An introduction to independent trekking
Independent trekking defined
We at inditramp are unashamed proponents of independent trekking. However, at inditramp HQ we do receive a lot of emails from commercial trekking operators, guides and trekkers that claim independent trekking is a foolhardy endeavour and it is irresponsible to promote it via our magazine. We can safely ignore the arguments of organised trekking operators who promote a “sahib” style trek because it is their business model. Nevertheless, we realise that different people perceive “independent trekking” in different ways. Thus, it is only fair that we give try to define what independent trekking means, and how it fits in the broader spectrum of trekking and hiking as a whole.
Since a trekker has to arrange everything themselves, there is a far greater onus on research, preparation, packing and correct gear selection. Preparation involves bringing or renting the right equipment, getting transportation to and from the trek site, arranging permits and purchasing and cooking food. An oft overlooked aspect of being self prepared requires learning the right outdoor skills and techniques that are relevant to the terrain and physical environment one is trekking in.
Independent trekking does not preclude the use of local guides on new and novel trails. Nevertheless, for trails that have been attempted and completed before, the orienteering and navigation responsibility lie with the trekker.
Independent trekking does not believe in using porters and mule trains for hauling gear. We believe that a self supported hiker must choose and carry the right gear in the right quantity to support them over the entire trek.
So why trek independently?
Independent trekking is more difficult to prepare and execute, than a guided trek yet, it is not without its rewards.
Freedom and Spontaneity and Control
Independent trekking means being able to make last minute decisions on leaving time, destination and goals. It means few complications, compromises and coordinations. It is liberating to just grab a pack and go, without the niggling constraints of groups, schedules and pre defined campsites. An independent trekker don’t have to adjust to the moods, whims and needs of others. When backpacking, he or she can get up when they want, eat what and when they want and hike at their own pace.
An independent trek also turns out to be the cheapest. No need to pay a trekking agency, guides and porters.
Self achievement and gratification
To research, map, plan and then finally implement a trek is a gratifying experience. Drawing your own lines on contour maps, and then watching them come alive in real life is a source of unparalleled joy and achievement
Explore trails and off the grid places
Independent trekking helps discover hitherto unknown places. It also helps discover trails in touristy destinations e.g. view our unmarked trails in and around well known hill stations like Dalhousie (Himachal Pradesh) and Patnitop (J&K)
Low ecological footprint
Trekking in large groups, has a severe impact on the ecology of a place. Visit any trail frequented by large trekking groups and the human impact is invariably visible. Solo, small, self supported groups tread lightly and give nature a chance to rejuvenate itself.
Silence, Sounds and Solitude
These three “Ss” are quite important. Independent hiking involves many opportunities for solitude and quiet time. Since you choose to go solo or choose your ideal trekking partner/s (unlike a guided trek), it involves a profound sense of undisturbed solitude against the constant background hum and noise of people and civilisation. Such solitude gives an independent trekker the opportunity to fully tune in to the delicate sounds and smells of nature. Going independent for an hour, a day, a week or longer is the ultimate in this kind of experience.
How dangerous is independent trekking?
Naysayers will have you claim that independent trekking is risky, dangerous and a foolhardy endeavour. They propagate that guided groups are inherently safer than an independent trekker. Yet, our own perception differs in this context.
First, the claim that independent hiking is a risky and dangerous behaviour is a myth perpetuated by a safety and security oriented culture. By and large, most hiking and backpacking activities involve low to medium levels of risk. (Serious climbing and mountaineering is another matter). The truth is that independent hiking is only as dangerous as a person makes it.
Second, We recognise that there are risks to both group and solo hiking, but by following carefully chosen risk management strategies, these risks can be largely mitigated.
In the next section we will critically analyse several concerns expressed by those skeptical of independent hiking. We also cover various risk assessment and mitigation strategies that we practice and promote to make independent trekking a safer endeavour.