Not long after leaving the crabshack on the ferry boat across the Nitinat Narrow to continue our northbound hike up the West Coast Trail, Kelly slipped on a very muddy uphill step. She landed right on a hiking pole and SNAP! the carbon fiber shattered.
Not long before that, I had slipped on a root and my ankle landed on my aluminum pole, bending it so it would not longer collapse. So, aluminum poles bend and fiber poles break.
Between Tsusiat Falls and Michigan Creek campsites, the West Coast Trail crosses the Kanawa River. This is a proper river with plenty of depth, width, and current - not like a little creek you can wade through. Fortunately, it also has a wonderful cable car to carry hikers across.
We sent two of us across with packs, then a 3rd with two packs, then Kelly and I with our 3 hiking poles and the last pack (and her broken one stashed away in the pack). It all went well until the very end.
This video shows our crossing...
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So, aluminum poles sink and fiber poles float.
Things like this happen all the time on the trail. We found (and carried out) broken poles, tips, and baskets, a shoe, clothing, and quite a lot of other dropped things, but very little trash like wrapper pieces on the trail. Some people might just leave the 'lost' items in the river, but that doesn't seem right and we really needed the poles to put up our tarp tent.
You can read more about our Kanawa crossing and our whole hike in my West Coast Trail Journal.
But, seriously, I prefer aluminum hiking poles over carbon fiber, and here's why:
- Aluminum is much less expensive (like $20 vs $100).
- Aluminum can take much more abuse before breaking, and has a longer lifespan of rough use.
- Bent aluminum can often be bent back to use a bit longer.
- Aluminum is not as sensitive to extreme cold and heat - especially becoming brittle in extreme cold.
- Aluminum can be recycled if the pole does become unusable.
If you decide to give hiking poles a try, take some time to learn to use them before going on a long hike. Some things to consider:
- Use the wriststrap correctly. Put your hand in from the bottom so your hand encircles both the wriststrap and the grip. This saves a lot of hand and wrist fatigue.
- Remove rubber tip guards and baskets. This reduces weight and prevents them from being lost on trail - I've lost count of the tips I've found along the way.
- Figure out your cadence between feet and poles. Typically, the pole on the left should touch the ground forward at about the same time as the right foot.
Next: Camp Life on the WCT