Hike Your Way to Health
|June 2008||Text by : Lim Wei Yang
Next time someone tells you to “take a hike”, give it some thought. If they think you are not needed there, then why not just get away from it all? If you are so caught up in problems of your daily life, then do seriously consider taking a hike.
Hiking is a form of walking for recreation. Walk away your troubles, as hiking is a healthy way of forgetting about life’s daily stress. For some, it is a way of keeping fit and done as exercise. For others, it’s adventure. No expensive equipment is needed; you just put one foot forward and then another. Since the day you stood up and took your first steps, you have been preparing to hike. It comes naturally since it is merely an extended version of walking. There are no fancy techniques or difficult skills to master. You control the intensity, duration and pace of this natural workout, and you choose where to hit the trail.
Hiking can be done by anyone regardless of age. Let the slowest person in the group set the pace. Hiking is best enjoyed if done at a comfortable pace. It brings you deeper into nature’s unspoiled beauty. Hiking is not a competition to determine how far or high or fast one can go.
Unless you are in a hurry to return to smog and filth, there is really no need to rush through the pristine environment. Hiking takes you away from the noisy rush of the city and leads you deep into the serene tranquility of the wilderness. Take in a deep breath of fresh crisp air and hear the melodious sounds of nature play out around you.
Overnight hiking or multi-day hikes can be considered as backpacking or trekking. Beginners can start with a day hike through the villages outside of the Ring Road before progressing to steeper terrain, like trekking through the hills on the Kathmandu Valley Rim. Hike slowly and spend time absorbing the sights and sounds along the trail. More than just a means of getting to your destination, hiking’s essence is in enjoying the journey, of savoring the experience of walking through the land.
Children look forward to taking hikes as it brings them away from the urban jungle and into the woodlands. It’s a great opportunity for children to learn about the natural environment, picking up lessons about conservation along the way. Get them involved in the preparation of the hike. Let them know what to expect and have them pack their own bags. This imparts to them a sense of independence and responsibility. During the hike, let them play a part too. Allow them to try reading the map and figuring the way onwards. If staying overnight, have them help set up camp. Teach them basic outdoor skills during the hike, and point out to them the diverse wildlife. What a shame if the only animals our children can recognize are the house pet or strays.
Despite the low cost of hiking or trekking, not many Nepalese do it. “I don’t understand why Nepalese do not do much trekking,” says a bemused Chandra, founder of Initiative Outdoor. “Perhaps they think trekking is for tourists or foreigners, but this is not the case.” Hiking is within the reach of Nepalese, as it is affordable. They do not need to pay for a guide. There is no language problem and if hiking around the valley, most Nepalese should be quite
familiar with getting to the places.
Foreigners in Nepal can choose between organized trekking and teahouse trekking depending on the area to be visited. If you choose the latter, accommodation and meals are settled at trailside guesthouses or ‘tea houses’. These treks require minimal equipment and hence lesser load to carry. Organized trekking is self sufficient and you have to carry your own gear. The advantage of this is being able to camp anywhere you wish, unlike teahouse treks which restrict your trekking route. You can also save on porter and accommodation costs. “It fosters a greater sense of independence and adds up to a more wholesome experience”, says Chandra who leads short hikes for teens and practices self-reliant camping.
The amount of gear needed for day hikes is less than that for multi-day trekking. The essentials though, are the same. These cater to our basic needs and for emergencies. Hiking carries considerably less risk of injury compared to other adventure sports. However being out in the wild, eventualities can happen out of human control. Situations that usually arise include getting lost, hurt or ill. A heavy shower is a mere inconvenience in the city, but a downpour in the hills can escalate into mud slides. Hypothermia becomes a big threat when one is drenched and faced with chilly winds. Thus, it is imperative to be prepared for contingencies that may ruin your hike.
Plan a route and learn of dangers which happen in that area. Although intensive planning can take out the fun and spontaneity, it is still advisable to have a brief idea of what to expect. Draft a list of necessities and get a map. When packing, keep in mind an item’s weight and space occupied. Waterproof the contents using plastic bags. Weigh an item’s significance by considering its weight against the likelihood or frequency of use. A sleeping bag is of no use for a day hike, but in case of unforeseen circumstance that leads to an unplanned overnight stay, take an extra layer of warm clothing instead. For longer hikes, bring basics such as sleeping bag, tent and (if you are not staying in a guesthouse) some cooking equipment.
Opt for lightweight, quick-drying materials for inner layers of clothing. For hiking around the valley, bring a jacket for chilly mornings and evenings and a waterproof outer layer like a windbreaker. Dress in more layers for fall and winter. Headwear, like a jungle hat or sports cap, serves for protection against the elements.
Traversing hilly terrain causes stress on our feet. Footwear should hold up against the rigors of craggy paths and anti-slip grip soles (sometimes called vibram or ‘waffle’ soles) are essential for damp or slippery trails. Ankle-support is crucial for hiking, especially for long walks and, if you have tricky knees, an elastic knee bandage is useful. Although pricey, hiking boots can last long because of their inherent quality and with careful maintenance. If fording waterways, then quick-drying sandals with strong gripping soles are more suitable.
Be it a Saturday walk in the woods or a lengthy exploration of the Himalayan range, hikers and trekkers can reap many benefits at negligible costs. See the natural richness of Nepal while enriching your physical and mental self. Work up a sweat and wash away your worries. Spend quality time with the family and share the wonder and importance of environmental awareness. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints, as the saying goes.
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