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Joy of walking in the Hills -

Walking is the healthiest of all outdoor activities 

"Take only pictures, leave only footprints."

Dr Sampurna Roy MD                      



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Walking is the healthiest of all outdoor activities because it is the most natural, and it is the best way of exploring the mountains and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Do you work in a densely populated city? Did you know it is surprisingly easy even now to escape from, crowd, noice, traffic and constant reminder of technology?  "Go hiking in the mountains".

A few days spent walking in the mountains can give a pleasure lacking in many more expensive pursuits.

There is a wonderful sense of freedom under the arching sky.

If you like outdoor adventure donít make some critical and common mistakes.

I have learnt my lessons after making some serious mistakes during my first few trekking trips.

One of the mistakes made by people who are ignorant of the hills is to imagine that they are easy and safe, because unlike the jagged rocky peaks of mountains, they rise to rounded gentle tops covered in green grass.

From low ground and at a distance they may look almost uninterestingly tame, but this is misleading. Behind the mild outlines seen from far there are deep hidden glens and gullies, and streams running fast on rock strewn bottoms.

Farmers and local residents who walk over miles of the area in all weathers, are too wise to underestimate the hazards of the hills.

They know the danger of mist, so confusing that a man can lose his way on ground as familiar to him as his own garden.

They know how a tiny running stream of water can turn to a raging torrent, sweeping all before it after heavy rain.

They know easy ascents which end without warning in sheer falls of cliff.

They know the bright green patches in marshy places which are so dangerous to the inexperienced walker.

They can read the weather signs, and they are the best people from whom to seek advice before setting out on an expedition.

Unlike mountaineering, hill walking does not require any specialized skill.

A love for walking, physical fitness, ability to use a map and a reasonable degree of common sense are the main things needed. 

Common sense should be placed at the top of the list.

It is foolish and dangerous to go out walking on hills you do not know without the precaution of finding out something about them from the locals who can tell you of the risks to be avoided. It is also a selfish attitude.

Walkers who have to be rescued give a great deal of trouble and risk to the people who have to go and bring them in, and although this service is given willingly and cheerfully, every possible care should be taken to avoid making it necessary.

Some hill roads are rough narrow and can be difficult to walk in many places, but with reasonable care, not dangerous to follow.

 I would not recommend it to someone who dislikes heights or is subject to giddiness. 

Visit: Falling Sick in the Mountains - Pathology of Altitude Related Illness.

However much one may prefer walking by oneself, it is not sensible to take to the hills alone. Miles from help, even a turned ankle, ruptured Achilles tendon may be a serious business, while a broken leg might mean having to lie out all night and suffering from exposure. 

Visit: "Brr! It's so cold outside" - Human body responses to cold and hypothermia

Visit:  Achilles: The Tendon and the Hero of the Trojan War

The ideal number we have always followed is not more than six and not less than three.

The reason for three is that if there should be an accident one of the party can stay with the injured person while the other goes for help.

It is common sense to wear suitable clothes. One should learn how to layer clothes and adjust according to situation. Shorts and trousers  are comfortable. Cardigan or pull-over must be taken. No matter how hot the weather may be on the low ground, the temperature will be much lower among the hills and cases have been known where accidents have been atleast partly because their victims were cold.

Chilled feet are apt to stumble and chilled hands lose their grip. Besides there is always the possibility of getting lost and once the sun begins to sink, the air quickly loses its day time warmth.  It is worth the trouble to carry some extra garment. Perniosis, or chilblains, are skin lesions that occur as an abnormal reaction to cold, damp environments.

Visit: Pathology of Chilblains (Perniosis) and Equestrian Perniosis

Sudden rain can occur and one of those light plastic raincoats that can be rolled into small space does not take up much room in the hiking backpack.

Many hikers have died due to lightning strike and one should be prepared for the risk. 

Visit: Struck by Lightning - Pathology of Lightning Induced Injuries

You should be particularly careful about selection of shoes.

Laced shoes are best, as they give support to the feet.

Hiking boots give better support to the feet, specially ankle, but tend to be hot and heavy. When it comes to soles, it is not easy to decide on what to choose for hill walking.

If the ground is dry, leather will slip on the grass, which is slippery as ice when dry.

Nailed shoes are liable to skid on rock, and add to the weight of the shoes.

Smooth rubber slips on wet grass or rock.

My experience suggests that the best all-round soles are patterned rubber which allows good grip on most surfaces.

A pair of strong tennis shoes make a comfortable walking so long as there is not much road to cover.

They are excellent on grass and have the extra advantage of drying quickly on the feet if they happen to get wet.

New shoes should never be tried out on a long walk. To wear them is asking for trouble. Not only do they tire the feet, but they often cause pain and discomfort out of all proportion to their size. One blister can take the pleasure out of walking, and if the walk is extended over several days prevention is not only better than cure, it is essential. So be careful about your shoes. Wear socks inside them, preferably thin wool, which is kinder to feet than nylon. New insole for prevention of athletic blisters.

No one wants to walk over-burdened like a snail with its house on its back. Carry basic items like smart phone with hiking apps, torch and first aid dressing.

If you are out for a day you will need to take a packed lunch, but try to take food that is nourishing without being too heavy. Example: A well-buttered crispbread with plenty of cheese makes a satisfying meal. Apples, tomatoes will quench thirst very effectively. Chocolate is good, though it can make you thirsty. It is a mistake to carry bottles of mineral water, they are heavy and there is question of what to do with the empty bottles unless you are strong minded enough to bring it home with you. Certainly it should not be left broken or unbroken by the hillside.

Few things to remember:

If you are new to hiking start with relaxing weekend hikes in known locality.

Get a complete health checkup. If your physician assures you that you are physically fit for a long strenuous expedition then go ahead and make plans. 

Donít go out if you have been warned of bad weather.

Take care not to start fires, specially in dry weather.

Donít leave litter of any kind lying about. Bring your paper and other bits home and put them in the dust bin.

Donít lose you head if an accident does happen, or if you find that you are lost. Keep calm and do the best you can. Things are not so bad as you feared at first.

I have enjoyed and learned from every hiking adventure.

So lift up your eyes to the hills, walk among them and come home refreshed and filled with the happiness that only a day spent in those open spaces can give.


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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)







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