Trekking Poles 102
Once climbers check in, it’s advisable to have a shower as soon as you can in the communal bathrooms. With more than 100 people staying at Laban Rata and its surrounding huts, you can imagine the showers get quite wet and soiled from weary, dirty trekkers.
Climbing Mt Kinabalu – Day 1
I took a regular hike this morning and went up one of the other local hills for a change. For the past two months I’ve been exclusively climbing around Xuan Van Hill (what I’ve been calling Gheng Rang until just discovering the real name). Today’s hike was just 6.4 kms of hiking over 3 hours, but there were lots of up-and-down stretches. The great thing about the hike is that it gave me a chance to try the poles out over new terrain.
The thing is with trekking poles is that there is no single technique that you use. Rather, there are a variety of ways to use them depending on terrain and slope. Here, then, is a brief summary of the ways we can use them.
- Over relatively flat, well-defined trails have the poles set for medium length and use them to assist your hiking. Alternate the poles and your legs when walking: it feels more natural and it’s the easiest way to get into a rhythm.
- Shorten the poles when going uphill, lengthen… blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.
- I’ve found that for moderate uphill stretches planting the pole next to the foot takes a lot of pressure of legs and hips.
- For higher steps, rocks, logs and so on, double planting the poles and using them to haul you up works well.
- On uneven, rocky terrain, I don’t even worry about technique. I just plant the poles in suitable places as I go along, not worrying about rhythm.
- Keep your elbows close to your sides. This gives you better leverage as well as improving your pole placement accuracy.
- If your hands start to feel fatigued, it’s a sure sign that you are gripping the handles incorrectly. Hold the grips loosely, with just enough pressure to maintain control. Put your weight on the wrist straps, not the poles.
- One web site recommended resting your palms atop the grips when going downhill. I tried it several days ago on the steps and didn’t like it – I felt it was too hard to be precise when planting the poles. I tried again today and learned how to do it properly. The first time was a fairly steep downhill section, hard clay covered with tiny pea gravel. My traction was, to say the least, almost non-existent. I carefully planted the poles some distance in front of me, transferred my weight to the poles, then moved and planted my feet. It was slow but very effective – and safer.
- I used the same technique when I started following a rocky stream bed uphill. I ended up having to backtrack because it went the wrong way, but I learned that not only are poles useful when clambering up big rocks, they’re even better when making your way down. Again, the trick is move slowly and carefully.
- Without poles I normally lean back when going downhill; with poles, I lean forward with a significant amount of weight on my arms – and off my feet!
- Sometimes trekking poles just get in your way. Dense, overgrown tracks are one of these times. Carry or stow your poles until the trail opens up again.
- Rubber tips: there are times to use them and times to take them off. I use them on solid rock and concrete (for example, on my training steps) because they’re quieter, absorb shock and offer better grip when planting the pole. I take them off when I go off road and hit the dirt.
I’m still on the learning curve, but they’re starting to become second nature. Like any skill, it takes practice. Becoming competent with poles before attempting Mt Kinabalu is a good move.