This is week 5 after my operation and nearly 2 months since I was last on a summit, it is hard being patient. I have my friend Pete staying and ready to get out for the next 2 weeks on the hills, after a long drive up from Cornwall he is waiting for better weather? I was chatting to him and others about the use of walking Poles on the hill. I have used walking poles for over 25 years as my knees have been shot from over 100 hill days a year for as long as I can remember. The toll not just on the knees but the body of joys of running on the hills, Munros, big bags and call – outs takes a big effect on you. There use to me definitely allowed me to continue mountaineering despite 2 knee operations. I first met a few of the Glenmore Lodge instructors in the early 80’s with old ski poles on the hills and had a chat and to me it was a great benefit. These were pretty cumbersome in poles in these days but made my life a lot easier. I was laughed at by many at the time but nowadays many use them. My friend Bob Sharpe wrote a good article a few years ago about their uses and abuses and I will ask him if I can use it on a follow-up blog.
As ski poles have caught on I see especially in winter climbers going up to and past the crag aprons 30/40 degrees on hard snow just using ski poles. There is no way you would stop a slip with Ski Poles and I have been to a few accidents and seen the results of these types of accidents. Maybe this is the time to remind each other that if you have crampons on where a fall can happen have an ice axe out. Any comments?
In summer again I have seem plenty of misuse when scrambling put them away in your bad and have your hands free for any slip or trip. It takes a bit of getting used to walking with poles and the differing ground you can use them on. The BMC have a link on their use:
“Initially poles feel alien to use, but very quickly they feel like a welcome extension of your arms, and you’ll soon venture into areas where the ground becomes steep, rocky and complicated whilst still using your poles. Beware! Poles are useful but they don’t grip rock well and can become an unwelcome hazard. If your hands are still in the loops the poles may well stop you reaching for that vital handhold causing a fall. So on technical ground (boulder fields, river crossings, etc) take your hands out of the tape loops so that the poles can be discarded in the event of a slip, fall or avalanche.
In winter assess the changing snow or ice conditions early. If there is any risk of a fall get your ice axe out and carry the poles on your rucksack sooner rather than later; poles make lousy self-arrest tools as Scottish mountain rescue reports too often testify.
If you use poles all of the time you’ll lose the ability to balance naturally as you step up, walk over uneven ground or boulder hop. So if you are only taking a short walk with a light pack then leave the poles behind or save them for the steep descents. Youngsters need to develop this skill, called propreconception before they walk any distance using poles.”
I learnt about Mountaineering from that – From one of Scotland’s top mountaineer.
“I got blown over backwards once when walking with poles on a snow slope. I stopped only a few feet from going over a large cliff. Taught me a serious lesson and used up one of my lives. Personal opinion; if you have an ice axe, don’t get distracted thinking you can stop with poles.”
The loss of proprioception is definitely a problem for adults as well as youths. You might find this interesting, too – the UIAA view on the use of walking poles: