice from my side:
  • There’s still time that we start hiking solo – We have to wait for atleast some concrete mechanisms to be in place.
  • If at all you are left alone, turn back or atleast approach the villagers for help. A villager is perfectly ok as a companion. 
  • Lastly, if you do not have any companion, its because you did not plan things in advance. Use social media to the best use. Numerous forums can help you find a companion for your next hike.


Bottomline: You can trek more only if you are fit and alive. To make this possible, go in a group..!
P.S: Special thanks to Jeetendra Bankapure (not to be confused as the solo hiker) for his motivation to provide my opinion on this matter - and hence this blog.