You can usually tell the experienced hikers from the rookies on the trail. With only 3 years of hiking under my belt, I’m no longer a rookie you see, I’ve moved up to a novice. Not that I don’t make rookie mistakes on the trail now and then. Like the time I almost lit my friend’s JetBoil with the little foam koozie thing still on. Man, I might dedicate one of my future blogs to my rookie mistakes.
So back to the subject at hand – hiking or trekking poles. Almost every seasoned hiker uses them. Early on in hiking, it was with a single pole. Not sure why I started using one. One pole was ok, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Either that or I wasn’t using it properly. After some research, it became obvious that I could have gotten by with less knee pain with two poles.
Most people will tell you that they use poles to lessen the impact on the knees. The knee is an amazing feat of design by our creator. It absorbs repeated pounding and tremendous weight over and over. The compressive force exerted on the knee going downhill is significant. One study revealed that the typical runner’s knee absorbed between 2-4 times the bodies’ weight. for a 150 lb hiker, that’s approximately 500 lbs each time! The average person’s stride is 2.5 ft. So, in a 10 mile hike, you take roughly 20,000 steps. So here’s some numbers that will blow you away. That’s over 10,000,000 pounds of force or 5,000 tons absorbed by your knees on this particular hike. Good golly, check my math on that one. No wonder my knees ache sometimes. Supposedly, a 1999 Journal of Sports Medicine study revealed that used properly, poles reduce the stress to the knees by up to 25%.
I bought my single trekking pole a partner and that’s when the benefits became obvious. With two poles, I developed better balance going downhill, didn’t slip as much, moved faster and even learned how to “spider” with them. Yes, I know arachnids have eight legs, but someone came up with the name for the technique. The poles even gave this boy some rhythm, where there was none before.
One of the reasons I took up hiking was to get some exercise. Using the same math as before, imagine lifting your trekking poles even 5,000 times on a hike. At an average of 10 ounces each, that’s over 3,700 lbs of lifting. Wow, who needs a Nordic Track? Back to the balance discussion – poles provide the stability when carrying a heavy pack on those extended backcountry trips. They are invaluable when you have to ford those fast-moving streams. Think about it, having 3 points on the ground at all times when crossing over those slippery rocks.
There are times when poles are a nuisance or even a hindrance. Bouldering or rock scrambling is not the time to be using your poles. Hand over hand climbing or bushwhacking through dense vegetation may be some other situations where they are best left strapped to your pack. Lash them down and stow them with the tips down to avoid skewering yourself in the neck or head.
If weight is an issue, then shelling out the money for lighter high-tech carbon poles may be for you. Expect to spend $150 or more for those. I remember a time on the A.T. where we ran into a fellow with 1 – 1/2 carbon fiber poles. We saw the other half of his pole 20 miles later in a swamp with thigh deep mud. The brittle carbon fiber pole was no match for the Maine muck. On the other hand, my $25 aluminum poles were going strong 200 miles later. Even something as simple as this comes with accessories. Rubber tips are more eco-friendly, mud and snow baskets will keep them from sinking down. Some have compasses and thermometers built into the handle. Handles are typically plastic, rubber, or even cork, with straps to prevent flinging them over the ledge when you point out the awesome scenery or mountain lion. I prefer cork handles since it is comfortable and doesn’t cause as much sweating.
Some other uses for trekking poles:
– The make great spears for self-defense.
– You can wrap duct tape around the shaft which can be used in emergencies.
– You can make a huge cross symbol for those trail vampires
– Use them to make noise so that you don’t sneak up on a bear or to scare away mountain lions. No, really.
– Sword fights or fencing around the campfire. Rubber tips on of course. 🙂
So, like anything else in hiking gear, you get what you pay for. If you’re not sure about the need for poles, borrow some from a friend or spend a small amount on an entry-level set. Your knees will thank you.
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Lost Creek Trail, 1E09
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 8.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,300ft., Top of trail-8,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Today, we would venture out farther from home and drive the 90+ miles to check out the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (SGW). While a day hike to San Gorgonio Mountain is possible, it would be a very long day for us and is better attempted as an overnighter. All trails in the SGW require the perfunctory wilderness permit, which can be obtained by stopping by in person at one of several ranger stations, via fax or by snail mail. Follow the swa.org link above for permit directions. I’ve become a bit of a purist and believe trail permits are government out of control, but I am a rule follower.
We stopped in after noon to obtain our permit at Mill Creek Ranger station. While inside, Mary met an old friend and insisted that I take their picture.
From Mill Creek, follow SR38 to the South Fork Campground. Parking for the trailhead is across the road from the campground and is co-located with the Santa Ana River Trail. It is fairly well-marked and breaks off at a marker in the campground. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation over switchbacks that gain 400-500 ft. The trail joins a fire road for a mile and changes to a wide creek bed laden with rocks before narrowing into a rutted single track. Evidence of recent equestrians is scattered along the trail.
This is one of the most interesting and diverse trails that we’ve been on in the San Bernardino National Forest. We traversed areas with deciduous trees, rounded a corner and saw cactus on the verge of blooming. As we crossed the top of a meadow, we saw an area of seasonal springs. There were a few blow-downs and widow-makers throughout the hike. At times, the trail became narrow with sheer drop-offs into the Santa Ana River canyon below. Overall, the climb was gradual with few switchbacks and limited scree to slip on. Pine straw does cover sections of the trail and is a bit slippery. On a side-note, the PCT skirts many of the trails in the San Bernardino Forest and is located less than 10 miles east of this trail.
For the first couple of miles, Sugarloaf Peak to the north is the prominent land mass and the perspective changes as you pass through 7,000 ft. Eventually, the path takes a 180 and you head in an easterly direction with views of snow-covered peaks to the southwest. For this area in southern California, I believe the best altitude for hiking is between 6-8,000 ft. The temps are usually mild and the sub-alpine surroundings offer respite from the sun. This trail is especially appealing due to the solitude. We would run into only one other couple all day.
We stopped at Grinnell Campground, an open area with awesome views to the south-southwest. It was peaceful and we enjoyed our hot tea. When hiking 8-10 miles, it’s a good idea to cool your jets by removing shoes and socks to allow for some air to dry out those puppies.
Our descent was quick with minimal stops for photos. Rounding a switchback, we did see this in the distance and like most hikers is one thing you don’t ever want to see. Notice the smoke was blowing in our direction.
A fire in the backcountry is a scary thing. Fortunately, this one was far enough away and we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead. Cal-Fire had it contained within a few days. If you hike frequently in this region, you know how much fuel is on the ground. Fires can be swift and devastating. It’s a good idea to talk about an escape plan and how you would deal with a fire when out on the trail. Trail maps and/or knowledge of the local terrain is invaluable and can make the difference between life or death in a forest fire scenario.
Well enough of the gloom and doom. We lived to see another beautiful day in southern California and have discovered an amazing array of trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. This will serve as our practice area for our section hike of the JMT this summer. My parting advice this week:
– Take trail maps, GPS and discuss escape route options. These Tom Harrison maps are the best: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (2015) (Tom Harrison Maps Waterproof and Tear Resistant)
– In fire situations, avoid canyons and ravines as fires often ravage these areas.
– Consider a GPS locator for emergency situations. I use a SPOT GPS Messenger. SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange While there is no guarantee that it works 100% of the time, it operates consistently if used properly. There are other higher quality GPS locators out there.
– On day hikes, take extra water and snacks – just in case. This week, several more novice hikers got lost in SoCal. Fortunately, all were found quickly. None of them had water or food for their unplanned overnighters.
Use common sense out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are. Consider stocking up on a couple of pieces of survival gear including: Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Camping Mirror – Personal Use, Emergency Signaling or this whistle: UST JetScream Whistle