Showing posts with label backpacking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label backpacking. Show all posts

October 27, 2020

The Science of Trekking Poles—But This is Science You Can Ignore, If You Like

Photo credit: National Park Service
Some people love trekking (hiking) poles. The authors of the guidebook Don't Waste Your Time in the West Kootenays: An Opinionated Hiking Guide opined as follows:

[After a strenous month of hiking research] both of us developed knee pain. The next summer we used Leki trekking poles every day for three months and our knees were never strained. We felt like four-legged animals. We were more sure-footed. Our speed and endurance increased.

On the other hand, they also reported the reaction: "So where are your skis. Ha ha ha!" 

An article at Outside sums up the research and also gives the contrarian view:

On the other hand, the Switzerland-based International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation sounds a more skeptical tone, suggesting that using poles too much will sap your balance and coordination, thus raising the risk of accidents in situations like crossing ridges that are too narrow for poles.

In other words, poles make you weak! Do you vant to be weak? Or do they make you a sure-footed animal? 

This article on PubMed summarizes the research. 

Interestingly, pole users burn more calories. That could be a good thing (you're hiking to control your weight) or a bad thing (your food supplies are running low). 

You do protect your knees — but, retorts the Mountaineering Federation, the joint stress is good for you. (See also this.)

As they say on the Internet, your mileage may vary. 

Hopeless moderate that I am, when carrying just a day pack, I often carry just one pole, thus gaining some balance but keeping a hand free. The last time I was deer hunting in rocky country, I stashed the pole at one point along the trail in. Not having it was another reason to slow down, and slowing down is a Good Thing (TM) when you are hunting.

In a related issue, I will admit to saying something snarky the first time I saw somone snowshoeing with ski poles — especially as she was in a flat meadow. It seemed like belt + suspenders overkill. But I will admit that ski poles are a help when side-hilling in Rocky Mountain powder.

It's just that I always think that if you're on snowshoes, you need hands free for tools — rifle, saw, whatever.

October 22, 2020

The Kid Was Tougher than He Looked

Some of the same Scouts, on a five-night trip the next summer.
The other kid's initials were R. A., so I will call him that, in case he ever Google-stalks himself. Later on, his mother would be one of my English teachers at Fort Collins High School. I was 14, and he was younger — 12? 11? 

We were both members of Boy Scout Troop 97 in Fort Collins. Wayne Parsons, the scoutmaster, was on the staff of the Roosevelt National Forest there (as yet unconsolidated with the Arapaho), and he was all about outdoor experiences and outdoor projects. We never did a service project in town, and that was fine with me. (It looks like Troop 97 still tries to be outdoors-focused.)

This event was to be an overnight backpack trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, cross the Continental Divide on Flattop Mountain, camp somewhere, and then descend to the little resort town of Grand Lake, on the park's western edge. 

My mother picked up R. A. and drove us to Bear Lake. For some reason, we had been delayed, and when we arrived, the others had already left. 

Crossing the Continental Divide
on Flattop Mountain, 12,000 feet.

"It's OK," we said, not wanting to be quitters. "We'll catch up to them." Satisfied, she drove away. We started walking, up onto the high plateau that Flattop its name, at about 12,000 feet. A line of cairns guided us across this treeless plateau. Overall, it was a fine August day.

But then we came to a junction. To the left was (I think) the North Inlet Trail, which was just under 13 miles to Grand Lake. To the right was another trail (Tonahutu Creek), which was a bit longer, about 14 miles, making the entire trip about 17–18 miles.

We had to make a choice. R. A. looked to me. I guessed that Our Fearless Leader would take the longer trail. I was wrong.

We walked. On and on we walked, dropping steeply from alpine meadow into forest. We stopped for a snack. The sun was sinking. The forest was thick and dark, Troop 97 was nowhere in sight, and we were tired. After a bit more hiking, we agreed that we had to stop.

A view down from Flattop,
before I stopped taking pictures.
We did have sleeping bags, we had food, and the weather was fine. We knew in a general sense where we were. R. A., bless his heart, never said, "You dummy! You took the wrong trail!" but just kept his thoughts to himself.

