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Severe upper thigh cramps climbing down fire towers

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  • Severe upper thigh cramps climbing down fire towers

    I have had a problem that when climbing down fire towers I get severe leg cramps . I am fine going up the towers , but get the cramps coming down. They are very painfull and take a few days to recover. I have no problem hiking downhill just firetowers. Very weird . Any suggestions ?

    Thank you,


  • #2
    When I get leg cramps it is usually because I have not hydrated enough. My initial thought is that you have not hydrated going up the mountain and it just takes that long for it to catch up with your body. I found if I drink a bottle of Gatorade before hiking, it helps. They are indeed quite painful. Maybe someone in the medical profession on here will shed some insight and offer suggestions.


    • #3
      How much are you eating/drinking on your way up the mountain? I agree with Moo that this sounds like a hydration issue that requires more than water. Once you are up the tower, you stop, look around and then come back down. Those minutes allow the lactic acid in your legs to do its magic. I'm sure Neil will have something to say on the issue...he reads a lot about hydration and nutrition.
      #8335W, Solo 46W
      NE 111 113/115

      One list may be done, but the journey is far from over...
      Half Dome, 2009


      • #4
        So back down. End of crisis. :-)
        I might be kidding...


        • #5
          Originally posted by jes99786 View Post
          I have no problem hiking downhill just firetowers.
          Do you experience anything like that walking down long flights of stairs in buildings? If there is an office building near you, try walking down 6 or 8 flights as a test. Could be nutrition or hydration; could be the exposure; you may be involuntarily tightening some muscle groups as a result of the "airy" exposure on a tower, which you might not do in an office stairwell.


          • #6
            jes99786 I agree with everyone else that this is most likely a hydration issue, and I suspect HPHikingMoo nailed it. Its important to remember that without IV assistance it takes the better part of a full day to truly hydrate your body, not the old "when your pee turns clear..." You should start sucking down those fluids the day/night before the hike, not waiting until you get thirsty on the trail or on the drive to the HP's. If you're already properly hydrating and eating the right foods before your hike and you're still getting the legs cramps, try including tonic water in your pre-hike eve routine. It contains something called quinine, which docs frequently prescribe to older folks to prevent night time leg cramps. It can help with cramps while hiking as well.

            Edit: Using tonic water to alleviate cramps is a preventative measure. I wouldn't rely on it for instant relief.
            My mind was wandering like the wild geese in the west.


            • #7
              If you know you get thigh cramps each and every time you descend fire-tower stairs, you're in a good position to carry out an experiment. When you experience muscle cramps, take a swig of pickle juice. I kid you not. See here:

              I've never tried it (I don't get muscle cramps) but, based on a study, the vinegar in the pickle juice seems to be the active component that quickly alleviates cramping. Try it and see if it works for you (even if it's just the placebo effect).
              Looking for Views!


              • FlyFishingandBeer
                FlyFishingandBeer commented
                Editing a comment
                Yeah this works for most people, as does yellow mustard (I always hike with a couple little packets of it). Kind of a funky little quick fix, but if it gets you back to the trail head safely, then its not weird at all.

              • Trail Boss
                Trail Boss commented
                Editing a comment
                Yellow mustard? Pffft! That's crazy talk!


            • #8
              He only has problems walking down the fire towers. "I have no problem hiking downhill just firetowers."

              I might suggest that the problem is that you're tensing up as you descend the towers for fear you might fall down the stairs. I really don't know if there could be a psychosomatic cause for your cramping but I will agree it's odd that it only happens to you on the fire towers. My odd thing is that I forget to breath while climbing ladders. Probably out of fear of falling. Maybe something similar is causing you to cramp on fire tower staircases.


              • #9
                Thanks everyone for the suggestions. It probably is hydration related and will try some of the suggestions. I haven't experimented climbing stairs in an office building.


                • #10
                  I might offer that hiking up or down a fire tower staircase is a more consistent motion as compared to hiking on a trail (both up and downhill). When on trail I always feel that almost every step is different - a little up, a little more left or right, a bit of a steep step up, a small leap to a rock etc, etc, etc. This variety is always using different muscle fibres and requires constant adjustment. Walking up and down staircases, every step is essentially exactly the same and stresses the same muscle fibers with each step. Perhaps this sudden shift to a very consistent pattern after a long period of exercise and perhaps couple that with some dehydration exposes weaknesses that lead to cramping?


                  • ADKJack
                    ADKJack commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Geez, what would you know about going up or down or replacing fire tower stairs

                  • Kenmore
                    Kenmore commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Not a thing...

                • #11
                  Comparing firetowers to building stairs might be a good place to start. I haven't been up that many towers, but I know the ones on Mt Arab and Bristol in particular have quite awkwardly proportioned steps that require a different motion than normal stairs.

                  If you work or live in a high- or mid-rise building, try taking the elevator up to the top and walking down as many flights as you can (preferably on a Monday, so you're recovered in time for the weekend's hike!) and see if the same symptoms?
                  ADK 46*/46 CATS 5/35 FT 4/28 Saranac 0/6 Bristol 6/6


                  • #12
                    Originally posted by maphiker
                    ... Pickle juice is a miracle! It is being studied! See:
                    Do! You! Work! For! Yahoo! ?!

                    Nothing to get overly excited about. In the Pickle Juice thread, I linked to a NY Times article which links to ... the same study! Whoa! What are the odds ... unless of course there weren't many done (just the one and in 2010).

                    I'm happy to hear pickle juice works for you. Now you can try vinegar. The study discovered the subjects responded even faster after ingesting vinegar. Perhaps little packets of vinegar can now be re-branded as anti-cramping "Gu" and sold for 100 times the price of store-bought vinegar.
                    Looking for Views!


                    • #13
                      TB, do you think balsamic vinegar works the same as 'regular' vinegar? Who doesn't love a good balsamic?

                      My two cents: For me, cramping is due to conditioning. (Nothing to do with eating/drinking.) If the same is true for you, I would guess that the regular, straight stairs are stressing a muscle that the natural, non-straight trail doesn't.

                      When I was injured this summer, I could hike 16+ miles, but could barely make it two blocks in town. True story.
                      ADK 46/46W + MacNaughton, Grid 238/552
                      Photos & Stuff


                      • #14
                        If it hurts going down, don't go down. Just go up.


                        • #15
                          I may have a solution for you.
                          Have you tried decending firetower stairs backward?