My definition of A Solo/Independent : This is a trek where the trekker is self-contained in all aspects of the trek for the entire duration of the trek.
There are a few key aspects when it comes to being self-sufficient on a trek.
Self-sufficiency and Fitness
- First let us look at some key items that would be in the independent trekker’s backpack
- Food - Say for 3-4 days or to get to a place where one can replenish food supplies
- Fuel - Petrol/Kerosene to cook food for about a week
- Utensils - Plates/Spoon/Vessel to cook food in
- Clothing - There needs to be sufficient warm clothing (assuming you are trekking in the mountains). However, this is one aspect where one has to be really selective if one wants to travel light. My thumb rule is that if it is not needed for survival you don’t need it in your backpack
- Tent - 1-2 man 3 / 4 season’s tent
- Sleeping Mat
- Sleeping Bag
- Water bottle / hydration pack
One would typically need a 60L-70L rucksack to carry these. Roughly this would weigh around 20KG-25KG, depending on what you have packed. So, this means that one has to have the stamina/fitness/endurance to carry this backpack for the entire duration of the trek. Stamina/Fitness/Endurance does not come overnight – one has to work towards this over an extended period (say a few months at least).
Choosing a Trail
The next aspect of an independent trek is identifying a trail that meets your criteria. Some trekkers like the popular/established trekking routes while others prefer the routes less explored. Personally, most important for me is to determine whether the trail would be easy to find. When I say easy, I mean that if I have a good trekking map, I should be able to find the trail by looking at footprints, animal droppings, track, stone cairns and the general lay of the land.
Some research of the terrain is also critical as this (along with the season) would determine the kind of equipment one would need to carry. For example does one expect landslides, scree, boulder zone, river crossings, snow/ice/crevasses. Depending on this one may need to take rope/ice-axes/crampons/snow-shoes. The challenge when one has to carry a lot of equipment is that your backpack becomes too heavy to carry yourself. Then one would need to hire a porter. If the trail is too fraught with danger (say crevasses) or not easily identifiable then one would need to employ the services of a local guide. If one employs the services of a guide/porter then some would say that you are no longer trekking solo -J. So one really needs to choose the trail carefully.
Personally, to avoid guides/porters I prefer somewhat established trails.
Choosing the Season
The season (time of the year) for doing the trek is another important factor. It determines whether one can even do the trek. Some trails are closed in winter (especially the high altitude passes) and some are not suitable in the rainy season. The choice of season determines the kind of views you might get.
Arranging the Permits :
This is one of the annoyances one has to prepare for before the trek. Some treks require no permits, for others it is easy to get. For some the amount of red-tapism and bureaucracy one has to endure is unimaginable.
One of the keys to enjoy my travel in the Himalayas is to travel without time constraints (something difficult to imagine for folks in the corporate world). What I mean by this is that in the mountains one has to learn to submit oneself and enjoy the vagaries of Mother Nature. Irrespective of your best planning there may be delays, say because you are snowed in for days together. There may be cases where despite your best preparation (fitness/equipment) you may just not be able to reach your destination. Say for example there is a river crossing and the river is in full flow and crossing it seems dangerous, then one has to be prepared to wait it out or even abort the crossing and retrace ones path. Though aborting a trek , without a sense of failure/disappointment, is easier said than done -J , it is wiser to live so that one can attempt to cross this hurdle another time.
Benefits of solo/independent trekking
v Pre-trek preparation/Fitness : One takes care that he/she is really fit/prepared to do the trek both physically and mentally as you know that there is no one to help you in case you are trouble during the trek.
v Differentiating between wants/needs for the trek : Knowing that you have to carry your own backpack you will start differentiating between your wants and your needs very easily. You will be surprised at how little you actually need.
v Knowledge/Study of the trail/terrain & logistics : A person who travels independently has more knowledge & does more research about the trail, how to reach it, what permits are required and what logistical arrangements are required than one who is going through an organized trek.
v Sense of accomplishment : The sense of accomplishment on doing an independent travel is far greater than an organized trek and is something that needs to be experienced.
v Discovering Yourself : One gets to discover ones own limits and is surprised by the extent to which your mind and body can push itself, especially when faced with adversity. As you travel alone when you are fatigued you will find reserves of energy which you never knew, existed within you. Once you experience this I found that it is something that can benefit you in other aspects of life.
v Risk analysis/Decision Making/ Planning : Your risk taking/risk analysis, decision making and planning skills are tested everyday. The stakes are high as it is your life at stake. If you don’t make the right decision you have only yourself to blame and no one else.
v Belief in Fate (God for non-believers)/ Nature : One’s appreciation of Nature (call it God if you will) and the realization of how much one depends of fate increases. It reaches a new high.
Finally, a few question I have often been asked.
v Is it not dangerous to travel alone
v What happens if you are injured or if you fall sick
v What happens if you find wild animals on the trail
v Don’t you feel afraid when you camp alone ?
Here is my take on answering these questions.
v Yes it is dangerous to trek alone. If you have a friend/partner who would travel with you do go with them.
v If you are travelling alone and are injured or fall sick it is a risky business. If it is a frequented trail you may get assistance and if it is not a frequented trail then you would have to bear the pain and fight through your sickness. Luckily, for me I have not encountered this situation and thank god for it.
v Of course wild animals can attack on trails
v Not really
Due to the above reasons is why I am of the opinion as you trek solo your faith/belief increases. So I conclude by saying “You do your best and trust God to do the rest”