On Campus

Trekking’s not a tourist thing

ABHINAY REDDY | Updated on December 23, 2012


It was in the summer of 1998 that Peter van Geit decided to take a break from the hectic life of an IT professional. Seeking a respite from his mundane desk job, he embarked on a 5000-km journey on his Royal Enfield Bullet across the Western Ghats, which starts from Maharashtra and extends all the way south to Kanyakumari.

A decade later, the Chennai Trekking Club (CTC) was established on February 22, 2008, thanks to Peter’s inspiration.

With over 17,000 existing members and an average of 15 joining in every day, CTC is the most active adventure club in India. And Peter mentors the adventure club in our institution.

Peter was born and brought up in Belgium, a small country with a population of 11 million, roughly equal to that of Chennai. Frequent family trips when he was a kid got him interested in the beauty of the wilderness.

Eventually, he came to India, and worked as a manager at Cisco, Thoraipakkam. But he made frequent trips to places around Chennai with a bunch of enthusiasts from his office.

On one such trip to the Tada waterfalls, Peter and his mates decided to take a new trail to the top of the waterfall. After this, the group decided to start a dedicated trekking club in Chennai and the CTC was born.

Recently, Peter was at IIT Madras to talk about trekking. “Trekking isn’t simply going to a tourist place,” he pointed out. It is a total wilderness trip taken with no prior idea of the trail.

Save some camping gear, navigation equipment, food and water, it is all about learning to survive in the wild, a refreshing endeavour to escape the concrete jungle we reside in.

He delved on a few important things one needs to know before setting out on a trek.

Understanding the terrain

A thorough knowledge of the terrain is of utmost importance. Features like pools, valleys, boulders, gorges, ridges, and saddles are basic. Most knowledge is common sense, e.g. avoid valleys in the monsoon season and walking on a ridge saves time compared to walking up and down a slope. Google maps can be used to study the terrain.

Scrutinising the maps

Maps are the most important navigation resource. GPS topography maps and contour maps must be studied for details of the place. Of the two days spent planning for the trek, one goes into examining the maps.

Proper Gear

Since Chennai is located in the southern part of the country, heavy gear must be avoided to overcome the challenges of a tropical climate. “The lighter the better,” as Peter put it. Long pants are preferred to avoid cuts on the legs. Maggi noodles is the signature food of any trekker. Sunblock is mandatory while closed shoes are suicidal. With high chances of water bodies being encountered, ideal trekking shoes are light, breathable and rigid soled. A 9x12 ft tarpaulin sheet and a tent sufficient for three people complete the list.

Managing a trek

People, time, trail, water, and climate are the five things a trekker needs to keep in mind. Trail management gets very important with limited time allotted to each part of the trail. It is advised to take sips and not gulps from water bottles and fill them up at every stream along the path (yes the water is almost always pure!). Climate can be managed with proper clothing (Leeches are prevalent in the monsoon season). And it’s important to be proficient at making a fire out of twigs!

(Abhinay is a student of civil engineering at IIT Madras. This article was first published in the IIT campus magazine, The Fifth Estate .)

Published on December 23, 2012

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