Thursday, December 1, 2016


Back in the distant past when I was young, I hung around with two old “founding fathers” of the local hiking club. “Old” says I, but they were younger then than I am now.

Both of these fellows were real devotees of using an alpenstock when walking on rough terrain. The dictionary description of an alpenstock is “A strong staff with an iron point, used by mountain climbers”, and the alpenstocks these men carried fit the description pretty well; they had turned white ash staffs with a steel pin inserted in the tip.

After watching them use their alpenstocks as “third legs” to help with balance on steep or slippery terrain and while crossing streams, and occasionally use them to vault across narrow streams or muddy spots, I figured they had a good idea.
So I began using an alpenstock too. Turned staffs have an inherent weakness, if the wood’s grain runs out partway along the length they can split, break, and send the user sprawling. I decided to make mine from a sapling of suitable diameter so the grain would run the full length of the staff. None of those flimsy, expensive "trekking poles" for me. It also quickly became apparent that the steel pin in the tip tended to slip off smooth hard rock – so mine has sported a rubber tip of the type made for chair legs. The rubber tips give good adhesion on rock and they come in various diameters so it’s easy to get one to fit the diameter of the alpenstock and, when they wear through, replacements are readily available.

Now I have two alpenstocks. One is old (35 years+) and weathered, a veteran of many miles traversing rough country in at least six states, and is semi-retired.  The newer one (at about ten years a mere youngster) is also accumulating the miles. 

As did my friends’, my alpenstocks both have a wrist strap; they also have a short ¼” x 20 bolt inserted at the upper end. That bolt permits using the alpenstock as a monopod for low-light photography. Except when a camera is attached, the bolt sports an appropriate nut to protect the threads (and my hand).

A short part of the newer one's shaft is wrapped with parachute cord – you can never tell when it may come in handy.
My alpenstock really proved itself one day recently when I fell on a rock - old guys' ribs don't bend, they break. The alpenstock made it much easier for me to navigate more than a mile of rough terrain to get back to the car. So thanks go to those now long-gone hikers for convincing a young guy that an alpenstock is a great advantage in forest and field.


Essen Girl said...

Surprised you didn't cover this topic earlier! I need to find time to put more miles on mine now, too.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Good looking Alpenstocken, Woody. I've abused mine regularly by breaking dead wood with them, especially dead manzanita which can put an eye out. Last week I broke my larch stick hitting a dead manzanita. It snapped in half because I had wood-burned measuring rings into it at 1 foot intervals (good for measuring camera distance and depth of hollow logs). Larch is slow growing and dense, as conifers go, but that shallow groove was a major weak point.