Thinking about…hiking sticks on the Appalachian Trail


“You wouldn’t part an old man from his walking stick?” – Gandalf, “The Two Towers”

I’ve always been a “tripod” ever since I was a kid hiking the woods behind my suburban house.  I would quickly pick up a downed length of basswood or cedar and adopt it as my hiking stick and off into the trees I’d go.  It wasn’t long before I felt unable to venture into the woods for a hike without having one.  That is still so today.

Hiking Stick Grips

Hiking Stick Grips (Photo credit: Randy Cox)

Somewhere at a roadside stand along the Blue Ridge Parkway about 1978 I found a walnut hiking staff carved by a local man vending summer tomatoes, corn, and mountain sourwood honey.  I think I paid ten dollars for it.  That hiking stick kept me stable during my trips into Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge, Shining Rock Wilderness, and eventually along my entire Appalachian Trail hike during the years from 1985 to 1988.  Sadly, the reliable length of wood splintered at a shelter on the Long Trail in Vermont.  Sentimental as I am, I still keep the two pieces of it inside a hall closet.  I have given up my old Vasque hiking boots, but I can’t part with that staff.

I carried a staff mainly for stability.  I cannot recall how many times it kept me upright when gravity would have had me horizontal.  There’s more than one instance when I know it literally saved me from sliding into a rushing torrent.  I would have drowned had I not had that staff to lodge into some rhododendron thicket to arrest myself.  Poking and prodding down the trails with it, I beat the ground to warn any rattlesnakes which might be sunning themselves to move along.  I used it to prop up my pack to make a backrest.  I have used it to fashion a tent with a tarp.  I have found a hiking stick indispensable for my sense of security.  And, yes, it’s added to my sense of adventure while on the trail.  Something compelling and magical always happens when I pick it up; either a new adventure is about to begin or resume, and taking the staff in hand is an inaugural movement which signals the beginning of something special.

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