I have been trekking since past 7-8 years in Sahyadri ranges on regular basis and have done a few treks in Himalayan ranges too. While leading trekking events around Mumbai, as a ‘Trek Leader’, I have been asked many questions by the participants about locations, distance, trekking pre-requisites and techniques.
Recently, I completed Basic Mountaineering Course from Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS), Manali with ‘A’ grade and qualified for Advance Mountaineering Course. Having been exposed to systematic training, technical aspects, knowledge about mountaineering techniques and the change this process has brought in me, I would like to shed some light on the aspects that distinguish ‘Mountaineering’ from ‘Trekking’.
Amongst the plethora of terms used in adventure sports, one may use the terms ‘Trekking’ and ‘Mountaineering’ interchangeably. A simple demonstration of the difference in Trekking and Mountaineering for the people curious about it - Try to Google the words ‘Trekking’ and ‘Mountaineering’ simultaneously and have a look at the images Google throws up. Few aspects are very much apparent. As such, ‘Trekking’, ‘Hiking’, and ‘Mountaineering’ are similar as all of them involve physical activity of walking amidst nature, trails, water streams and varying mountain terrains but, they are not the same.
‘Hiking’ can be typically described as the sporting or leisure activity of going for long, often strenuous, walks in the country. It can be of varying levels of difficulty and durations. The most important aspect here is it doesn’t demand technical knowledge, special equipment or very high level of physical fitness as it mostly involves long walks through well laid paths. Basic navigation techniques and good fitness level would be sufficient to enjoy the hike.
Coming to the topic, Trekking and Mountaineering are considered more challenging and demanding as compared to Hiking. There are many aspects based on which one can distinguish Trekking from Mountaineering as both of them are different pursuits: 1. Sheer definition - ‘Trekking’ can be described as walking in the countryside for pleasure or sport, usually for a longer period of time than for hiking whereas, ‘Mountaineering’ involves climbing mountains, especially using special equipment and techniques on rock, ice, or snow - also called ‘Mountain Climbing’. It is a more technical variation of trekking that takes you to higher peaks and demands a lot of technical knowledge and fitness compared to Trekking. 2. Being literate - Being a Mountaineer is as good as being knowledgeable / literate as compared to a layman / illiterate. A mountaineer possesses knowledge of climbing techniques, weather, equipments, mountain terrains, survival and rescue techniques, etc. whereas a Trekker need not necessarily know the same as he does not face as many challenges as a Mountaineer would. High mountains (seven thousanders or eight thousanders) can be climbed with knowledge of mountaineering only. Having gone through technical trainings, a Mountaineer knows the mountain better than a Trekker who may not negotiate with the terrains as deeply as a Mountaineer does. 3. Equipments – Trekking does not necessarily require complex / advanced equipments for the activity. A basic camping gear, first aid kit and survival technique is sufficient for a trek conducted for 1-2 days. Mountaineering requires climbing ropes, ice axe, helmets, carabiners, harness, descender etc. as it involves rock climbing, ice climbing and snow climbing. Needless to say, the requisite knowledge and experience of using these equipments is a must. 4. Level of difficulty / Fitness - ‘Difficulty’ is a subjective terminology but when compared the challenges faced in both Trekking and Mountaineering, one can easily tell that Mountaineering requires high level fitness as it often deals with terrains above 5000 meters above sea levels and on the way, mountaineers may have to deal with rock, snow, ice and glaciers – sometimes walking in extreme conditions, sub-zero temperatures etc. Trekking is more difficult than hiking as it involves walking down the terrains for multiple days and long distances but not as much as mountaineering because it doesn’t involve steep climbing or extreme conditions. 5. Being better and more responsible - It would be a bit controversial if I say that a Mountaineer is more disciplined and attached to the nature than a Trekker. But having gone through a month long training and negotiations with the varying mountain terrains, my attachment with the mountains reached new heights. I don’t want to put an emphasis here on becoming a ‘Certified Mountaineer’ through any specific institute but simply put – the more I learnt about it, the deeper I bonded. It’s not just about the Mountaineering Course, but it is about being better, more disciplined, knowledgeable and more responsible.
As a Trekker I always dreamed of going on high mountains, stand atop their peaks and roar like the emperor of the world. But as a Mountaineer, I would always stay a step lower than the highest peaks as a gesture of respect and thank the mountain goddess for letting me climb the mountain!