By Cynthia Oi
You may have seen a deer, but have you ever seen a deer slip on a mossy river rock and fall? Ever seen a deer stumble on loose gravel? Ever seen a deer lose footing on a muddy path? No? Why not? Because deer have four legs.
Humans don't. We upright walkers have given up our sure-footedness to hands. Hands are good, though. Because we have hands, we can drink and eat without having to lower our faces to the food (although some of us still continue that practice).
Hands, too, can grab; and what some trekkers and backpackers are getting a grip on are hiking sticks.
Hearty hikers might shun the sticks because they have a vague geriatric tinge to them, but others say try it, you'll like it.
Hiking poles provide stability and balance in rough terrain.
Plant a pole in a slippery stream bed and you have a connection to terra firma that keeps you from an impromptu bath. On hills -- up and down -- poles take the load off your feet and knees, distributing weight to four points instead of two. Even when you're sidestepping on a hill of shale, hiking sticks will help you keep your feet and move, move, move along.
Your arms also get a workout when you hike with sticks. No more numb, tingly fingers that come when arms dangle uselessly at your sides while your feet and legs do all the work.
Grant Oka has been using poles for about three years now, primarily on backpacking trips where a heavy load takes a toll on joints and feet.
"They definitely help with your balance and when it's windy," said Oka, who has packed in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, among other areas.
"Going down hill, on rubbly trails when footing is not secure, or when you have to take a large step down, the poles are useful," he said.
But Ken Suzuki, whose choice of trails indicate he's a heavy-duty trekker, doesn't hold to poles.
"I found that they can be more dangerous because they can get in the way, especially when you're climbing steep places," Suzuki said.
"I think if you're backpacking, carrying a heavy pack, that they would work OK," but he prefers having his hands free.
Prices of hiking poles vary from about $50 to $200, depending on the styles and features.
Telescoping sticks allow you to adjust them to your height and to the terrain. Other features include various choices of shafts and tips and grips, grip angles, shock-absorbing springs, and baskets. Some brands offer such extras as push-button adjustments, compasses, camera mounts and adjustable wrist loops.
Hawaii's limited number of outdoor stores carry a few trekking pole options, but a search on the Web will produce numerous sites and offerings. Catalogs, such as REI and Sierra Trading Post, also carry sticks.
And there's always the natural way.
When Arnold Fujioka needs an extra leg, he finds a branch, cuts it to size and fashions his own hiking stick. Guava in particular is very sturdy, he says.
"It's helpful to have a staff when going down hill or on a really steep trail and it is safer when the trail is muddy," Fujioka says.
And when his hike is over, he places the stick beside the trail so another hiker can use it.
Click for online
calendars and events.