Since several of my readers remarked on how those of us hiking in canyons all had sticks, I thought maybe it was time to introduce you to my favorite hiking stick.
I’m the guy in the photograph to the left at the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. This was a few years ago when I still had hair. With me is my favorite hiking staff and have just completed the trail. The stick leaning against my shoulder had traveled almost the entire route. I had set out the AT several years earlier. After my first hike, I decided I needed a good stick. In a swamp on the north side of the Cape Fear River, I cut several possible young trees. These I skinned, then hung so that they would dry. After a few months, I choose an eastern holly to be my staff. It was strong and lightweight. Over the next 2100 miles, the stick and I traveled together. And in this period it probably lost 5 or 6 inches off its bottom as it wore down from constantly striking rocks. Over a period of three years, I hiked the southern 800 or so miles of the trail, from Springer Mountain, Georgia to the beginning of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Then, after going to grad school, I took a summer off and hiked from Virginia to where the trail ends, on the summit of Mt. Katadhin in Maine. After being on the trail for nearly three months, I’d lost all my excess fat and was as lean as I’ll ever be despite my diet that included 4 pounds of M&Ms every 10 days.
I was living in Virginia City, Nevada two years later. One Saturday in late fall I hiked across the Virginia Range. At a break, I left my stick. By then the stick had probably covered more than 2500 miles of trail along the Appalachian Trail as well as in Idaho and Nevada. I didn't realize I had left my staff until an hour or so later and it was too late to go back as darkness was descending and I still had a few miles and a long climb and descent before getting back into town. I planned to retrace my steps the next weekend in the hopes of finding the stick, but it snowed that week. The mountains were never completely snow free until late spring. Although I made other trips across the mountain that spring and summer, I never found my stick. Today, the stick that held me up, defended me from bad dogs, encouraged snakes to get off the trail, and was available to slay dragons and part the sea had the need arose, is recalled only in my mind and in pictures.
And yes, I am making a toast at a celebration on Katadhin. Three of us finished the trail that day. My sierra cup contains Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch. The other two hikers also had refreshments—one a bottle of champagne, the other a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Crème.