5 Reasons Why PaceMaker Trekking Poles Might Be Right for You

This post is a sponsored post, but my words express my own opinion, as always.

Atop Mt. Colden in the Adirondacks, June 2004.

I had finished a 30-mile hike which included a scramble up one of those beautiful, bald summits of the Adirondacks. I came downhill much faster than I had gone up and was carrying a 35-pound overnight pack. My hamstrings and calves were holding up and my trekking poles kept me balanced as I descended — which was more like a controlled stumble — seemingly bouncing from foothold to foothold.

I arrived back at the trailhead, exhausted but in a euphoric state. I leaned my poles against my old coupe, put my pack in the trunk, hydrated with a warm sports drink, started the engine and turned on some punk rock music and drove away down the long narrow dirt road with a triumphant feeling.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until three days later that I left my poles in the parking lot. That was 10 years ago this month. I haven’t had my own pair since.

Just last month  I was approached by PaceMaker Stix about reviewing their trekking poles. I hadn’t heard of them before and decided to check them out and see where they stood. After a quick Internet search I counted 18 different brands of trekking and walking poles. It seems only three or four brands are the most recognizable and widely accessible, however, PaceMaker consistently received the highest customer reviews online. I accepted the invitation from PaceMaker Stix to review a set of their sticks and I received a pair of their Expedition Poles.

I worked out a time with Natalie for us to take kids on a hike so I could test them out. The big hike in Shenandoah NP or the Monongahela NF I wanted became unrealistic with our commitments, but a semi-urban hike in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Habitat along the Potomac was feasible.

Trying ascending with the PaceMaker Stix (Natalie Stern 2014)

This was also Schnickelfritz’s first time riding in the child carrier backpack. Wunderkind, who rode on my back down Mount Mansfield in Vermont in 2012, was now helping me test the poles.

After some long strides, a couple of leaps from one beached driftwood log to another, and finding some unlevel and occasionally unstable terrain to test ascending and descending, I have five reasons why PaceMaker Expedition trekking poles might be right for you:

1. Sturdy and Durable – They held up to my walking and leaning with all my weight with Schnickelfritz on my back. They are also light weight and appropriately rigid; the tips at the far end of the poles went right where I wanted them — there was no unwanted flexing.

2. Easy Extending and Holding – The flick locks are easy to open, close and adjust them. Even when Schnicklefritz and I bounced from log to log and leaned hard on them, there wasn’t any give. The same was true regardless of what length you choose to set them at.

PaceMaker Stix adjustable flick locks. (Szalay 2014)

3. Cork Grips and Comfortable Leashes -- The grips on my original poles several years ago were rubber with deep grooves for ventilation. They are great in the winter at keeping moisture out, but clammy. Cork is indeed better and I’m doubtful that they would perform poorly if I were using the poles snowshoeing in Vermont this winter. For most trekking pole aficionados, cork is the only way to go.

4. Affordable Prices – For their quality, these poles are truly affordable. They might even be “cheap” in price but not in performance. My old poles cost $110 for the pair. The PaceMaker Stix Expedition Trekking Poles cost $59.99 and I am just as happy with them. As a parent on a parent’s budget, I’d go with the PaceMakers everytime.

Schnickelfritz on the move, with Dad (Natalie Stern 2014)

5. Consistently Excellent Reviews -- Go online and look on Amazon or Google. PaceMaker fans are vocal. These poles are consistently given higher customer reviews.

By the way, since starting this blog in 2010 I have gotten several requests to review climbing and hiking books and various outdoor products. I haven’t turned down a request to review a book yet, but have turned down all the requests for product reviews. That was until I was approached by PaceMaker Stix. I felt it was something that you might enjoy too. My whole family did…

Sharing my PaceMaker Stix with Wunderkind (Natalie Stern 2014)

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Peter Boardman and The Shining Mountain

An icy belay (Vern 2012)

He doesn’t have a household name, but it comes up in mountaineering discussions periodically and in general literature too.

Today, Peter Boardman is best associated with the Boardman Tasker Prize in Mountaineering Literature, an award that was made to honor their memory. He was a pioneering alpinist that pushed boundaries and is still a hero to some climbers that are familiar with his legacy.

His most notable ascents were made with fellow Brit Joe Tasker. Their first together was chronicled in Boardman’s book, The Shining Mountain (1978), when they attempted the blank West Face of Changabang in the Garhwal Himalaya. Ken Wilson, a British climbing magazine editor, commented that their planned line, which Chris Bonnington announced to the public, “didn’t look like a married man’s route.” (Which makes me chuckle every time I read it.)

For some of us, his climbs were done before we were born. The mountains he climbed are recognizable, though the routes were firsts ascents or attempts: Petit Dru, Denali, Everest twice, Kanchenjunga, Carstenz Pyramid, K2 twice, and obscure destinations like Kongur in China, Gauri Sankar’s South Summit in Nepal, and, of course, Changabang’ West Wall.

One of the reasons there is a climbing literature award that bears his name is because of his quality writing and storytelling. The Shining Mountain is not only inspiring but covers the self doubt with honesty. It’s also leads by example: While it acknowledges not everything is easy or possible, it’s rarely dipping into the dark depravity of despair because he was objective inbhis analysis but confident with tempered optimism. The establishment of the Boardman Tasker Prize keeps his memory and his many accomplishments alive and relevant.

As part of another project, I recently reached out to Dougald MacDonald, the Executive Editor at the American Alpine Club and the fearless leader of Climbing magazine. I asked him about some of the best mountaineering books ever written by sharing my preliminary list. He looked at the titles and sent me only one title that he said sprung immediately to mind: Boardman’s The Shining Mountain.

He was right that it belonged on my short list. I included The Shining Mountain on a best-of list in a recent guest post on Desk to Dirtbag: Be sure to check out Ten Must Read Mountaineering Books. I hope that the list might have your next book for vacation or some escapist reading.

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What I am Reading Now

Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland (Szalay 2014)

Have you ever flown over big snow capped mountains someplace? Do you remember being glued to that foggy airplane window?

I had the rare opportunity to enjoy a beer the other night with a friend after Wunderkind and Schnickelfritz went to bed. After we talked about our kids we talked about travel and adventure. His brother flies from Alabama to Alaska for work periodically. He said the first time he went, when it was clear enough to see outside the plane’s window, he saw a mountain goat on a cliff side. That goat, except for its own abilities, it would have otherwise been stranded. Remote and unreachable.

His brother feels that this is illustrative of what Alaska’s wilderness was: A frontier with places that no man could go.

As for other frontiers — those of the mind and page — let me share with you what is on my current reading list:

John Quillen’s self-published book, Tempting the Throne Room: Surviving Pakistan’s Deadliest Climbing Season 2013, (2013). John Quillen has crossed my radar tangentially last year after the terrorist attack at Nanga Parbat Basecamp. You might have already read some of the quotes or information he provided in the aftermath; Quillen was in the region and provided media some on-the-ground information and has since written this book about the summer of 2013 in the Karakorum.

I just started reading it thanks to a direct invitation from Quillen to review his book here on TSM (which I will do later this summer.) So far, it reads like a great deal like a traditional travelogue with a little inspiration from Annapurna. The format isn’t uncommon, but he manages to draw you in bringing you on his trip rather than telling you about his trip. The result is that you feel like you’ve landed in Pakistan. More to come…

Eric J. Hörst’s regional guide, Rock Climbing Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, 2nd Ed. (2013). I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic for a dozen years now and have only gone back to my home park, the Adirondack Mountains, a few times and Alaska only once in that span. So I decided to take an active interest in my “immediate” surroundings. After reading portions of this book with its rich illustrations by Stewart Green, I suddenly want to spend some time in Fayetteville, West Virginia and hang out with Pat Goodman at the New.

Also, possibly toward the end of summer or early fall, I’ll read through all of my copy of this book:

John Long and Peter Croft’s Trad Climber’s Bible, signed by John Long. I received this copy as a thank you for some work I did this past winter in promoting the late Michael Ybarra’s book about the McCarthy Era in Washington, Washington Gone Crazy. Long knew Michael and they even climbed together once. Michael’s sister was very generous in thanking me this way. I’ve read random snippets and feel as filled as reading from a gentle religious devotional: comforted and empowered. I wonder what will happen after I take it in in full.

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Where is Your Mystery Mountain?

“River to the Maelstrom” (Trey Ratcliff 2010)

In the 1900s, the topography of Western Canada was wilderness — the kind that was left to the imagination. It was largely unmapped. Yet, taking in the view from the other side of Queen Charlotte Strait, the conventional wisdom said that the Coast Range Mountains that skirted mainland British Columbia were no higher than 8,000 to 10,000 feet, and there was no room for surprises.

One day, in 1925, across the Strait, Don and Phylis Munday were on the shore looking through binoculars at the Coast Mountains. Their attempt to climb a peak on Vancouver Island had just been thwarted by poor conditions. But the skies now provided wide visibility. Beyond the sea and over the Coast Range peaks something glimmered. Something obscured the skyline.

The giant would be named Mount Waddington (13,186 ft./4,019 m.) but for years the Mundays called it Mystery Mountain. When they first took in the peak in that day in 1925, the mountain was in alignment with other summits based on their compass bearings but it was clearly farther away where the map was blank. The Mundays were great explorers and they had to go to the mountain themselves.

In multiple attempts over several years, they pushed their way through the dense vegetation of the Pacific rim, around the Coast Mountains and began exploring the blank on the map inching closer to their Mystery Mountain, making the map as they went.

Pioneering adventures like the Mundays’ are charming. But for you and me, the blanks on the map are long gone. We’re not going to go to uncharted territory; we’re going to specific, known contour lines on a finished map. But this is no reason to get stuck reminiscing about the past.

The Mystery Mountain of Sichuan, China (Utpala 2008)

Exploration has evolved. Today your Mystery Mountain may have been climbed, photographed, catalogued, uploaded, downloaded, and shared. But what makes it yours is how it strikes you and how passionate you last over it. Let me explain…

Your quest starts in innocence and naivety. When we get a climbing magazine in the mail or an issue of National Geographic, or read a post on social media and find someplace alluring, we might have an image of a mountain or a dramatic, lush valley or a forbidding frozen landscape etched or even seared into our minds. Sometimes, we don’t even know where it is or what it’s called.

You start learning more about the destination. Turns out it’s in Ecuador. You have never even thought of Ecuador, but now you’re pinning it on Pinterest and checking out library books, and talking to your friends about it in hopes of finding new photos and maps that lead you to your fabled peak. If you give in to the dream, you go, sometimes at great financial or personal expense.

In some ways, it’s best if the destination is obscure. It makes it more interesting; the less information there is, the more pioneering you become. The sincerity of the effort is what makes it pure and life giving. You go because you want to experience something nobody else has, and by virtue of the process you will. The search for your Mystery Mountain takes on a dimension larger than the peak itself.

Still, success will be in the journey rather than the final destination. The Mundays were fortunate to pursue an untrampled mountain as well as uncharted territory. But even they did not achieve the pinnacle; the main summit was far more technically demanding than their climbing skills could provide. The first ascent was later, included an all-star cast, and was for another quest.

Wherever your Mystery Mountain may be, I hope the journey gives you a pioneering adventure.

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A Climber’s Bucket List

Cathedral rocks and spires and Yosemite NP (Eric Leslie 2012)

If climbing for you is compulsory and you have decided it’s a strong thread in your life worth committing to, it’s probably time to think about where you want climbing to take you. Do you want to climb particular routes, reach certain summits, or take part in some traditions? Whatever you’re seeking, here is a brief list of some experiences get some ideas going.

  1. Lead a climb in Yosemite, even if it’s 5.6, like Munginella.
  2. Climb a sharp ridge with high exposure.
  3. On sight a route.
  4. Spend a night on a wall. Use a ledge, portaledge, a cave or just hang there in your harness.
  5. Spend so long on a big wall route that when you’re back in BC and you drop your water bottle, you flinch with a surge of adrenaline right before you remember that you are on the ground.
  6. Climb with one of your heroes.
  7. Live like a dirtbag for an extended period of time.
  8. Get funded for an expedition or project.
  9. Stand atop someplace no one has stood before.
  10. Spend a night in Camp 4.
  11. Attend the Annual International Climbers Meet in Yosemite.
  12. Attempt the Eiger Norwand. Even if you have to bail through the Eigerwand Station (9.400 ft./2865 m).

Now, what’s on your list?

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The Zen of Ueli Steck

Annapurna region (Eric Montfort 2008)

While the 2014 Everest season is becoming reminiscent of the hockey lockout of 2012-13, and the Khumbu is looking like an empty rink, I thought it was a great opportunity to share what other amazing things climbing has to offer. Just because Everest is the biggest doesn’t mean that it is still the apex of our sport.

I asked Jason Cobb to elaborate on a discussion he and I had about the 2014 Piolet d’Or. The award is an opportunity to celebrate climbing. Cobb, a weekend alpinist and father of two from Edmonton, Alberta, compares Ueli Steck’s solo ascent of Annapurna’s South Face with another remarkable climb. Here’s his guest post…

Annapurna’s south face from ABC (Twiga 269 2009)

How bad-ass was Ueli Steck’s Annapurna climb?

All different kinds of labels apply–free soloing, mixed alpine climbing, high altitude mountaineering. But by any measure, it was pretty stunning. Even for the experienced, it’s hard to make sense of the bold and audacious, oxygen-free solo of 8091m Annapurna’s S-Face in 2013. The 11th highest peak in the world via a face more than 2,500m high, in 28 hours round-trip, and by himself. He even dropped a mitt…on the way up. It just won a Piolet d’Or, an international award that recognizes the year’s “greatest” climbs.

But why does it matter?

From my point of view as both armchair historian and amateur alpinist (a.k.a. weekend warrior,) Steck’s Annapurna climb and the Piolets d’Or could inspire me ramble on about a range of topics. However, the question of “what do you compare it to?” first inspired a Twitter chat with Andrew and led to this longer ramble.

