The Angry Corrie 29: Nov-Dec 96

Index

J'ACCUSE: WALKING POLES

TAC's editors are opened-minded guys. Both assiduously use the very items of equipment Grant Hutchison pans below, but that doesn't stop them allowing their misguided colleague his petty rant. Just remember that, as they say, the opinions here expressed are not necessarily those of the editors ...

OF ALL THE CREATURES encountered on the hill, it used to be that the one most commonly spotted using a stick for support was the dog: a big, daft, cheerful dog with a two-foot beech branch lodged firmly between its teeth. The support, of course, was entirely psychological: while the stick served no useful purpose, it had a powerful effect on the dog's feelings of security and self-worth. A concept that segues seamlessly (and with admittedly transparent irony) into the topic of the walking pole.

Walking poles are clearly the immediate, mutant offspring of ski poles. A few years back, you occasionally encountered someone carrying a ski pole around the hills with them, pretending it was a walking stick. The purpose of this gambit was, of course, to transmit the message, "Hey, I also ski." Such individuals were deeply sad and lonely creatures, more to be mocked than ignored. They were carrying a ski pole mainly because it interfered less with a day on the hill than, say, a hang-glider or a wet-suit. However, gear manufacturers (ever swift to tap any new seam of weakness in the human psyche) quickly responded to the ski pole abuse phenomenon by creating the so-called "walking pole": no more than a ski pole with a couple of telescopic sections added, to allow it to be collapsed for easy rucksack mounting.

Well whoopee. Let's just run that thought by again: a collapsible walking stick. Surely a concept to rank alongside the chocolate teapot and the glass buttock in the "About-As-Much-Use-As" Hall of Fame. Admittedly, it is possible to prevent the walking pole collapsing: a mole wrench is particularly useful in this respect, but does rather render the thing indistinguishable from its previous, saddo ski pole incarnation. But, once suitably rigidified, surely the walking pole relieves the knees of many Newtons of excess force, by transferring weight to the shoulder girdle?

Oh aye, that'll be right. Look, let's set aside for the moment the fact that your knees have been designed to bear weight by several million years of evolution, and your shoulders haven't. (Like, if they sold a drug that made your lungs pass urine, to take the load off your kidneys, you'd be at the front of the queue, would you?)

Let's just take a look at the ordinary walking stick, as used by people whose legs are sufficiently knackered that they're obliged to seek alternative means of weight-bearing. It works, and works well, because it transmits force from the shoulder down a straight arm, and then through the broad pressure-pad of the heel of the hand.

Compare this happy picture, if you will, with the walking pole: customarily held in the fist, with the elbow at right angles. Any force transmission that occurs is at the expense of big work from the muscles that flex the fingers and extend the elbow. Very inefficient. Which is why Monsieur Eiffel didn't put an ornamental right-angle bend into the middle of his celebrated tower. And even if you collapse the damn thing down to a sensible length, you still can't use it for straight-armed weight-bearing, because the upper surface is too small to spread the load. You end up with a deep, painful indentation in the palm of your hand, often bearing the unmistakable imprint of a Phillips-headed screw.

So look: if you want to second-guess evolution and distribute your weight to places it isn't meant to go, by all means buy a proper walking stick. But if you're going to use a walking pole, you might as well just acknowledge its true purpose and carry it between your teeth.

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