In daily life, most of us barely notice the way we walk when performing our errands. In contrast, on a trek, we focus on the act of moving through the land on foot. Pace and timing are important so that we can assess our progress and complete the day’s trek without unnecessary stress.
Walking can be on trails of camping grounds or hiking trips. Whatever the matter, you need to follow some common guidelines for both occasion. But walking on the woods and hiking can have some specific details too.
Your pace will depend on various factors, such as your fitness, the weight on your back, the steepness of the trail, the conditions underfoot, and your general mood and interest in the surroundings.
If you haven’t trained in advance, the first day or so of a trek can be especially taxing, all the more reason to take things steady and conserve energy. Once the rhythm of the days has set in, you’ll find your body adapting to the new demands.
At the start of a trek, a load of supplies on your back will be extra heavy and put more strain on the body, which will slow your pace.
A route that leads up and down steep gradients will slow you down and require more effort and energy. Slogging over boggy marsh will have a similar effect.
If you are in a tired state, you’ll naturally slow your steps and drag your feet to the end of the day’s trek. Give yourself time to regain energy, shortening the route or adding the occasional rest day.
If you are continuously stopping to look at the view, take photos, inspect the vegetation, or observe wildlife, then, rather than fall into a stop-go routine, make adjustments to your itinerary.
Keeping a steady pace gives your body the chance to deal with constant demands on joints, muscles, and breathing. If you are out of breath or constantly needing to take a break, the body is jarred by a confusing rhythm.
Try slowing your pace and shortening your stride to the stage where you can breathe steadily; this will also balance your body temperature.
When resting, your body can quickly lose the warmth generated by movement. Try and keep breaks short, say, 5 or 10 minutes every hour or at whatever interval fits into your rhythm. In cold conditions, find a sheltered spot, sit on your pack to avoid being chilled by the ground, take off sweaty clothing and replace it with warm, dry clothes.
Then keep up energy levels with a snack and a drink. Space out snacks throughout the day and eat well at lunch, but avoid a “blowout,” which will leave you feeling sluggish while the body copes with digestion.
Use the rest to make adjustments to your pack, to treat any foot problems, such as burgeoning blisters, and to check your position on the map.
When climbing uphill you can take the strain off your legs by walking in short zigzags rather than straining to stride straight up the slope. Adjust your stride to a shorter length. On uphill (and downhill) stretches, a trekking staff acts as extra support and can take the weight off a sensitive knee or ankle.
The exertion of grinding upward encourages sweating; by removing layers of clothing while on the move (and replacing them when at rest) you can help the body to regulate its temperature.
The “rest step” is a useful technique for steep ascents. This requires you to raise the left leg and place it forward on the ground while keeping the weight on the right foot.
Pause for a brief moment, then shift your weight forward onto the left foot. Maintaining the weight on the left foot, bring your right leg forward, pause briefly, then shift your weight to the right foot.
Continue with the technique, alternating brief pauses with forwarding motion.
Descending requires plenty of goodwill from your knees, which you should keep sufficiently bent to absorb the downhill jolts. Keeping your weight over your feet will prevent you from slipping backward.
If you are descending a steep, rocky slope in a group, proceed with members of the group spaced apart, moving diagonally so that any dislodged rocks don’t fall onto the person in front.
For some trekking trips, you’ll have maps and guidebooks that will give timings. These may be calculated as an average derived from the times of fast and slow walkers, or they could relate to the times achieved by a local who knows the track inside out.
Whichever case applies, you should consider the timing as an approximate guide. Note that the time setters will have given you the route times—it’s up to you to add time for your wayside stops for photos, cloud-gazing, snack breaks, and so forth.
Once you’ve completed a few stages of the trek, you can compare your times with the published ones, and compute your own average.
If you are following your own route without given timings and want to make an approximate estimate of the time it will take, you can measure the distance off the map. As discussed later in this chapter, under “Navigation”. And also employ Naismith’s Rule, named after a Scottish climber in the last century.
According to this rule, you cover 3 miles (5 kilometers) per hour plus 30 minutes for every 928 feet (300 meters) of height gained.
Traveling with a heavy pack, this would be adjusted downward to 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) per hour and an additional 45 minutes for the same height gain.
Although this is a general rule of thumb, which should be modified in line with the factors described earlier in this section, it provides a figure to get your calculations off to a start.
Where there’s no bridge, you’ll have to cross a river. Before deciding to cross, carefully consider the best place, time, and method.
The power of even a modest-looking river or stream should never be underestimated, and a tumble into freezing water can come unpleasantly close to hypothermia.
Avoid places where the river narrows and cuts deep channels with powerful currents, and look for wide sections with shallow, riffled water. Boulder-hopping across deep channels is dangerous-doubly so if the boulders are slippery and you are carrying a heavy pack.
Beware of slippery rocks on the riverbed; scout along the river to see if you can find a gravel or shingle section.
Avoid the treachery of river bends, which have shallow gravel beds on the inside and swift deep channels gouged on the outside. Don’t cross just above waterfalls; if you lose your footing, you could be flipped over the edge.
Don’t cross a river during a flood; if necessary, prepare to wait a day (or longer) for the water to subside. Also, watch out for storms in the mountains, which can produce flash floods and turn a trickling stream into a raging torrent.
Glacier-fed streams and rivers are supplied by ice melted in the heat of the day. Consequently, they are at their fullest in the late afternoon, and in normal weather conditions should only be crossed in the early morning,
As a general rule, water flowing deeper than your lower thigh is the limit for stability, and even this may be too high if the riverbed is unstable. Never cross barefoot. Either cross in your boots or use your camp shoes or a pair of adventure sandals.
Remove clothing, such as trousers, to prevent the current dragging at your legs. Waterproof the contents of your pack with several garbage bags.
To avoid being dragged under by the weight of your pack, before you enter the water release your hip belt and carry your pack lightly on one shoulder so that you can ditch it rapidly if you run into trouble.
If you are hiking solo, a trekking staff or stick will be useful to give you extra support and to probe the riverbed. Face upstream, then proceed carefully as a “tripod,” moving no more than one point of contact with the riverbed at a time.
Avoid the mesmerizing effect of the rushing current by keeping your eyes on the far river bank. If the current is fierce, you should face downstream and reduce your resistance to the current by cutting across the river diagonally.
If you are crossing with a partner, face each other and lightly rest arms on the partner’s shoulders before entering the water with one hip facing upstream. Proceed at a slow shuffle. With three or more crossing partners, you can form a wedge to face upstream.
You can also use a tree branch or link arms, aligning the group parallel to the flow (not against it).
If you do fall, release your pack, then roll onto your back with feet facing downstream and let yourself go with the flow until you can maneuver to the shore.
Looking at the bluest sky, I forget all my stresses. Going through the green I try to breathe, more than I do in my reality. So, that's why I love camping.