Sedona Westerners in the Red Rock News

March 9, 2012

Westerners Seek Sensational and Safe Hiking


by Charlie Schudson

Sedona hiking is sensational, but it can be dangerous. Red rock terrain, dry air, and surprisingly sudden darkness present special challenges, particularly to tourists unfamiliar with southwestern conditions. With years of experience, leaders of the Westerners follow safe hiking practices, available to all.

Every hiker’s preparation should start with a realistic self-assessment of ability and physical condition, experience, endurance, and equipment, followed by a prudent selection of an appropriate trail. All Westerners hikes, therefore, are rated by degree of difficulty with distances, elevations, and other factors published at

If our hiking knees could speak, they might say ‘Be good to us?’. Illustration by Karen Schudson.

Days in advance of each hike, Westerners hike leaders scout each trail for new conditions such as fallen trees, high water, or ice accumulation that could compromise safety. And when Westerners assemble for each hike, the leaders review safety rules and confirm that all hikers will wear lug-sole boots and carry sufficient food and water.

Most Westerners use hiking poles for balance and stability. Poles, especially those with shock absorbers, reduce pressure on the knees and back, while increasing upper-body exercise and blood flow for the hands. Poles also can help hikers clear cat’s claw and other obstacles; in an emergency, they can become splints, tent poles, or a last line of defense.

Unfortunately, many hikers, even experienced ones, fail to use poles properly. Here are some of the basics.

Handle straps: Put your hand through the strap from the bottom up, then lower your hand onto the strap and handle. Anchoring your wrist and the base of your thumb into the strap will increase comfort and support.

Hand position: Adjust for conditions and personal comfort. While almost always gripping the handle from within the strap, occasionally you may choose to withdraw your hand in order to choke up the pole for a short, steep incline, without adjusting the pole length.

Length adjustment: For most easy and moderate trails, you need not adjust. Just set the length to position your forearms at a 90-degree angle from your body. That will work for your entire hike because, for steeper terrain, up or down, you can stay within the strap and simply move your hand down the handle or up and even over the top for inches of variation.

Steep terrain: Hiking steep terrain with poles too long or too short substantially increases the risk of falling. Substantially adjust your poles – the steeper the up, the shorter the pole; the steeper the down, the longer the pole. (For a free emailed guide for pole adjustment and repair, contact the author:

One pole or two: While some hikers prefer the convenience of carrying only one, two poles enhance comfort and safety. One-pole hikers may be asked, “Which knee don’t you love?”

Tips down: Protect the hiker behind you. When just holding poles or carrying them in your pack, do so with tips down.

Rubber tips: Remove them. They are only for pavement, indoor use, inline skating, and luggage transport, and are required at some monuments and ruins. A pole’s metal tips provide the best grip on trails, rocks, snow and ice.

Long hikes – “change everything”: With poles, backpacks and boots in the same positions for many hours, pressure builds on all the same muscles. But as you hike, feet expand, muscles tire, water weight decreases. So, throughout a long hike, make minor adjustments to pole and backpack positions. And give those puppies a break – every few hours, take off shoes and socks, let the fresh air or stream refresh, then re-sock and re-lace.

All hikers must use caution and determine their own best practices for comfort and safety. As Westerners learn, with realistic self-assessment, preparation and experience, Sedona hiking is sensational … and safe.

The Westerners always welcome new members. If you are interested in joining the club, log onto our website,, for membership information. You may also join at one of our monthly meetings. Our next one will be on Thursday, March 8, beginning at 7p.m. at the Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, 100 Meadowlark Drive, Sedona.