Hiking sticks!! Not just for old people!
This was the sentiment vehemently expressed by some extremely chirpy trekking pole owners that we had encountered on the West Highland Way some months ago. The message was, however, somewhat diluted by the fact that they were, well, old.
However, after considerable knee mutiny following the descents of Snowdon and then Ben Nevis later in the year, the idea of hiking poles was one we were willing to take fully on board. It would, after all, slow progress on the AT considerably if we both limped for a week every time we come down a mountain. (Up is fine, but somewhat unsustainable long term, if you think about it.).
So, armed with some Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fibre quick lock trekking poles (if you’re interested in specifics) we set off to do another day hike section of the North Downs Way and try them out.
The day’s walk, (rather satisfyingly, for ticking-off-the-route purposes) was the 12 mile start section between Farnham and Guildford. It starts quite incongruously on a busy road, but soon turns off into the woods, and is a fairly well maintained, not particularly hilly path. But we had our backpacks containing all the gear we plan to take on the AT, and we whipped out the sticks as soon as we were out of sight of the road, despite the lack of hills, ready to see if it made a noticeable difference.
And, oh my. Really not just for old people! It took a few minutes to get into the stride of the thing, but once you get going you fairly speed along. The combined arm motion gets you into a firm rhythm, which is way more consistent than usual – we chalked up 12 miles in 4 hours, without noticeably hurrying at all. You’re more stable during slippery bits, you get an extra push going up steep bits, and you don’t take so much concussion on your knees going down the down bits.
The Cascade poles we have are pretty impressively light at 220g each, and they’re really quick and easy to telescope down by opening one plastic clip so you can attach them onto your pack. One word of warning though, once you’ve been walking with them for a few miles, putting them away results in a sudden increase of pressure on your feet and joints, who’d been happily purring away with the extra support. This has a similar effect to sitting down in a pub for a while, in that you kind of start walking, halt rapidly, quietly say ‘Aaargh’ and develop an instant hobbling limp.
We totally failed to take this effect into account the following weekend, when hiking from Richmond to Streatham on a mission to condition the feet for the AT without always getting expensive trains everywhere. Sticks through Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common? A bit odd looking, but acceptable. Sticks through Earlsfield and Balham High Streets because you’ve already done 12 miles and now can’t walk properly without them? Bit embarrassing, frankly.