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The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.

- John Muir

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Earth

Sep 19, 2018

Uttarakhand Trekking Ban: The Adventure Tourism Industry Reacts

India's adventure tourism leaders are fighting back against the High Court's blanket ban on alpine trekking in the Uttarakhand.

WRITTEN BY

Davey Braun

Over the course of September, we’ve reported a first-hand account of the environmental and human affliction brought on by mass trekking in India, as well as an analysis of the High Court’s overbroad, knee-jerk ban of trekking in the Uttarakhand region.

In the aftermath of the High Court’s judgment, which threatens thousands of livelihoods, the adventure tourism industry is up-in-arms at the blanket ban on trekking in alpine meadows within the Uttarakhand. Several industry leaders, along with the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (“ATOAI”), are crying out for a repeal of the ban.

VICTIM TO THE NUMBERS GAME

Mandip Singh Soin

Mandip Singh Soin, Founder and Managing Director of Ibex Expeditions, was one of the first adventure travel experts to launch a company in India in 1979. He was drawn to the Indian Himalaya for their “pristine valleys and unclimbed mountains, all shrouded in Hindu mythology.” When contacted by The Outdoor Journal to comment on the Uttarakhand ban, Mandip shared that over the last decades, he has noticed an upsurge of adventure travel. The result – some companies have “started pandering to the Numbers game and also price wars which can never leave enough resources for environmental clean ups and also compromise safety issues.” According to Mandip, the blanket ban lacks the specificity of an adequate solution.

“The Ruling of the court is typically something that tends to happen when faced with a crisis. It’s easier to place a Ban and give immediate relief to the aggrieved persons rather than spend the time and effort in understanding the ramifications and undertaking a targeted therapy!” Local service providers such as trek operators, cooks, porters and guides are left without work.

Rather than eliminating the few culpable trekking companies that contribute most of the mass trekking harm, the ban puts the kibosh on all adventure travel companies. “What we are now seeing is [an] alarm call to the Trekking industry wherein due to the actions of a few rotten apples, the whole basket may not be considered worthy of serving, at least in the State of Uttarakhand.”

“These trekking routes and bugyals have formed the backbone of the local economy for generations.”

Real, targeted solutions are needed with safety guidelines that clearly identify bad actors. For example, eliminating fixed camps on alpine meadows, limiting carrying loads, reducing group sizes, educating trekkers on how to manage waste, ensuring that all local operators are registered and certified and penalising commercial trekking companies if they violate these standards. According to Mandip, “in the larger picture [the ban] will allow for all trekking operators to be properly registered with the governments and their rules will not be diluted at the state level as compared to regulations for the adventure operators certification by the central government.”

Photo: Paul Hamilton

THE HORRORS OF COMMERCIAL TREKKING

Harish Kapadia

Harish Kapadia, adventure expert, writer and editor of the Himalayan Journal, recognizes that something must be done to curb the environmental damage caused by commercial trekking. When asked to comment, Harish shared his outrage: “The news and pictures of degradation of grassland is shocking and if something drastic is not done, not many pristine areas will be available to trekkers. Photographs of mass camping, hundreds lining up on trail and garbage are horrifying and they are just tip of an iceberg.”

But Harish notes that the undefined nature of the ban will unnecessarily cut off access to many areas. “The court ruling stops camping on all Bugiyals (grazing grounds), but does not define ‘what is a bugiyal’. Almost any open grassland can be termed as such. As most trails are more than a day treks, this will rule out many trails.”

MEASURING THE IMPACT

“The livelihoods of thousands must not be compromised due to the folly of a few.”

In a press release from New Delhi on September 6th, the ATOAI, which is committed to promoting responsible and sustainable tourism, points out that the Court’s judgments lack foundation. “These are not backed by data, scientific research, or instituted studies to determine the impact, benefit or damages; which would lead to a measured debate before reaching a conclusive decision.” And because no mountain in the Uttarakhand can be climbed without camping in a bugyal, this ban puts a complete halt to the sport of mountaineering in the state.

The ATOAI’s leading members shared their views in a recent press release – excerpts below.

Swadesh Kumar

Swadesh Kumar, ATOAI President said, “We support penalising rampant defaulters, however, the livelihoods of thousands must not be compromised due to the folly of a few.”

