Downhill And Sidehill

Walking downhill is less tiring than walking uphill, but it's a mixed blessing. Going down a trail, body weight drops roughly and abruptly on legs and feet. Toes are jammed forward. Jolts travel up the spine to jar the entire body. The result can be blisters and knee cartilage damage, sore toes and blackened nails, headaches, and back pain.

Hikers use a few tricks to ease their way downhill. Tighten laces to reduce movement inside the boot (and keep your toenails trimmed). Maintain a measured pace that is slower than the one urged by gravity. Bend your knees to cushion the shock with each step, and place your feet lightly, as if they were already sore. This restraint will tire your upper leg muscles, and you'll learn that rests going down a trail are just as essential as on the way up.

The ups and downs of hiking are far preferable to the torments of side-hilling (traversing). Walking across a side hill twists the ankles, contorts the hips, and destroys balance. If you can abandon a side hill in order to drop down into a brush-free valley or go up onto a rounded ridge, do it. It's worth going the extra distance. If you're stuck with side-hilling, switchback now and then to shift the strain. Work into your route any flat spots of relief provided by rocks, animal trails, and clumps of grass or heather.

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