20 Hard Years And Counting For Simon’s LEKI Poles

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20 Hard Years And Counting For Simon’s LEKI Poles

Simon and LEKI poles on Ben Nevis

Whilst the sustainability spotlight tends to be focused on apparel, performance outdoor equipment is being recognised for durability as well as for production processes.

Simon Willis, former BBC correspondent and seasoned cameraman, first picked up his LEKI poles in 2002. He and his girlfriend had hitchhiked into a resupply town somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains whilst walking the 2,658-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada. His first pair of walking poles couldn’t handle the rough terrain – a mix of desert and mountain ranges.

Now, 20 years later, his LEKI Makalu poles are still being used. Most recently, on An Cliseam on the Isle of Harris. They can often be found neatly tucked under his arm or in his backpack as the camera rolls.

Simon said, “In the early 1980s, I had seen a mountain guide using telescopic ski mountaineering poles on the Aonach Eagach ridge above Glen Coe and thought ‘now that’s a smart idea’. Lacking specialist trekking poles at the time, I took similar ski poles with me on my first Himalayan journey and have used poles on most of my mountain walks since. I’ve endured the ‘where are your skis?’ jibe many times – early adopters will remember well!”

Simon continued, “My poles have not had an easy life. I bought them in California back in 2002 after the poles I’d bought for the journey died early on. Even then, fewer than half our fellow PCT hikers had used poles. But for us, they were more than a walking aid.

“Instead of a tent, we’d been allowed to try a uniquely designed tarp, home-made by Henry Shires, that relied on a trekking pole to keep it upright. The extended pole gave extra internal height, but in bad weather, the pole could be lowered along with the shelter to hunker close to the ground. It was one of the early designs of what would become TarpTent.

In Oregon on the PCT in 2002

“If my poles assumed early retirement after their PCT endurance they’d be mistaken. I worked as a shooting producer for outdoor activity-based television programmes, in particular The Adventure Show on BBC 2 Scotland. Whether climbing high on Beinn Eighe to film Celtman runners or walking with Cameron McNeish to record one of his popular Wild Walks, the poles have always been with me.

“With a TV camera in my rucksack, a metal tripod strapped to the outside, plus the full mountain kit I’d need in such places, my load was considerable. Solid, dependable poles were essential. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’d taken me and my kit up and down Ben Nevis. Last year we climbed Ben Hope together starting at 2 am to reach the summit in time to film the culmination of Donnie Campbell’s record-breaking, self-propelled Munro round.”

LEKI’s Makalu poles have changed since they first came to market in 1974. The new Makalu Lite pole has a lightweight foam Aergon grip that incorporates an 8-degree positive angle to keep the wrist in a neutral position and a large head for comfortable gripping options. The new Skin Strap adjusts in the same way as Simon’s Makalu poles and is quick-drying, comfortable and very lightweight.

In 2002, the Makalu poles would have used the LEKI Classic Locking System – the sections twist to lock. Today, they use SpeedLock 2+ which features quick-release levers. Makalu poles use the Carbide Flextip, allowing a 15-degree flex and excellent grip, even on icy terrain.

Images: © Simon Willis

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