Speaking of hiking techniques for some will seem a little absurd because walking is the first thing you learn as children (even before the word) and then you don’t forget it for life. However, modern civilization has contributed to making travel easier and without obstacles by creating strange forms of homo sedentarius. Especially in the more urbanized places roads, sidewalks, escalators, elevators etc .. save us time and effort but at the same time they make us unused to walking on steep natural terrain or on unstable surfaces.
Have you ever noticed how children living in the mountains generally walk through woods and paths more effectively and easily than children in big cities?
Having said that, entering the specific field of hiking, I am convinced that there is a way and way of walking in a natural environment and that this positively or negatively affects our safety and the overall pleasure of each trip.
Around the mountains, the type of terrain can change very quickly even within a few meters and this is why it is essential to adapt the different walking techniques to the different situations we may encounter along the way.
To explain myself better, I quote three simple examples:
- climb a steep scree without trudging, consuming unnecessary energy
- cross a stream without falling into it
- cross a steep meadow of dry grass exposed on a rock jump without risking capitulation at the bottom.
These are just three examples that certainly do not have the presumption of exhausting all the situations that may arise during a mountain hike but which are useful to make you understand how this aspect should not be underestimated.
And yet … at the same level of training it is certainly different to reach a shelter or an easy top exhausted with your head bent, because you walked badly or haphazardly, to reach the goal in good condition without breath, without hardened muscles and above all without having risked slipping or dangerous balance losses.
Most of the time the fatigue and the consequent loss of lucidity is not only due to poor training but also to a careless technical approach to the gesture of walking and poor energy management during the course of the excursion.
Especially on unstable ground for a better balance, the goal is to place the soles as far as possible with the center of the body within the support base. Maintaining the centrality in every situation is the most important thing!
Perhaps many people do not know this but every year there are many Alpine rescue operations due to the recovery of traumatized hikers due to trivial slips on paths considered easy. Fatigue is the first cause of loss of lucidity. This is why accidents happen more often at the end of the day and during the descents!
Consequently, to keep tiredness away you must focus not only on training but also on the effectiveness of walking and energy management. Effectiveness of the gesture that is even more important as the terrain becomes difficult, unstable or exposed.
I have never liked the definitions very much, but I consider the excursion techniques as the set of theoretical-practical knowledge useful so that the progression during the journey on the path or off the trail on a natural ground takes place with the least expenditure of energy and with the greatest possible safety .
Hiking techniques and various mountain terrains
We distinguish the hiking terrain in stable and unstable terrain uphill or downhill.
Stable land includes:
- hard earth ground
- dry steep meadow
- compact rocky surface
Among the unstable soils we can include:
- fine-gravel screeds – medium – large
- fords with mobile or slimy stones
- muddy ground
- undergrowth with leaves
- Climb on difficult terrain
Even more than on easy terrain, the hiker must seek equilibrium by maintaining the center of gravity within the support base (possible slight bending forward of the trunk to compensate for the weight of the backpack).
The soles are placed as far as possible with the feet slightly diverging. The step must always be adequate for breathing and physical preparation.
As the climb gets steeper, the pace will become shorter. In the absence of a path (eg steep meadow or hard ground) or in the presence of a steep and straight path, it is advisable to break the slope by making short continuous zigzags.
On steep terrain crossing (from right to left or vice versa), especially in the presence of dry / wet grass, gravel or mud, the technique can be effectively adopteddiagonal feet to plate.
In this type of progression, the upstream foot is in the direction of travel while the downstream foot is flat with the point diverging downstream. The torso, bent forward, should be rotated downstream. During loading the entire sole of the foot must adhere to the ground.
Crossover on steep terrain
On very steep or mobile ground (fine or medium gravel), it can be effective to use the crossover step.
This type of step allows to keep the entire sole of the foot in contact with the ground and to have the center of gravity always on the vertical of the foot in support, limiting the possibility of slipping or moving gravel. The crossover step is a side step, in the sense that we proceed with the pelvis rotated sideways with respect to the ascent line.
Descent on difficult terrain
The possibility of slipping is high especially in the presence of wet grassy slopes, mud or foliage.
In this case, even more than for the climb, it is always necessary to maintain a good centrality and the right balance. The body then remains erect, the torso slightly bent forward, the knees half bent. The more the descent becomes steep the more the step will be short. The first point of contact of the descending foot is the heel and then progressively reaching the entire plant.
The classic mistake on steep downhill terrain is to lean too far upstream (very often out of fear) thus increasing the risk of a slip.
Basically there are three ways to proceed downhill:
side with half a step (move the foot downstream, bring the foot upstream to the downstream one)
face upstream on particularly steep terrain
Both in the downhill face technique and in the upstream face, if a small jump is needed, place the hand or hands in the lowest possible position. In this way, visibility will benefit and even finding the best foot support will be easier. Instead, keeping your hands high and relaxing “out of measure” there is less control over your feet and visibility on useful support points will be poor.
The presence of gravel or debris (especially in areas of limestone) can lead to an increase in fatigue during the ascent and vice versa, energy savings in the descent phase (eg the extremely amusing dolomitic scree formed by fine gravel). The instability of the terrain (mobile stones of different sizes that form the scree) leads to exploit the larger debris and the more compact areas of land during the climb while for the descent the eye will have to identify the finer gravel tongues.
In the case of scree formed by large stones both uphill and downhill we will pass from one stone to another, taking care that the stones are well stable (possibly trying them first with the tip of the foot), working a lot with the ankle joint in order to to make the most of the adherence of the sole of the shoe.
For these hiking techniques to be assimilated to the best, time and exercise are needed and a desire to question oneself. The advice is to use every exit to put you to the test with an increasingly conscious walk.
That of hiking techniques is an aspect that I consider to be very important in my job as Accompanying M. Montagna and I always enjoy communicating to the people I accompany my knowledge about it. During the excursions that I organize I am always available to show the participants the correct techniques to walk more effectively and safely on rough terrain.
In this short article I tried to summarize some hiking techniques on inaccessible terrain.