He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet. I saw that a blister had popped and bled through the canvas a little. He had never uttered a word about that. I had Bandaids at least.

The next morning we rose early, rolled up our sleeping bags, ate something, and started walking. We did not know where the pickup point was or when pickup was scheduled, and our new fear was that we would be left behind in Grand Lake.

I remember once we saw a sign that said something like "Grand Lake 6.2 mi." We walked and walked and then there was another sign, "Grand Lake 6 mi." (or whatever the whole number was), and we opined that that was a very long two-tenths mile.

Finally we came down through some tourist cabins and out onto a paved street. No sign of other Boy Scouts. I had enough money in my pocket for one celebratory Coca-Cola. We located the end of the trail that we should have come on. Then we waited. And we waited.

Eventually, after maybe two hours, the rest of the Scouts marched out of the woods. They probably had lazed around camp making pancakes or something while we were on our forced march to Grand Lake.

Some of the parents made room in their cars for us. I don't know whether we came back over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) or down US 40 (probably) but somehow we returned to Fort Collins. And it was no big deal. I don't remember anyone fussing over R. A. and me.

All of that might be burned now. Probably is. The East Troublesome Fire looks to be climbing up the same drainage that we walked down. Now that is something to think about.

March 20, 2017

Let the Women Carry the Loads

Women carrying cassava root (?) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Some time ago, I blogged a fascinating tale of South American exploration, The Lost City of Z. Oh, to enjoy the bounty of "rain, unceasing rain" again, as it fell six springs past!

More recently, I returned again to that book, following trails out from it, as in reading advice on wild-country travel by Francis Galton (1822–1911), a long-time member and officer of Britain's Royal Geographical Society. Its author, David Grann, writes,
During the Society's early years, no member personified the organization's eccentricities or audacious mission more than Sir Francis Galton. A cousin of Charles Darwin's, he had been a child prodigy who, by the age of four, could read and recite Latin. He went on to concoct myriad inventions. They included a ventilating top hat; a machine called a Gumption-Reviver, which periodically wet his head to keep him awake during endless study; underwater goggles; and a rotating-vane steam engine. Suffering from periodic nervous breakdowns––"sprained brain," as he called it––he had a compulsion to measure and count virtually everything. He quantified the sensitivity of animal hearing, using a walking stick that could make an inconspicuous whistle; the efficacy of prayer; the average age of death in each profession (lawyers: 66.51; doctors: 67.04); the exact amount of rope needed to break a criminal's neck while avoiding decapitation; and levels of boredom (at meetings of the Royal Geographical Society he would count the rate of fidgets among each member of the audience).
Galton attempted to quantify everything about exploration, from daily dietary needs to the maximum feasible load for a donkey, mule, horse, or camel on different types of terrain.

You may sample his calculations in his book The Art of Travel; Or, Shifts and Contrivances Available in Wild Countries, available as a free download from the inestimable Project Gutenberg.

He also rated women highly as "native bearers" for several reasons, quoting the explorer Samuel Hearne on the matter:
As the [Chipawyan?] chief said . . . "When all the men are heavy laden, they can neither hunt nor travel to any considerable distance; and if they meet with any success in hunting, who is to carry the produce of the labour?" . . . "Women," said he, "were made for labour: one of them can carry or haul as much as two men can do. They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at night; and in fact there is no such thing as travelling any considerable distance, or for any length of time, in this country [northern Canada] without their assistance."
"Women," said he again, "though they do everything are maintained at a trifling expense: for, as they always cook, the very licking of their fingers, in scarce times, is sufficient for their subsistence."
That was Galton quoting Hearne, I believe, but the original speaker may have been a man named Matonabbee, who has his own Wikipedia entry. In his own voice, Mr Galton comments further, videlicet:
I believe there are few greater popular errors than the idea we have mainly derived from chivalrous times, that woman is a weakly creature . . . . It always seems to me that a hard-worked woman is better and happier for her work. It is in the nature of women to be fond of carrying weights; you may see them in omnibuses and carriages, always preferring to hold their baskets or their babies on their knees, to setting them down on the seats by their sides.
So, gentlemen, if you go afield backpacking with a member of the female sex, let her carry the tent.