After I got over my initial awe and amazement when I heard about Steck’s climb, and well before the Groupe de Haute-Montagne (GHM) assembled their remarkable jury, my first thought was another incredibly bold solo climb from 2013 that has lit the imagination of the climbing world and beyond: Alex Honnold’s free-solo send of El Sendoro Luminoso (5.12d, 530m) in under three hours.

From the luxury of my armchair, I pondered: which one is harder? Which one is a better climb, a greater climb? They’re both free-solo…Ueli was at altitude and alpine climbing, but much of it was on snow and ice. Alex was climbing technically hard ground, free soloing on-the-edge-of-5.13 slab fer cryin’ out loud. But he wasn’t at altitude, and it was only 500 and change meters long, whereas Ueli’s climb was five times that long.

These are both mind-blowing climbs. Very different climbs, but comparable on a number of fronts–both of the most audacious category of bold; innovative, in that they each saw an opportunity for a different fundamental approach; stunning in the speed and grace of their execution; both demonstrating utter dedication, experience, and commitment, leaving the smallest fractional room for error.

Ueli Steck at Annapurna BC in 2013 (airFreshing 2013)

But my mind has been blown by other climbs in the past as well. After wiping the dampness away from my sweaty palms watching Alex in this early clip, my first thought in comparison was actually not Ueli’s Annapurna solo but a very different Himalya climb: Kurtyka and Schauer’s alpine-style W-Face of Gasherbrum IV in 1985. Further contemplation lead to Mick Fowler (the ULTIMATE weekend warrior, I might add) and Victor Saunders’s remarkable Golden Pillar route on Spatnik on their summer vacation in 1987. And what about Alex Huber’s 2002 free solo of Diretissima (5.12) on Cima Grande in the Dolomites, or Reinhard Messner oxygen-free and completely alone up Everest’s North Face in 1980?

I got nowhere with these comparisons. All of these climbs are stunning accomplishments. Each have their merits. Some even have grades of technical difficulty and objective hazard, and while some of the climbs are more comparable than others, trying to figure out some sort of definitive pecking order of greatness is annoying and futile.

So by March 2014, we’re back to the Piolets d’Or, with a shortlist of five climbs from a pool of more than 70 in 2013. Despite all of my armchair comparisons, the 2014 award jury–chaired this year by George Lowe, in my opinion one of the all-time preeminent alpinists in the world–awarded two Golden Axes: one to Ueli, and another to fellow-Canucks Raphael Slawinski and Ian Welsted for their first ascent of K6 West (7040 m.). While acknowledging that “that all the nominations should be celebrated as representing the highest ethical ideals of mountaineering,” the jury noted that “the first ascent of K6 West and the solo ascent of the Annapurna South Face are, in their own way, representative examples of the state of the art of mountaineering today.”

Furthermore the jury also awarded a special Brotherhood of the Rope mention to Stephane Benoist and Yannick Graziani, who repeated the Steck route. Despite much more difficult conditions and illness high on the mountain, the pair were able to summit and descend safely and in good style. In the words of the jury, Benoist and Graziani demonstrated “that a partnership can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

It seems George Lowe and the jury got it right. I agree with the GHM when they explicitly state that “questions of style and means of ascent take precedence over reaching the objective itself.”

I think comparing the highest achievements in climbing can provide each of us with our own illumination from which to consider how we climb, and by extension, why each of us bothers.

Cobb on the sharp end on the crux of Big Step on the East Ridge of Mount Temple (Brett Wheler)

Like many, I have never believed that the heart and soul of mountaineering is a competitive endeavour, at least not in the classic sense with winners and losers. I certainly don’t believe that you conquer the mountain when you climb it; if you master anything, I believe that you master your self. If there is a test in climbing it’s a test of your mettle, your skill, training, preparation, your willpower–and in many cases, it tests those qualities in your partnership, the brotherhood of your rope team.

The grand accomplishments of Ueli, Raphael, and Ian are a far cry from my weekend expeditions in my home range the Canadian Rockies, but their climbs–along with the others I mentioned–will remain as benchmarks for some of the qualities that I find most appealing in climbing: adventure, skill, self-reliance, determination, fitness, wilderness, fun, discovery.

The late great Alex Lowe had a deceptively simple, very powerful answer to the who’s-the-best-climber question: “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” I’ve always loved that. It deflates self-importance and unnecessary competition and puts the crux of the matter right back on the crux that all of us climbers face, whether we crank 5.13s for breakfast or just manage to make it up the trail to see the flower-burst meadow at the pass or turquoise tarn sparkling beneath the peak.

(Of course, when it comes to alpine climbing and mountaineering, there’s always that sage wisdom from Barry Blanchard, that “it doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun.” But that’s meat for another conversation…)


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