Trekking with Family: Srikanth Seshadri

Many tend to think that trekking isn’t a good activity to consider when going out as a family. They instead choose to go to a resort considering that to be an ideal place as it might offer some private beaches, pools, good food, games, big screen TV, etc. and there might be some places to roam around close by. While this is not a bad thing to consider occasionally, trekking presents an amazing and much cheaper alternate that she not only way more fun but way more healthier and something that the kids can brag about to their friends and classmates. And that’s one very different thing they’ll remember and recollect for a very long time !

Happy kids !

For those that haven’t trekked before, it might be overwhelming even to consider this idea. We’re generally of the opinion that children might not be able to walk and become tired. Well, you might be surprised. The kids turn out to be the best fit and fastest in our group and they are the ones that lead the group ! For one, the children naturally tend to like outdoors as its like a live larger than life TV with non-stop entertainment like camping in a tent at night with a beautiful clear sky with stars, waterfalls, great food every time – just as the kids like, stream crossing, playing in snow, rivers with cold and fresh water gushing through rocks, walking in a forest with huge trees all around, beautiful wildflowers and huge green meadows, the thrill of climbing mountains, beautiful scenery with an amphitheater of mountains, etc. The children are disconnected from the internet and come back de-stressed, relaxed and re-charged to excel in daily routine.

Kids leading the climb to Nichinai Lake during the Kashmir Great Lakes trek
Relaxing in the Hot springs in Yamunotri

If you are still wondering how a trek might live up to your resort style vacation, the trekking company has your back covered. Right from pitching and packing your tent, providing you with foam pads and sleeping bags for a great nights rest to morning tea/coffee/hot chocolate, hot breakfast, packed lunch, evening tea/coffee with yummy snacks (think pakodas, fries, samosas, etc.), delicious dinner as you might wish, washing your dishes, filling your water bottles, describing the trees, flowers, peaks on the way and addressing any other personal needs, you are completely covered.

Fun activities at the campsite !

All right, this sounds exciting, but where do I start? It is really possible? Is it safe? Who will organise and where do I go? These are the questions you might have. But its much more simpler that you might imagine. The first thing is to chose a reputed trekking company with expertise in customising treks for families. There are many trekking companies out there but the large and famous ones typically offer fixed tours that often have many restrictions – mainly age limits for children and fitness level for participants. They don’t allow you to customise based on the needs of your family and friends. So these don’t work out well for families with younger children.

Himalaya Shelter is the best trekking company we’ve found so far for that. We have done many treks with them with our family along with other friends and their families and every time the kids are more excited than before and want to go back again and again. Ok. Now what are the things you need to consider while trekking with family and why do you want to customise instead of joining a fixed departure tour? I’ll list of many points that needs to be considered that can be achieved only through custom treks and a reliable company. Read on !

Our favourite trekking company Himalaya Shelter !

Why custom treks

  • First off, you need to chose a trek and customise the itinerary based on your family’s walking speed and fitness level. This will determine the places you’ll be camping for the nights during the trek. A comfortable walking speed based on your family and friends means a enjoyable experience with enough time for pictures, rest breaks, playing in water streams or climbing interesting rocks en route and kids talking with their friends and having fun. End of the day, it shouldn’t be like a competitive 10k running race!

Kids are happily relaxing by one of the Satsar lakes during the KGL trek.

At the same time, let them explore a bit ! Let them do what they like. These little ones below are fond of climbing rocks as you can see and they leave no stone unturned during their trek !

  • You need to plan for rest days. As the name says, these can be used to give some rest if one of you feel tired and recover, while the others don’t have to be bored. They can do a day trek in that area and join you back in the afternoon.
While others are relaxing, the kids are exploring …
  • Maybe you are now confident about the children. But how about yourself? What if you are afraid of heights and mountains or trekking in general? Well, there is nothing to fear. Most grown ups have some phobia or the other about trekking. This is another area where custom treks shine. Fixed departure treks typically have a larger group of people with few guides maybe in the front and back and suddenly you might find none to help you navigate through scary sections that appear out of nowhere.  With custom treks you take the appropriate number of guides and other staff that are always with you to help you cross a difficult patch and hand holding you sections you feel scared. Believe me, but you’ll be able to achieve the impossible of your life. We experience this in every trek !  When we used to trek solo, without someone to help, we have turned around multiple times when we encountered a ‘scary patch’ !
  • The dates for fixed departure treks may not exactly match with when your manager can give you time off from work or when the children can are free and don’t have any football games or IPL going on! 
  • Custom treks allow you to account for many possibilities that could occur. Our first multi-day himalayan trek when our son was less than 6 years old, the operator suggested to take an extra horse just in case.  I would carry my son on my shoulders a few times when he used to be tired, but one day during a steep climb, I couldn’t carry my son and having the horse saved the day. With that experience, he did a river crossing on the horse back too ! 

