1st August 2020    |    Poles    |    Paul Foster

Harrier gave us a set of their new Helvellyn Carbon Z poles to try out, so we headed for the steep hills of Borrowdale in the Lake District...

I'd never used running poles until 2018.  After getting enough qualifying points from a number of long ultra distance races I'd been very lucky to get a place in the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) in the January ballot draw and with poles being used by the majority of runners I thought it was time to invest in a set.

My mate Al who works for Cotswold Outdoors sorted me out with a set of Leki poles and I started training with them on the steepest hills I could find in the Scottish Borders also heading to the Lake District fells or the Cheviots of Northumberland every chance I got.

One of my final long training runs for the UTMB was a 40 mile run over the first two legs of the Bob Graham Round, then back to Keswick via the Borrowdale fells, which had around 13,000 feet of ups and downs.  I used the running poles and ran the first two legs of the Bob Graham faster than I'd ever covered them previously.  Even faster than on my round in 2017.

It was then that I realised that over steep terrain or long distances poles really can make a difference.

 
Harrier Trail Running
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Harrier is a relatively new company offering lots of trail running kit for all levels of runner, so whether you're a seasoned ultra runner or just getting started they'll be able to help you out.

Harrier's ethos is that good quality kit doesn't have to cost a lot, so all their kit is very reasonably priced.

Kate Mackenzie founded and runs Harrier and she very kindly sent me a set of their Helvellyn carbon poles to try out.  The poles come in their own storage bag to keep them clean and protect them while they're not being used and also come with various removeable tips for different terrains.

 

To The Lake District...
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The weather forecast was looking good and I hadn't been to the Lake District for months due to the COVID-19 lockdown, so I thought it was the perfect place and opportunity to give the poles a good try out.

I got up at 4:00am and was on the road to Keswick by 5:00am.  I'd decided to loosely follow the Borrowdale Fell Race route as I hadn't tried it before and it'd be a good chance to practice my map and compass skills while also giving me lots of steep hills to test the poles on and I could bag a few Wainwrights along the way.  When I got to Keswick I drove down the Borrowdale valley past Derwent Water arriving in Rosthwaite village around 7:00am.

I'd got most of my stuff together the previous evening, so once I'd paid my £3 to park at the village hall I put my race vest on, checked my map and I was off.

Like most running kit running and walking poles come in many variations of material and type - some poles are wooden or plastic, some are fixed (one solid piece per pole) or foldable.  Harriers' poles are made from carbon, which is very strong, but also very light and the poles are collapsible, so they break down into 3 sections joined by a tough plastic coated cable, which makes them a great size for carrying while not being used, so I had mine safely tucked away in the rear pocket of my running vest while I covered the flatter miles at the start of the route.

Bessy Boot to Scafell Pike...
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The first fell of the day was Bessy Boot, which I ascended via Dry Gill.  As soon as the terrain started to steepen I broke out the poles.  A downward slide of the pole section near the handle and the pole quickly snaps together.  I repeated this with the other pole, adjusted the height of both to the shortest length as the ground was steep, slipped my hands through the wrist straps and continued on my way up.  The poles had the rubber stops on the end, which were slipping slightly on the stoney and rocky terrain I was on, so I removed them choosing to use the metal spikes instead, which I found to hold more firmly.

After Bessy Boot I decided to go a little bit off-piste and head to Glaramara, which I hadn' t been up previously.  The terrain on the way was a mix of grass and stones and rock and I used the poles to run and hike as fast as I was able to in the rising temperatures, but as I reached the base of Galamara the ground turned boggy and I was able to use the poles to steady myself and check the depth of the bogs.

It was back to rock at the top of Glaramara and I wasn't sure which of the two cairns marked the true top, so visited both, then i was off towards Allen Crags.  It was a scorching hot day with temperatures in the high 20s (possibly even into the 30s) and I stopped at any mountain streams I came across to top up my water and splash cold water over myself in an attempt to stay cool.  I was finding it hard to run in the heat, but with the poles I was able to keep moving at a decent pace over most of the varying terrain I came up against.

After Allen Crags I made my way up past the stone cross to the boulder fields of the Scafell Massif.  Luckily the boulders were completely dry, which makes them a little easier to traverse, but you still have to be careful and I found the poles with their metal spikes a massive help here.  I gradually made my way towards Scafell Pike, which was as busy as usual.  I stopped for a sandwich here and due to the heat I decided that I was going to call it a day, but I still had a long way back to Rosthwaite.

Again the poles helped me across the massive boulders back towards Broad Crag and Great End and eventually I reached the stone cross at Allen Crags where I decided to head down towards Sprinkling Tarn.  There is a distinct path here, but it's made out of stones and rocks, so I kept the poles out using them to steady myself and it wasn't until I reached the flatter ground approaching Seatoller that I pressed the quick release button on each pole and broke them back down into sections and placed them back in my running pack.

SUMMARY
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PROS

  • Great Value - Under £70 with free shipping!
  • Ultra light weight - just 209g each (223g for long size poles)
  • Very strong carbon design
  • Easy to store when folded down

CONS

  • Although very comfortable the fleece lined hand straps made me a bit hot and sweaty (but i'm mainly putting this down to the heat of the day)

SUMMARY

The Harrier Helvellyn poles are a great product and excellent value for money. Due to the weight, strength and ease of putting them up and down I would have been happy using these at UTMB or on any long distance race or challenge, so i'd highly recommend these poles to all runners.

For more information about the poles and other Harrier products visit the Harrier website

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Tags

Borrowdale Harrier Poles Helvellyn Lake District Rosthwaite Bessy Boot Scafell Pike Glaramara