In Praise of Trekking Poles
When I and my knees were years younger, I looked upon trekking poles as a toy of wealthy and wimpy hikers and backpackers, a status symbol suggesting that the person using them was either in training for a trek to Everest basecamp or wanted people to think so. Years later a hiking companion had and used a pair on one of our trips, and I began to look at trekking poles differently. I eventually broke down and purchased a pair of 2-Section Telescopic High Tensile Strength Aircraft Aluminum Poles made for Eastern Mountain Sports in Austria by Komperdell. I can’t remember when I bought them, but it was probably early in 2003. They were priced at $59, but I might have purchased them on sale. They were by and far not the most expensive poles at the time because back then I was living on a tight budget, but they have served me well since.
Yes, I am still using those poles, but when I hike in extreme cold, they no longer stay extended. One pole in particular starts growing shorter and shorter as the day wears on. Once or twice a pole has even collapsed when I applied a lot of weight to it. I tried various recommended ways to repair them but was unsuccessful.
Because I am too cheap to buy new trekking poles I eventually drilled small holes through both the inner and outer tubs of each pole and inserted small bolts through the holes, securing them with nuts to prevent the poles from slowly slipping or even suddenly collapsing, maintaining the exact height I usually set them at, 135 cm. When I am not using the poles and want to store them I remove the bolt and nut and collapse the poles.
Since I started using trekking poles there have been many a trip where they have helped me make it up steep ascents, cross icy patches of trail, more safely cross streams with slippery, slimy rocks covered by water, and slow down when descending steep grades. More than once they have helped me catch myself when I stumbled, preventing what could have been a disastrous fall.
I have used my trekking poles, each inverted and fully extended, secured by two guy lines and tent stales, to rig a large tarp along the center line, a small tarp at one end, to string a line so I could dry clothes, and to string Tibetan prayer flags. I have also used them, inverted and fully extended, to add height to one end of a large tarp strung between two larger poles. Once, while hiking along a snow covered trail with fresh bear tracks, I attached my bear bell to one of the poles to warn any nearby bears that I was in the area. I have also wrapped a little duct tape around one of the two poles so I will always have some duct tape handy. Additionally, I have wrapped light reflecting tape around each pole so that I and others can easily see them and find them at night when a headlight beam hits them.
I am obviously now a trekking pole convert. I rarely hit the trail without them.
I am sure that by now others would have replaced similar poles with newer and lighter models, but I tend to use gear until it wears out and absolutely must be replaced. After all, I am still hiking with my original knees as well.
I chose to write this tribute to my trekking poles in part to celebrate and mark the transition of Appalachian Trials to The Trek. The only other option was to write about Star Trek and that topic just didn’t seem as appropriate and I did not want to give Zach a reason for comparing himself to some star ship captain.
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