Vaibhav Kala

Vaibhav Kala, from Aquaterra Adventures calls for operators to focus on the small details, rather than trying to expand as large as possible. “The outdoors is not about making your company a multinational corporation. It is more about Back to Basics, to how it’s always supposed to be done. Safe, Small and Sustainable.”

Akshay Kumar

Akshay Kumar, ATOAI’s former President, said, ”The need of the hour is to make sustainable policies for all adventure sports and fine defaulters. These trekking routes and bugyals have formed the backbone of the local economy for generations. We have to reinstate operations here with maximum regulation to ensure protection of our Himalaya and its treasures. The industry and state government need to join hands to ensure immediate opening of trekking activities.”

DANGERS OF CIRCUMVENTING THE BAN

Dr. Sunil Kaintholas

According to Dr. Sunil Kainthola, Director of the Mountain Shepherds Initiative, who reached out to TOJ in response to its mass trekking coverage, the commercial trekking operations are circumventing the ban by leading trekkers on more dangerous routes. “The same online companies as mentioned in [TOJ’s] article are now offering redesigned trek itineraries some of which include an altitude gain of 1000 meters in a single day in a hypoxic mountain environment. So while the spirit of the High Court order will be honored, the lives of trekkers will be definitely at risk.”

“While the spirit of the High Court order will be honored, the lives of trekkers will be definitely at risk.”

Uttarakhand, once a community-run tourism destination, has now become a global hotspot for adventure sports. The government and judiciary are struggling to find a balance with commercial operation management. High-volume trekking tours are damaging nature, but the solution cannot be to ban all trekking activity. The High Court’s decision has proven shortsighted as it is not based on statistical data, ignores the impact on local communities that rely on tourism, and has resulted in compromising the safety of thousands of trekkers. The ATOAI is seeking to repeal the ban in court later this month. The Outdoor Journal will continue to post updates as the story unfolds.

Cover Photo: High-altitude trekking in a small group of four, with a guide from Lata village in Uttarakhand’s renowned Nanda Devi National Park. © Apoorva Prasad / The Outdoor Journal.

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Expeditions

Dec 11, 2018

Mike Horn: His Devotion to the ‘Mountain of Mountains’, and the Loves of His Life

The "Explorer of the Decade" on his upcoming documentary "Beyond the Comfort Zone" that follows his attempt to summit K2 with his daughters following the loss of his wife.

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WRITTEN BY

Lorenzo Fornari

Mike Horn does not need much of an introduction. From swimming the Amazon river to circumnavigating the world unmotorized, and crossing Antartica, his next challenge is never far away. Mike’s list of accomplishments as a solo explorer is unparalleled, and he was recently acknowledged as the “Explorer of the Decade”. The Outdoor Journal has been fortunate to get to know Mike, having crossed the Namib and Simpson Deserts with him, we caught up for a quick chat ahead of the release of his new movie, Beyond the Comfort Zone.

You’ve been to K2 several times. Why this mountain in particular? What’s your connection with this place?

K2 for me is the mountain of mountains! Amongst many others, ascending K2 has always been a childhood dream for me. That mountain is like a magnet, every time I lay my eyes on it, it intimidates me. The way it stands, similarly to a pyramid, makes it beautiful to observe, especially from the bottom looking up. Technically, it is also one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, 8000-meter summit to climb. Everest might be the highest but a lot more people have made it to the top of Everest than to the top of K2…and that obviously means something. A popular destination doesn’t appeal to me as much as a challenging destination. Higher doesn’t mean better. It’s not because I haven’t yet reached the summit of K2, that I will be giving up on this dream any time soon!

Jessica, Annika, and Mike, followed by sherpas, approach K2. By Dmitry Sharomov

“Sherpas often feel ignored and under-appreciated, even by their own government. This to me, is not the essence of adventure travel.”

Why not Everest?

I love that more and more people are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and travel to remote places to achieve challenging feats, but not at the cost of having a negative impact on our environment… Unfortunately, Everest is now suffering from the effects of adventure-tourism. The commercialization of the mountain has resulted in an increasing number of visitors over the years. Camps and hiking tracks are now suffering from mass-tourism during the high seasons, which naturally leads to an increase in the amount of waste disposal (oxygen cylinders, food cans, tents and other equipment), which in turn impacts the environment and the experience of future travelers. I believe too many adventurers wish to add the summiting of Everest to their bucket lists simply for the sake of ascending the world’s highest peak, without necessarily respecting what the mountain has to offer. Locals are also affected by this vicious cycle, Sherpas often feel ignored and under-appreciated, even by their own government. This to me, is not the essence of adventure travel. Thankfully, K2 does not suffer from these problems…at least not yet.

Mike Horn and Fred Roux attempting the summit of K2. © Mike Horn

“My daughters and I planned this expedition at a fragile moment of our lives… some of the best moments for me were the times I shared with my daughters Annika and Jessica”

Can you give us a preview of the best moment from this expedition?

This expedition was filled with great moments. My daughters and I planned this expedition at a fragile moment of our lives. They had just lost their mother, and me my wife, together we agreed to go on an adventure to change our minds and to regain faith and trust in the world. I’d therefore say that some of the best moments for me were the times I shared with my daughters Annika and Jessica, driving across countries or walking up to the base camp of K2. I also deeply value the times shared with Fred and Köbi, my long-time climbing partners!

Just don’t look down. © Mike Horn

“There is a very fine line between carrying on and giving up,”

You didn’t manage to summit again. What stopped you? Will there be another attempt?

Unfortunately, despite making it over the 8000-meter mark, we took the difficult decision to turn back due to poor weather conditions. The abundance of snow resulted in high avalanche risks. After years of exploring, I am aware that one bad choice can result in losing my life. There is a very fine line between carrying on and giving up, too often we want to push a little further simply because we know we are physically capable of it. However, at that time more than ever, it was essential for me to make it back home to my daughters. Mountaineering is for the patient. Only when all the stars are aligned (weather, snow conditions, season, physical aptitude, etc.) can one summit successfully. As mentioned earlier, I will not be giving up on K2 quite yet, I definitely plan on going back!

The unforgiving terrain encountered trying to get to K2. by Dmitry Sharomov

“The Unknown Adds Spice to Life”

We saw the trailer, it’s awe-inspiring. When is the movie coming out and where will be able to see it?

The movie has just been screened at the Toronto Film Festival and will be released in different theatres around the world next year, in 2019. As soon as we have detailed release dates we will communicate these on social media:
Facebook: @PangaeaMikeHorn | Instagram: @mikehornexplorer

Mike Horn and Fred Roux. © Mike Horn

“THE UNKNOWN ADDS SPICE TO LIFE” stood out from the trailer. What’s next for Mike? What do we have to look forward to after this? How much “spice” to expect?

Indeed, you can expect lots of spice! My next big expedition will be the crossing of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. I plan on doing this next year with my Norwegian friend and fellow polar explorer: Borge Ousland. Until then, I plan on sailing around Asia and up north to Alaska to explore different remote locations along the way. You’re going to have to stay tuned to discover exactly what I’ll be up to.

You’ve crossed one of the Poles in your current « Pole2Pole » expedition with a stunning world record, what’s the plan for the second Pole and when?

As mentioned above, I plan on rallying the second pole next summer (2019). The idea is to sail as far north as possible up the Bering Strait with my boat Pangaea, then to be dropped off onto the ice shelf and make my way to the North Pole and cross over to meet my boat again on the other side near the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The crossing should take us up to 3 months during which we except a lot of open waters given the summer season. We thus plan on equipping ourselves with rafts, paddle boards and impermeable wetsuits to secure safe progress between the floating ice shelfs we will encounter along the way.

Dromedary having a staring contest with Mike. By Dmitry Sharomov

When we traveled together across the Simpson Desert in Australia you mentioned that you’d like to concentrate future expeditions toward discovering the mysteries of the depths of the seas and oceans. Any updates you can give us on this?

No news on that front.

Camping with a view. by Dmitry Sharomov

You can follow Mike on his website, or via his social media channels below:
Website: MikeHorn.com
Facebook: @PangaeaMikeHorn
Instagram: @mikehornexplorer

Read Next: Taming the Munga-Thirri Desert with Mike HornRacing Across Namibia with Mike Horn or Mike Horn Completes Solo Traverse of Antarctica

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