The first trek is always so special, I know mine was. Did anything go wrong? No. Could something go wrong? In many ways, yes. But, this is not about the mistakes first-time trekkers make. Mistakes happen when you succumb to challenges instead of anticipating them and facing them head-on. Most times, this happens because of a lack of information, some degree of naivety and also a sense of ignorance.
While it is appreciated to have an instinct and judgement when you’re in the great outdoors, it’s also significant to not keep on assuming out of convenience. If you’re supposed to wear a certain type of ankle grip shoes for ankle protection, wear them. Don’t assume that just because you’re not a frequent trekker, you will get away with wearing your running or gym shoes for that one time you go trekking. If you’re supposed to do a certain set of training exercises to build endurance and to condition your body in advance, do them. Don’t assume that just because it’s a 1-2 day trek, your body will power through directly on the day of the trek with no prior form of exercise. Always pick expert advice over naive assumptions.
Considering your first trek would be a one or two-day trekking experience like a trek to the Sahyadris of Maharashtra, I am listing down the most common challenges faced by first-time trekkers and how they can foresee and be ready for them.
Foreseeing the difficulty of the trail based on its grade level
Anticipating the grade level of your first trek and being mentally and physically prepared for what is to come might be a challenge for you. While ‘easy-grade’ treks are ideal for first-time trekkers to start with, you shouldn't mistake these treks to be a cakewalk for you and hence turn up with no prior form of basic physical fitness or training. The ‘easy-grade’ denotes that these treks are easier in comparison to other high-level expeditions.
No matter how easy other trekkers in the community claim your first trek to be, it’s significant to know your body. Don’t put your body through a shock on the trek day. Develop a simple and basic exercise routine that helps you understand your body’s capacity and endurance. Building a walking schedule, walking up the stairs, walking on a similar or uphill terrain will all help you condition your body and know when it tends to go at capacity.
Being prepared according to the weather forecast
Another challenge that most first time trekkers face is being prepared for the weather in advance. Most weather forecasts are almost accurate. And checking on the forecast is super simple, but often ignored. How will you know how to dress for your first trek and be prepared, if you don’t check the weather forecast in advance. Dressing right will hugely impact your first trekking experience.
So, check on the weather forecast and dress appropriately based on the conditions you’re going to trek in. You need a lot less coverage in the summer heat than in the winter chill. Regardless of both these conditions, always wear a synthetic t-shirt that wicks away moisture instead of holding it. Also, carry a rain poncho or a rain jacket and pants if your first trek is a monsoon trek or if the weather forecast notifies an untimely shower.
Many first-time trekkers place so much emphasis on the way they dress and look on their first trek, that they end up stuffing a heavy load of unwanted things into their trekking backpack. Multiple outfit changes, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, perfumes, footwear options and so on, end up finding a space in the trekking backpack. This makes the backpack bulky and hiking uphill with a heavy backpack only slows you down by causing a nagging back and shoulder pain.
Also, guess what? You don’t need to carry your vanity in nature. You can just be yourself. So, efficiently, pack the right amount of everything. For a one-day trek, you don’t really need more than one change, you can store your liquid soap in a travel size bottle, you can do with just sunscreen for cream and carry a roll-on deodorant. Minimize as much as you can, wherever you can. Remember, the climb is always easier with a lighter backpack.
Breaking into the new pair of shoes
A huge challenge for first-time trekkers! Because they have never trekked before, they don’t have the right shoes to go trekking in. Most of them buy a new pair of trekking shoes before their trek but forget to break into them and head out in brand new footwear instead. Breaking into the new pair of trekking shoes, loosening them a bit and noticing if there are any seams or stitches that might hinder your trekking experience is as important as finding the right pair of trekking shoes. Hitting the trail with shoes that are fresh out of the box is the perfect invitation to blisters, discomfort and a troublesome first trekking experience.
Always break into your new trekking shoes, use them and open them up before you set out on your trail so your feet are in complete comfort and you know how the shoes serve for long hours of walking and hiking.
Maintaining the appropriate pace while ascending
Most first-time trekkers derive the speed of their own ascend based on the speed of other trekkers in the group, forgetting two very important facts. One, that there is a high chance that others in the group are accustomed trekkers and Two, that it is not a race. You’re allowed to hike up at your own pace. You have a whole day to trek and so endurance will sustain you, not your speed. Being breathless and panting the whole time will squeeze the fun out of your first trek.
So, work on managing your energy and not the time. Work on getting your breathing in rhythm. Hike at the pace that’s comfortable for you. Even if you’re in a group, you can ask someone to hike with you or slow down a little. There’s absolutely no shame in this. It’s all about finding your balance.
Being privy to the concept of First-Aid
First-time trekkers might not be privy to the basics of first-aid and that is a challenge. First-Aid is not about healing injuries or curing infections. It’s about providing the right help to the sick or injured until proper medical treatment is available.
Rather than depending on others to know this for you, you should learn about the basics of first-aid yourself. Even if it’s just a one day trek, something as simple as carrying band-aids for cuts & blisters, sterile strips to close and keep wounds and bigger cuts clean or basic medicines like Paracetamol and a bottle of relispray and sanitizer can make all the difference when you’re in need. But, remember, do not consume any medication without consulting the team leader. Also, do not advise other fellow trekkers on medication. They might be susceptible to allergy or might end up developing unexpected side-effects from it.
Maintaining consistent hydration
Hydration is key and we cannot stress this enough. I have seen a few first-time trekkers avoid consuming water because they think it will slow them down and this couldn’t be more wrong. What will actually slow them down are the muscle cramps that set in when your body is dehydrated while trekking. Muscle cramps are a prominent symptom of dehydration.
Always remember, you’re pretty much perspiring the whole time you’re trekking, so you need to retain the water content in your body. This will only happen when you consume enough water. This does not mean you can gulp down the entire water bottle at once. You can only retain water in your body if you consistently consume it at regular intervals.
Leaving No Trace
This is a huge challenge that first-time trekkers succumb to, out of ignorance. The love for the mountains is ripe and yet to fully develop. The knowledge about proper outdoor practices is yet to be learnt. There is a huge possibility for first-time trekkers to not know how to carry one's trash back to the city and dump it in a place that welcomed you with all its grace. I am not saying every first-time trekker does this, but I have shockingly seen a lot of frequent trekkers also indulge in this malpractice. This is where we fail the mountains. This is where we disrespect the mountains. And, this is where we leave it in a state that no one should find it in.
What you should do instead is, Leave No Trace! Walk out of the woods carrying everything you walked into the woods with. Do everything in your capacity to reduce your impact during the entire trek. Double-check your campsite for everyone if you can, before you set out to make sure nothing is left behind. Developing a sense of responsibility towards Mother Nature will enrich every trekking experience of your life, not just your first one.