While reading about people like Sir Edmund Hillary, George Mallory, Les Stroud and Alex Lowe, I realised there are certain human traits that these people possessed – extraordinary human values instilled into them partially by the mountains, and rest by their families, friends, acquaintances… I thought if I followed – in part – what they were doing, I could also imbibe some of those traits. After all, according to recent research, if one keeps a hobby for 21 days, it could become a habit and habits create character indeed.
Backed by science, I made it a point to hit the mountain trail at least once a month and camp more often. After I realised that a trek is primarily a showcase of human values, it didn’t take much time for me to leave my corporate career for a job in the outdoors, where I get to influence people’s lives quite as the mountains influenced mine.
The process of climbing the stark mountains and hills strengthened my character; brushed and bound with gratitude and humility, when I returned to the ‘civilised world’ and shared my experiences on being asked, I really could not isolate the reason I kept going back to the mountains, or was it that the mountains kept drawing me back? As Frida Kahlo fantastically put it, “Only a mountain can know the core of another mountain”.
So, instead of trying to explain in words, I decided to do one better. Each time I climbed, I took along many friends. Sharing their joy was far more delightful than what I had experienced alone, making me realise the importance of giving back to the world. This way, I got to be a part of someone else’s story that they will share proudly. After spending days in the remotest and hardest environment, with strangers and new cultures, I began to notice the changes that each of my trekkers seem to undergo as they came back from a trek. They returned to their normal lives, more open to opinion, more empathetic and helpful. They came back have learnt to live with less, and that happiness wasn’t really proportionate to the number of things they owned.
Somewhere in their mind, each trekker starts to care for the whole team. Faith, integrity, perseverance and sustainable living are some of the other values that one takes back with them for life. Over the 30-odd treks that I have led, it’s been interesting to notice the kind of values that eventually get instilled within people during a trek. These are six of them:
The day you make the choice to trek, you set yourself a goal – and that is, to complete the trek. Since you haven’t done this before, there will be lots of hindrances on the way, and a lot of questions and self-doubt that would lead you to second-guess that decision. But you persevere. As you trek, each day you sleep under the cover of a starry-sky, you know that you have challenged yourself – physically and mentally. That sleep at the end of the day is well-earned. Every time your body would indicate that it’s time to give up, your mind would win over to go that extra step, that extra mile to reach the top. As Dumbledore tells Harry in JK Rowling’s book creation, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”.
With each high altitude pass one conquers, it is not the pass but ourselves that we conquer over. The moment you take up a new challenge or major project in your life and see it through, you will be a bit more confident. Mountains work on the same principle. When you look at a peak from the base, it seems unreachable. But when you look down from the summit, the self-confidence that comes with it not only gives you a sense of achievement right there, but place yourself at work, and no problem seems insurmountable.
Mountains force seasoned trekkers to an extent that they will have to put themselves out there to the elements with faith and trust. Without faith there is no teamwork and without teamwork there is no discipline; and without that you cannot have a successful trek. This faith is on yourself, your mates and the mountain – all together. Even when you think the universe is inanimate, your faith that it’s working to help you is what keeps you going and finally succeed. Place that in your everyday life, and you have yourself the X-factor that your peers will take inspiration from.
If you thought getting away to the mountains meant leaving behind a life of discipline and routine, then think again. At the mercy of the elements, mountains teach us that every minute counts. In the mountains, you appreciate the importance of time as with every passing second, you’re closer to the sunset, and that means you need to reach a safe destination to pitch your tent, organise your food. There is no other place that teaches you to respect time and discipline as much as the mountains.
One of the most important factors many of us take for granted is teamwork. We look at gruesome expeditions and climbers, but forget the sherpas when it comes to giving credit. We tend to underestimate that being surrounded by people who make a trek comfortable and convenient. Even if it’s a solo trek, up at high altitudes, there usually one other person with you, and in such a situation gelling with that person is of paramount importance. After all, it’s just you and them. In a group trek, you learn to take into account the needs of the one in front of the pack, as much as the person at the back. After all, the goal is the same, and you need to get there together. More often than not, strangers become family in a matter of hours and days, when on a trek.
6. Forming/strengthening relationships
It might be a broad term, but one tends to make all sorts of bonds in a trek – starting from friends, partners, mentor and even strengthening a parent-child relationship. While trekking, there is the nature, you and your co-trekkers. No place to hide, no place to run away to. Days and nights are spent with the same people, doing the most arduous of tasks and working together. Such intense scenarios really help forming relationships like no other. And you’ve got the blessing of the mountains to boot.
People choose to trek for a lot of reasons and, sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, which in itself makes it more rewarding. But in the end, much like any other form of travel, each trekker – novice or veteran – comes out of the experience a more evolved person. Trekking is all about moving out of your comfort zone, and while doing so, you sometimes brave the harshest and most unexpected of conditions, and yet, you persevere with a smile, then that’s a life lesson even decades of living a routine life can’t teach you, let alone a handful of days. Trekking, if one may say so, is an express life-teacher. Do it once, and you will come out a better person. Guaranteed.