Words & Photos by Lisa Germany
"Why on Earth do people use hiking poles?"
This was a common thought I had as I watched my trekking companions on the 12-day Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland negotiate non-trivial terrain. While I used my hands, bent my knees and did a lot of bum-sliding, my fellow hikers were stubbornly persistent in their use of sticks, which meant that their high centre-of-gravity always seemed to be on the verge of casting them into the abyss.
Descending towards the Knud Rasmussen Glacier and the Karale Fjord in East Greenland on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek with Greenland Adventures
It looked precarious. It looked uncoordinated. And I really couldn’t see the point.
Well, OK. I admit that the poles helped when negotiating Greenland’s glacial rivers. But that’s when it really pays to befriend the guide who will leave one of his poles for you to use at the start of each crossing 😊
Crossing glacial rivers was a big part of the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland.
I was not new to hiking. I had previously done the 8-day Torres del Paine Circuit in Chilean Patagonia, the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit in Peru, and countless day hikes – all without the assistance of hiking poles. Fortunately, my knees were fine (one of the reasons I’d heard for using sticks), and I was fascinated that so many people had them.
The Torres del Paine Circuit Trek (Chile) and the Huayhuash Circuit (Peru) are two incredible long-distance treks in South America
All this was to change when I signed up for a trek that had been on my bucket list for several years – the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition in Argentinean Patagonia. This is a pretty hard-core trek and the company I went with – Serac Expeditions – actually vets their potential clients before allowing them to join. They are also very strict with their required equipment – insisting on hiking poles (amongst other items), and checking that you have the appropriate gear the day before the expedition (you literally have to show them every single item you are taking).
Me decked out in all my gear for the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions in Argentina
Knowing this, I invested in my first ever set of sticks – the Hiker Hunger Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles – after reading faaaar too many reviews online. I gave them a test run the week before on day hikes to Laguna Esmeralda, Laguna Turquesa, Vinciguerra Glacier and the Valle de Olum near Ushuaia, and was surprised at what a difference they made!
Laguna Esmeralda, Laguna Turquesa, Vinciguerra Glacier and the Valle de Olum are 4 amazing day-hikes around Ushuaia, Argentina
As I had already learned in East Greenland, they were awesome for negotiating river crossings. And they definitely cushioned the knees and aided with steep descents, something that other hikers had told me about. Surprisingly, they also helped with ascents, taking some of the weight off my legs by transferring it to my arms. It didn’t take long to convert me!
Hiking up the Gorra Blanca Sur glacier to reach the Southern Patagonian Icefield. The part before this was particularly steep – we were ascending an ice slope of about 45 degrees! Poles definitely helped!
On the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition, I also learned how useful they were to walk quickly along flat ground, probe the depth of snow and water, provide additional traction on slippery ground, maintain balance on extremely uneven surfaces during 4 days of glacier hiking, jump crevasses, and push vegetation out of the way (yes, there was at least one battle with vegetation - you have to get to the icefield after all).
In February, the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition involves essentially hiking on a glacier for 4 days. Poles are critical for keeping balance and helping you jump crevasses
I have now hiked over 1500km (in 6 months!) with my poles and will never go back to not using them. If you are still wondering whether or not they are really necessary – I encourage you to borrow a pair and give them a go on your next hike. You’ll be surprised at what a difference they make!
Read more about Lisa’s hiking adventures and explorations of the world on her blog at Lisa Germany Photography. Lisa has blog posts for almost all of the hikes in this article – here are the specific links:
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