Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hiking poles: Not just for geezers in Hawaii

Some adventure hikers may see using a pole (the retractable kind that easily fits in a suitcase) as a crutch for injured or older people. Not so in Hawaii. In many circumstances, a pole is a literal life-saver.

Mountain trails in the islands often go straight up ridges and sometimes narrow to several feet or less, with big drop-offs on either side. This is okay when ascending under dry conditions. But coming down, even a light rain can turn the tacky red earth to muddy grease. A pole is a much-needed helping hand.

Stream crossings are frequent in lush valley trails. Rains can quickly cause stream levels to rise, making crossings difficult: A hiking pole helps keep you upright (although, during flash floods, hikers should use common sense and wait out the storm until stream levels recede.)

Poles also are a good way to probe the thick greenery that borders trails, to ensure for solid footing. Greenery can disguise drop-offs. In lush trails in the morning hours, poles are also helpful in clearing the spider webs that lace the bushes (although there are no posionous insects in Hawaii). And, should you ever find a wild pig, common to mountain regions, a hiking pole is a ready aid for self defense. (That is a joke, sort of.)

Poles are also useful on coastal routes to remote beaches, when rock-hopping is required.

If you plan on getting 'out there' in Hawaii, a hiking pole is essential gear, in much the same way swim fins are essential gear to add swimming power in the face of rip currents. For more precautionary advice in the water or on the trail consult your No Worries Hawaii guidebook.