During a recent trek to Bali Pass, we had a family trekking for the first time with their young daughter. It was a long trek that we had combined Har ki Dun, Ruinsara Lake along with Bali Pass. Therefore, we had planned for multiple exit strategies for them in case they felt tired. They could return from Ruinsara Lake or they could return from Odari or even the Bali Pass base camp. We had arranged for an extra guide, cook, supplies, mules and porters for all these possibilities. With this confidence and the company of other families, they ended up completing the full hard trek in style !

And right during this trek, our plan was to reach Lower Damini after crossing the pass as that’s the typical schedule that allows you to reach Yamunotri early next day. But some of us were very tired and we decided to pitch the tent in upper Dhamini itself. Our trek lead was able to find a source of water so that we could pitch the tent. Accommodating these kind of changes as per the conditions of the team is absolutely critical when you are going with your family so that the children continue to enjoy trekking and are excited to join next time.

These guys are always ready to join us for every trek !

Special tips

  • Children need company for any activities they do. The same goes for trekking. If their friends come along (with their families of course), they would have a blast of a time. If that is not possible plan the trek with other families that have children around a similar age. They will quickly make friends in no time and have a great time. In the worst case, if you don’t find other families, siblings are good enough company.
  • Kids are way fitter compared to parents and generally tend to lead in the front. A guide is with them always. You can instruct them to take breaks for others to catch up. If you are the really worried kind, one of more parents could try matching their speed !
  • Some kids complain about missing screen time or lack of internet during the trip. Nothing to worry. Ask them to download their favourite TV shows they watch or offline games and you can allow them controlled screen time at the campsites. This strikes a good balance between healthy activities and screen time.
  • Given them a phone, ask them to take pictures and videos and write a blog. Also you can give them a notebook and ask them to write down what they did each day. All this will help building great memories that you can recollect and enjoy. Check out the great pictures capture below. This is at the Bali Pass Base camp during our early morning start towards the Pass.
  • A pro tip is to download the ‘Peak Finder’ App on your phone. They can point it towards the mountains and it can identify them, name them and their height! You need to download the area map before the trek starts and it works offline without internet. You can download close to the start of the trek from where you have internet. The above is a capture using the app during the Pangarchulla Peak trek.
  • Make sure you give their own day packs to carry so that they are self sufficient with their needs of the day like lunch, snacks, water, rain jackets, pants, fleece, sunglass, cap and so on. Don’t carry their water, lunch or snacks. You may not be able to catch up with them whey they are leading the pack way ahead of you. Educate them to keep drinking water to stay hydrated.

Tips for first time trekkers

So far I’m assuming the parents like trekking and have done a few treks but are hesitant heading out with their children or as a family. But if the parents themselves haven’t trekked before, there is nothing to worry. All the above discussion is still applicable to you. Here are additional tips for first time parents and families.

  • Since you are going on a custom trek, many of your anxieties are already taken care of like discussed above. There is nothing to worry. You can walk at your own pace, there will always be someone at your side. If you decide to camp earlier than your chosen spot in case you are tired or further if your energy is running high, custom treks nicely accommodate this. You can request to cook your favourite dishes as per your preference. You have rest days to relax and recharge.
That’s chacha, our legendary cook. He was over 60 when we accompanied us to the challenging Bali Pass. With him, every dish is perfect and your stomach is safe too !
  • You need to choose a easy or moderate trek. The easiest thing is to ask Himalaya Shelter. They have a big base at Sankri, Utharakhand which is the starting point for many many treks. They are also experts in the entire Uttarakhand area and can arrange treks at other places too. You can find trek information at their website and blogs. You can also look at other websites that have treks and their ratings based on difficulty or books on trekking in Himalayas. Based on this, you can shortlist a few and discuss with the trekking company and finalise. They will customise it according to your preferences and your experience level.
  • The trekking company will give you a list of things to pack for the trek. There will be two bags you will pack. One will your day backpack that you carry everyday with you during your trek (on your back :-). This will contain what could be needed everyday like rain jacket, pant, extra fleece or jacket, water bottles, personal items (example: medicine), lunch box, snacks, etc. The other bag (luggage) is your change of clothes and other essentials for the trek.
  • Pro tip: Make sure you put all of these inside a plastic bag like a big garbage bag (or big ziplock available online) to prevent the contents from getting wet during rain. Since you are trekking first time, it is a good idea to have mules carry these for you during your trek. This is called “luggage offload” so that you can freely enjoy the trek. Once the trek is over, based on your abilities, you can decide if you are capable (and willing) to carry your luggage on a larger backpack (framed one) on your own during your next trek. We also pack a small separate bag of clothes that we will change into after finishing the trek. We leave this with the company and they will hand it off to us when the trek is over. We typically drive to a hotel and freshen up and change. 

We have stayed at some great places to chill after the trek. Here’s a boat house stay and a Shikara ride in Kashmir’s Nagin Lake !

Celebrating success after the trek

Well, almost success. Descending from the last pass of the trek (we crossed 3!) with Harmukh Peak, Gabgbal and Nundkol Lakes
Celebrations atop Bali Pass !

Here are some great memories for a lifetime.

Gaumukh, the origin of Baghirathi (becomes Ganga)!

That’s about it. I’m sure that you’re now confident to trek with your family and children and have a great time !

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