Marcie and I have been doing a lot of hiking over the last few months – partly because we enjoy hiking, partly because it's good for us and partly to get into shape for our big, 184 mile trek along the Thames Path in England. We leave in just over a month, and we're hoping not to embarrass ourselves too much over there.
On one of our hikes a few months ago, someone had left a nice walking stick at the trailhead that was fashioned from a piece of green willow, presumably for the next hiker to use. Marcie picked it up and used it during the day's hike. She liked having it so much, in fact, that she kept it. I whittled off some of the bark and sanded it down to make it more comfortable to hold, and she used it for most of our hikes on that trip. On our return to Vegas, we stored it in the garage, awaiting our next trip.
Unfortunately, it didn't fare well in the dry, triple digit heat of Las Vegas. The poor willow stick developed several major cracks and a severe case of scoliosis. It was pretty much unusable as a walking stick, but rather than tossing it, we took it with us and gave it a nice Viking funeral in our first campfire on this trip.
We've seen lots of hikers using what we thought were ski poles as walking sticks. I always thought they looked a little wimpy myself, and I may, in fact, perhaps even made an occasional disparaging remark about some of the hikers using them. Marcie really liked her willow walking stick, however, so we looked into getting one of those ski poles for her. I can't buy anything that costs more than $10 without properly researching the subject so, as is usual for me, I spent hours online evaluating the various models, features and options, reading reviews, ratings, and the pros and cons of each, finally deciding that the best one for her was a Black Diamond, cork handled, collapsing trekking pole – not a ski pole at all. It's actually quite clever. The pole is strong, yet weighs next to nothing. It is adjustable in length to suit any hiker or the terrain being traversed. The cork handle is comfortable, and it collapses to about a third of its total length, making it easy to lash to a backpack or tuck into one's luggage if one were planning a trip to – say – England, for example. I couldn't order just one, however, so I ordered a pair.
On our first hike, after adjusting the length until it suited her, Marcie had nothing but good to say about her new trekking pole. Many hikers use two poles, but she likes to use just one so she always has a free hand for her camera. After a few more hikes with her pole, she finally convinced me to try the other spare pole. It only took a few miles on the trail before I came to the conclusion, as painful as it was to admit, that I like using a trekking pole. After a few more hikes and a lot more miles, I've become a real convert. We've also discovered that they are useful for things other than just as a walking stick. Here are the top ten uses we've found for our trekking poles:
1. Walking Stick. The most obvious use is as a walking stick. It makes me a little more sure footed, especially when I'm on a steep, slippery downhill stretch and gives me a little more balance when bouldering. (Or, another way of saying it is that I'm less clumsy when I use it).
2. Clearing the Path. When making my way through tall grass, brush or scrub, a trekking pole allows me to push the foliage out of the way enough to see where I'm about to put my foot and to push aside the smaller branches. I can also knock some of the water from the brush on a dewy morning or after a rain.
3. Snakes. In an area where there may be snakes, I can tap it on the ground as I walk to give them a little warning and, hopefully, enough time to slither out of the way.
4. Probing the Trail. The trekking pole works well to probe a log to see how rotten it is before stepping on it or to check for potholes hidden under the brush ahead.
5. River Depths. When fording a stream or river, the pole helps reconnoiter the bottom for holes, logs, rocks and deep spots.
6. Steep Grades. When climbing a steep grade, the pole allows me to give myself a little boost with my arms to help get up the slope.
7. Cleaning my Boots. We've tramped through some real mucky mud that builds up on our boots until it feels like we're walking on four inch high, twenty pound boots. The trekking pole is quite helpful in cleaning it off.
8. Pointing. A pole is handy for pointing things out, e.g. “Marcie, I think that's a triple ringed, red tufted snipe in that lodgepole over yonder!”, or “David, I see the next trail marker way over there... right next to that bison”.
9. Spider Webs. In many places, spiders spend the night making webs across the trail. If I see one before walking into it, I can clear it with my pole.
10. The Little Lady. My trekking pole works well to keep the little lady in line when she gets a little sassy, and to prod her along when her pace slows too much...
Don't believe that one? Me either. How about:
10. Defensive Weapon. Self defense against mean chihuahuas and rabid prairie dogs...
No? Okay, maybe there's only nine reasons I can come up with for using a trekking pole.
Nonetheless, I do like mine, even with the risk that some old codger like me will be mumbling disparaging remarks about my wimpy new trekking pole as we pass on a trail somewhere.