TAC 30 Index
Any good magazine hosts vitriolic feuds - and so does TAC. We now have squabbles between Gordon Smith and Rocky Raccoon over the Beatles, Warbeck and a host of wildlife-lovers over the edibility of puffins, Paul Hesp and John Hunston over Gaelic poetry and Weltanschauung - and here comes Iain Johnston, oozing spit and pole-ish at TAC29's casual dismissal of his favourite piece of hillwalking equipment ...
I WAS AMAZED at the article by Grant Hutchison in TAC29. Not because it possibly reflects the views of some of the more narrow-minded hillwalkers, and not because it shows his ignorance of some basic physical principles. I was dumbfounded because of his scepticism at what I find is the most beneficial product to come on to the outdoor leisure market since the addition of ice axe loops on to rucksacks. I am of course referring to the ubiquitous telescopic walking pole.
I can understand his point of view; I myself was once a sceptic. The first time I saw someone using walking poles was on Meall Buidhe above Loch an Daimh. I fell about laughing thinking that this total poser must have run out of snow or was maybe under the influence of some consciousness-expanding substance which made him presume that he was deriving benefit from their use.
So how did I become an enlightened soul? Well, like many other walkers, I found that I had succumbed to the great hillwalker's knee syndrome, and the suggestion was made to me in the Kintail Lodge over a pint of Guinness, whilst rubbing my throbbing patella, that I should er maybe, er perhaps, er possibly try a pair of walking poles. "What!" was my reaction; I had no intention of becoming a total poser (despite wearing a pink and purple fleece and loud Troll trousers). Needless to say, however, after many more years of painful knees, I finally admitted defeat and tried the poles. I was quite simply amazed at the difference a pair made.
Mr Hutchison makes reference to the use of a walking stick, and for some reason classes that as similar to the use of walking poles. His description of somebody with a gammy leg using a walking stick with a straight arm to provide support is indeed quite correct. What he fails to notice is that walking poles are not used for that purpose. They are an addition to the use of legs and not a replacement. I contend that walking poles should be used in pairs, making four points of contact with the ground. (Even though that makes you look like yon spidery alien things on the front sleeve of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds? - Ed.) Deer can move very quickly over rough ground because miraculously enough they also have four points of contact, as can dogs (even if they are carrying a walking pole between their teeth, extended or otherwise). When I go scrambling I use my arms to provide an extra two points of contact; when I go climbing I find these extra points invaluable. Does Mr Hutchison ever go scrambling? Does he by any chance use his arms? Are his arms possibly not straight? The fact is that his arms are used to assist his progress. So why not extend the benefit of using one's arms when the ground is not sufficiently close to them with the utilisation of walking poles? This results in the transfer of up to 20% of the energy required from the legs to the arms. Please do not write in saying that the previous statement is untenable, despite the fact that I have not included any scientific evidence to support the claim. From reading TAC it appears that some readers are getting a wee tad bored of science and figures (7:7). It makes sense to me and to a lot of other walkers besides.
When using a pair of poles, I have noticed many benefits: my uphill progress is faster; I can maintain the rhythm of walking more efficiently resulting in being less knackered; my knees do not take such a pounding on descent; when waiting for other walkers to catch up (didn't happen before I used poles), I can rest on the poles without having to sit down; traversing is easier and more stable, plus I no longer suffer from hillwalker's knee syndrome. Best of all though is the ability to impale people who malign the use of walking poles in such a manner as to obviate their requirement for a shooting stick.
The gist of all this is not to show Mr Hutchison as illiberal, intolerant and prepossessed: that would be libellous and quite definitely defamatory to his character. Of course not. The gist is to say to all prejudiced and narrow-minded walkers out there to open your minds. Some very simple pieces of equipment available at your local outdoor shop will make hillwalking easier, safer, and reduce the risk of injury. They will be adjustable to the exact size you require and are compact enough to attach neatly to your rucksack. Hey, your kids will love them too. (What kids? - the entire TAC core group is a kid-free zone! - happy Ed.) If after all this advice you still are unable to see the benefits of purchasing some poles, just get someone to buy you a pair for Christmas. This will have the added benefit of protecting you from receiving Mr McNeish's latest offering on how to climb Munros.
And the author / perpetrator takes up TAC's extensive and rigorous right of reply:
Grant Hutchison wishes it be known that, as well as being able to walk without artificial aid, he has also eaten a puffin.
TAC 30 Index