“I don’t want to use those, thank you.”
My hiking partner and I were working our way along the North Face trail in Murren, Switzerland. It’s about a 5-mile loop walk with around 1,100 feet of elevation gain that starts at about 5,400 feet above sea level. In other words: It starts high, it gets higher, and, from time to time, the climb or descent is quite steep. She had offered me her hiking poles in the first 20 minutes of an ascending part of the walk.
“I really think you’d be better off using these.”
“No, thank you, I’m fine. I like my hands free.”
We walked on a bit further. I struggled up a very steep section of trail that left me breathless, drifted across a short flat bit, and then muscled up a steep embankment, probably twelve feet high. Although I slipped twice in the soft dirt, I made it to the top.
She looked back at me. I offered a defensive “thumbs up” and we continued.
“Here, why don’t you try one of these.” She did a short demo and handed me one of her poles as we walked.
“I don’t really want it.”
“Try it,” she insisted. She showed me the best ways to grasp the pole.
I tried it for a bit and handed it back to her. We walked on, up and up and up, to the highest point in the trail and then started down. After a bit, she turned…
“Here, try them together.”
I took the poles and imitated her. “They just get in my way”.
“You’ll get used to them.”
I handed them back to her.
As we headed down slope, we clumped down some very steep bits with oddly positioned footfalls. I grunted every time I came down hard or lost my balance on the uneven terrain.
“Want to try them now?,” she asked. “They’ll help your knees and your balance. Not a good place to fall.”
“OK, fine, thank you.” I surrendered, accepting the poles.
I kept them for ten minutes as we clumped down one incline and the next, experimenting with different techniques to steady myself and ease the stress on my legs until we reached a turn in the trail… and there was no trail. What had been trail was now oozy, water-pocked, pungently brown mud with grassy whisps. Apparently, the local cows had hung out here for a while, their weight and excretions breaking down the turf.
To the left, a sharp, tangled drop-off to a rocky stream. To the right, a steep (maybe 60-degree slope) embankment that cows and previous hikers had softened – I could see skid marks where several previous hikers had slipped into the goo.
To continue our walk without dropping into the ankle-deep trail muck, we had to ascend about six feet on the embankment, traverse 20 feet across, and descend to firm ground on the other side.
By leaning dramatically on the hiking poles and choosing my footfalls VERY carefully, I was able to cross with only minor muck accumulation. I felt elated, grateful for the poles.
“See???????????”, she said.
“OK, fine, yes, right, thank you.”
Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees through better sales strategies and execution. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.
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