Trekking may be fraught with risks, but a few precautions can make it a thrilling experience, says GEETA PADMANABHAN
“Trek polama (Shall we trek)?” asked Peter Geit's Chennai Trekkers Club invitation. I signed up at once. Where to now? Turned out this was the annual “workshop” where all the trekking you did was climbing flights of stairs to the terrace. No matter. Listening to Vallaban of Phoenix Physiocare talking about trek-related injuries was profitable enough. Harping on “what if” problems while trekking sounded like a dampener, but if you're a regular trekker, you'll appreciate it — whether newbie or veteran, being well-prepared is half the trek done.
Aside of accidents, sports injuries occur because of poor training practices, inadequate or ill-fitting gear, lack of fitness and improper warm-up and cool-down drill, said Vallaban. So what can you expect — apart from the view — when you trudge up a hill and down a slope? Ligament sprains mostly in the ankle, knee, shoulder or wrist. Your calf and thigh muscles could get strained; you could feel a stab of stiffness in the back, knee, foot or shin. Proceed with one or more of these; you'll be a pain in the group's neck.
Escaped all this? Congratulations! In the next round, obstacles include heat stroke, water intoxication (you heard right), cuts, bruises, fractures and fainting. Heat hoists the reddest flag, so watch out. Exposure to harsh sunlight (heat stress) can give you red, bumpy, severely itchy rash. Not the companion you want on a trek. If you're prone to heavy sweating, expect unannounced cramps in the arms, legs or stomach, a warning that all is not well.
With fluid loss and inadequate drinking you enter the heat exhaustion phase which is a step short of a full-blown heat stroke. Drained of water and salt, you stop sweating and find your temperature reaching 104 degree F. You feel weak, dizzy and confused, and eventually collapse.
It helps if you are in a group. Do a group discussion on first aid before hitting the trail. Insist on everyone rinsing skin with cool water, changing to dry clothes when sweating excessively. Stop every 15 minutes to sip water. The exact amount depends on the difficulty level, heat, humidity and altitude, but drink before you're thirsty. Thirst can be a late warning of dehydration. Go easy when the sun is overhead. When a co-trekker shows signs of heat problems, move him/her to a cool area, massage and stretch affected muscles and offer cool plain/salted water. For external cooling, press cold ice packs, spray water, fan, cover with cooling blankets, or try an ice bath. Stop ice baths when the temperature drops to 102 degree F. If he's disoriented, keep asking questions, call for help.
But ouch! I've sprained an ankle/foot! This could mean stress, stretch, or tear in the ligaments and tendons and is classified as mild-moderate-severe. Employ “PRICE” (prevention, rest, ice, compression, elevation) protocol at once to limit swelling. Protect the area with a brace, tape or bandage. Give the injured area rest. Try an ice massage (Cryokinetics — 2 minutes icing — 2 minutes pain-free movement — 2 minutes icing — 2 minutes pain-free movement — for 20 minutes), do compression with crepe, elevate the injured part to above-heart level. For a muscle cramp, pull or tear, relax it with a gentle massage. Muscle cramp is associated with fluid loss, so electrolyte (sodium+potassium) replacement is essential. Most cramps subside with time.
“Have a health check-up before looking for trails,” said Vallaban. Ask: what is the difficulty level — easy, hard or difficult? Which one am I fit for? Make note of slopes, climate, altitude and distance. Check your trekking gear. Sure you're not overloaded? Make ground rules, decide on the leader and promise to follow instructions.
First aid kit
And pack a first aid kit, anticipating the worst. At the least throw in painkiller spray, ankle/knee crepe, oral rehydration salts/emergency tablets, thermometer, gauze, cotton, towels, antiseptic, medical tape, a topical antiseptic, framycetin (Soframycin), BP apparatus (?), adhesive bandage strips of varied sizes, glucose, hand wash, incision blade and scissors. And a pack mule. Who will carry all these?
A bigger question is: Why do we trek, given the chances of getting everything from headache to heatstroke, not to mention falling off rocks? “Compare the number of people who have been on Mount Kinabalu to those who have walked on the Aguada beach,” said Tan Ann who has trekked on Mt. Kilimanjaro. “Trekking is high thrill, there's always something dramatic waiting to appear on the other side. It is a one-of-a-kind, “I've-been-there” achievement. It puts you in the company of people who look out for each other, who push you to scale more mountains. Done carefully, it is the best climb to health.”
CARRY WITH YOU
* Two light T-shirts
* Long, light, dry-fit pants (grassy slopes)
* Light shorts (stream/boulders, pools/falls)
* Breathable shoes
* Light towel
* Sun screen
* Camera, mobile fully-charged
* Reusable water bottle(s)
* Thermo-coil sleeping mat
* Light blanket or sleeping bag