The search and rescue operation in Sipsey Wilderness revealed grim circumstances with the victim down a steep embankment and trapped in icy water. Standing just 5 feet tall and weighing less than a pound, the subject did not possess the physical strength to escape unaided.
If tragedy was to be prevented this day, it was up to me. So, I risked my life and limbs to save my lucky hiking stick.
I call the hiking stick “lucky” not because it has brought me health, wealth and wisdom. It is not a rabbit’s foot or some other token of superstition. It is my lucky hiking stick because it has been by my side through more than two decades of adventures and misadventures.
How we met
I stumbled upon the hiking stick while walking the Borden Creek trail in the previous century. Someone had cut the thick trunk of cane and left it standing in the mud.
Not usually one to carry a hiking stick, I nonetheless retrieved the cane from the creek and used it on the rest of the walk. It has been by my side on every backpacking and hiking trip since.
The cane is lightweight and durable. Although I have never done anything to preserve it, it has never cracked or let me down. It is the friend I can lean on when the path becomes difficult, the support I need to balance over boulder fields, the assurance that I can make it over the next mountain or creek crossing.
The bear scare
During one backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail with my sons, we were cooking oatmeal for breakfast at a primitive shelter when Seth said, “Dad, there’s a bear!”
Just a few dozen yards away, a large black bear was sniffing the air. Then, it started circling us. We stayed in tight formation and tried yelling, but the hungry bear wouldn’t leave.
My lucky walking cane didn’t appear to be much defense against claws and teeth, but I picked it up for reassurance. Then, the solution came to me. I took the stick and started banging it against the tin roof of the shelter.
The sudden racket startled everyone in our party, including the bear, which bolted.
I have also used the stick as a pole to hold up one end of a tarp shelter. I have checked the depth of creeks with it before stepping in. And most importantly, I have propped myself against it when I was too tired to take another step.
Modern hiking sticks, which resemble aluminum ski poles, may have more flash with their spring action, adjustable height and camera mounts. In comparison, my old hiking stick is ugly, just a primitive stalk of bamboo, scarred by years of service.
But it has been a loyal companion, ever by my side. And as I grow older and less stable afoot, my old friend is there to lean on as we hike the South.
My lucky hiking stick and I take a break atop Mount Cammerer.
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