Why Hiking at 50+ Is Da Bomb!

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How do you hike mountain passes, rack up trail miles like they’re going out of business, and climb peaks that’d give a yeti cause for pause on 50+ year old feet? Knees? Hips? Lungs? How do you enjoy hiking as a 50-pluser*?

You might be surprised at how often I get these and similar questions. Usually from young whipper snappers (anyone under age 45).  Cuz Old Iron Knees and I hike every chance we get. (If you’ve been reading this blog for long – like 20 minutes or so – you’ve probably already figured that out). We’re both within spitting distance of “the big 6-0.” Well, okay. One of us who shall remain nameless has already passed that milestone.

Made it! Faraway Rock @ Mazama Ridge Trail, Mount Rainier National Park.

So I’m going to let you in a little “50+ hiking” secret. In a minute. First, some background:

My Whole Life

I’ve been hiking all my life. Since before I could walk. Literally. When Dad was a seasonal park service ranger at Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park in the early 1960s, I used to “hike” in a sling or riding on his shoulders as a one, two, and three year-old. This was before baby backpacks and other such modern doo-dads. (Aka: when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) I hiked as a four, five and six year-old when Dad transferred to Mount Rainier National Park in the late 1960s.

Me and my big bro. Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park. 1964.

And. Never. Stopped.

In fact, I’ve been active pretty much my whole life, on the trail or in sports. Competed on track and tennis teams. Played everything from volleyball to softball to the worst bank shot ever witnessed on a basketball court. I even roller- and ice-skated until the rollers and blades proved smarter than me. (Long, boring story involving trips to the E.R. and  plaster casts.)

I took up power walking in the 1980s and now put in at least three or four miles a day with Wonder Dog.

So, hiking within spitting distance of age sixty? Piece of cake. As in, Newton’s first law of motion is true. So is his second. That’s key.

You can certainly take up hiking for the first time at 50+. Or more. But as Newton noted, it’s easier to “stay in motion” if you’re “in motion” (on the trail) in the first place. Read: Start hiking young and never quit. Or, start slow and build.

Sure, Old Iron Knees and I may be a bit creakier than we were 20 or 30 years ago. Or last week. We may also be a bit slower. It might take us a little longer to bounce back after a strenuous, multi-mile trail day than your average whipper-snapper. But as my old boss used to say:

Age and treachery trump youth and inexperience every day of the week. Twice on Sunday.

‘Allergic Reactions’

“I just can’t hike” you say. “It’s not my thing.”  Or “I don’t have time.” “It’s too physically demanding. I’m allergic to sweating. I’ve got a bum knee… ankle… hip… back…” Fill in the blank.

I hear this from time to time from the Geritol crowd. Frankly, it makes as much sense to me as quantum physics. Or ice skating. (Let’s not go there.) But I get it. Hiking’s not everyone’s cup of Evian. Fine.

Dispelling Myths

But can we dispel a few myths and misnomers regarding 50+ hiking?

First off, you do not need to be part yeti or a close relation to Sir Edmund Hillary to hike. (It doesn’t hurt. But it’s not mandatory.) Anyone can hike, regardless of age or ability. Again, the key is to start slow and small. Build from there. (See my post on Is It a Hike or a Walk?)

Second, hiking is highly flexible and individual. There are tons of trail options out there for every ability and time frame! As previously noted, you can tailor hiking to your abilities and interests. No one suddenly bolted out of bed one morning and made it halfway up Mount Everest by lunchtime. Unless they’re part yeti.

Anyway, it’s okay to start slow, within your comfort level. Try a walk on the beach or around the block. Increase your mileage when you’re ready. It’s that simple.

Hiking at Big Bear, CA. 1987.

Basically, if you can walk, you can hike.

So think of hiking as “walking with attitude.” In the Great Outdoors. Under achingly blue skies and cyan serenity. Sucking in conifer-crisped air. Surrounded by twittering wrens and forest creatures. Rushing rivers. Thundering waterfalls. Meadows marinated in wildflowers….

Are we there yet?

Besides. Hiking at 50+ is Da Bomb. Benefits may include, but are not limited to:

  • Not hiking hurried
  • Taking it slow and enjoying the adventure
  • Moving at our own pace
  • There’s no “keep up with the Joneses” pressure. Nobody cares. (Besides. They may be trying to keep up with you!)
  • Every time you feel like “trail running,” you can lie down until the feeling goes away
  • Flexible calendars. If you’re retired, you don’t have to rush back to the job; you can take your time and extend your stay if you want to.
  • The view from the top is really, really awesome considering how hard you worked to get there. (Probably alot harder than your average whipper snapper. So congratulate yourself.)
  • Everything tastes better out on the trail.
  • No pretentiousness. On the trail, nobody cares how uber cute you look. Whether or not you’ve got the latest trail gear or techno gadget. The squirrels and chipmunks don’t care about your latest iPhone upgrade or status update. So relax.

Newsflash: Hiking at 50+ is pretty much the same as hiking as a young whipper snapper. Maybe a little more deliberate. Like:

  • Be prepared and carry the 10 Essentials
  • Plan ahead and always check the weather
  • Be realistic about your physical limitations
  • Listen to your body rather than your ego or the young whipper snapper up ahead
  • Enjoy the adventure on your terms. After all, that’s why you’re on the trail
  • Bring Advil and Tiger Balm. Nobody’s perfect.

For more, see my post on How to Hike Safe and Sane.

Just sayin’.

The point is: Hiking at 50+ is Da Bomb like hiking at any age is Da Bomb. Only smarter.

So when it comes to 50+ hiking, relax. If hiking is truly not your cup of quantum physics, I’m not going to try to guilt, goad, persuade, cajole, demand, or otherwise hornswoggle you into doing something you really, really don’t want to do. Just don’t use “I’m too old” as an excuse. With a little common sense, training, and grit, you got this.

Now go hit the trails. Last one back to the car is a rotten quantum physic-ian!

Where do you plan to hike next?

  • To the yahoos on my Instagram who keep DMing me with sage remarks like “I don’t understand how you’re over 50”: It’s easy. It comes after 49. Try to keep up.

Except for bears image credit.

MLK quote image credit.