It is a common notion that people should slow down as they age. The spirit of the explorer seems to get watered down as you grow older. However, if you are over 50, you don’t need to get boxed into the typical stereotypes. The benefits to your health and quality of life far outweigh the hazards of hiking.
Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing slower. There several ways to keep your blood pumping beyond the half-century mark. Hiking can be mastered by people of all ages whether you are a seasoned hiker or a beginner. Also, even if you have never climbed up more than a few flights of stairs, there are many ways to enjoy mountain climbing.
The Value of Preparation
The primary aspect of any major endeavor is preparation. Abraham Lincoln, one of the most iconic presidents of America was known to be a master strategist. One of Lincoln’s famous quotes says “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. In simple terms, you need to spend twice as much time preparing for a task than actually doing it.
Hiking can be a brutal experience if you are not well prepared. In this section, we discuss 10 things you can do before hiking so that you can enjoy the experience.
1. Choose Your Challenge Wisely
Your first hiking task is to choose the mountain you want to hike. You need to do this right at the beginning, in the idea phase. Every mountain is unique from the location, gradient, height, terrain and more.
The mountain you choose will determine the type of preparation you need. For some mountains, you may need more endurance training. Yet other mountains may need you to focus on building strength and rock climbing skills.
You should also consider how seasons affect the mountains when making your choice. Some mountains are off-limits during winter while others can be climbed all year round. Also, you can use hiking as an excuse to visit new countries.
Choosing a mountain is the first step to conquering it. You can print out a clear image of the mountain and place it by your mirror. Look at it every day when you wake up and before going to bed. See yourself at the summit of the mountain with a smile on your face. Your first line of victory is in your mind.
In 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man to run a mile under 4 minutes. He did it against all the calculations and theories of the doctors and scientists of his time. Roger described imagining and dreaming about breaking the 4 minute barrier years before he did it. In Roger’s words, “Day and night I would see the same picture in my head: me running, passing the finish line, picking up my head to look at the clock and seeing 3:59 minutes.”
Like Roger and the 4-minute mile, you must first conquer the mountain with your mind before you can do it with your body. Choosing a mountain can help you to focus your efforts and preparation on a singular target.
2. Research Hiking for over 50s
Take time to gather knowledge about hiking. This will help you learn about the skills and equipment you need. You can do this by reading books, online publications and talking to other climbers. Pay special attention to climbers over 50 years old.
Before you ‘walk the walk’ you need to ‘talk the talk’. By learning the ins and outs of hiking, you are developing the hiker in you. Your mind will grasp the concept and plausibility of hiking at your age.
Educating yourself about hiking can reduce the risk of giving up in the early stages of your training. If you can resolve in your mind and heart to keep going, no amount of pain or obstacles can deter you.
3. Seek Medical Advice
It would be ignorant for someone over 50 to climb a mountain without consulting a doctor. You should go in for a general check-up before you begin training. It is also advisable to continue with routine checks during your training.
The doctor can guide you on the type of training regime that will suit you. He can also highlight things you should be careful about. By checking your blood pressure, sugar levels and body systems, your doctor can teach you how to handle various challenges. Your doctor can also prescribe nutrient supplements if he notices any deficiencies in your diet.
It is advisable to see your doctor before training starts. This is because you may not be fit for the task just yet. You doctor may find fatal underlying conditions that need to be addressed before you can face a mountain. With the right care, you may still be able to hike at a later date.
Image by Senior Citizen Travel
4. Find a Team That Suits You
Most mountains have an established network of guides to get you to the top. In many cases, it is more economical for the guides to take people up in groups. You can contact the guide networks to join a group that is planning to climb the mountain you chose. You can also join hiking clubs or societies so that you can prepare and climb together.
There is a famous African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. Mountain climbing is not a sprint but a marathon. In your research, you may find people who go up and down mountains in record speed. This is not your path. If you are over 50 you are better off focusing on endurance rather than speed. With that in mind, here are a few reasons why it is better to tackle a mountain with a team.
- There is safety in numbers
- You can make new friends
- You can take turns carrying heavy equipment
- Team spirit discourages dropping out
- You can enjoy group discounts
5. Train Hard, Fight Easy
The phrase, ‘train hard, fight easy’, was coined in the mid-1700s by Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov, a Russian Military leader. The phrase simply means that the harder you prepare, the easier the battle will be. If you adopt this mantra in your training, you can enjoy every moment as you hike up the mountain. It is not to say that the hike will be easy but that you will be able to make the most of it.
Marathon training can create the foundation to build your endurance. The previous point aptly likened a mountain climb to a marathon. Like marathon runners, hikers need endurance and intelligence. Knowing when to reserve strength and when to push forward is a skill you can master on the training ground.
When hiking mountains you may need to cover several kilometers in a day. This can involve going up a slope with a bag of equipment on your back. Marathon training gives you the thigh strength and lung capacity to handle the long distances and pressure.
6. Underwater Swimming
Above 50, it is best to hike at a regular to slow pace. This is not only to reduce the strain on your muscles but also to help you acclimatize to changes in altitude. One of the most common challenges hikers face is altitude or mountain sickness. At high altitudes, the air pressure is lower thus your body does not get as much oxygen per breath as it is accustomed to.
Underwater swimming can help to increase your lung capacity. Your swimming training can be focused on improving your breath control. You don’t need to train hard though because the muscle structure you need for swimming is different from hiking. Relaxed swimming and breathing exercises will suffice. The underwater swimming training is solely for improving your cognitive ability in an oxygen-deprived environment.
Alternating your hard outdoor training with swimming sessions can break the monotony of jogging and climbing. It can also refresh your body, help you relax and prevent you from burning out before you reach the foot of the mountain.
7. Learn Basic Survival Skills
Survival skills may not seem useful in the city where everything is a phone call away, from the paramedics to a fresh pizza. However, in the great outdoors, survival skills are gold. As you plan to embark on a hiking expedition, start by learning some survival skills.
You cannot rule out the possibility of getting lost or separated from your group. Your chances of being found rise significantly if you are familiar with the basic survival skills.
Knowing that you can take care of yourself for a few days alone on the mountain can build your confidence and let you enjoy the expedition more. You will not be fearfully depending on your guides. Also, your versatile skills may score extra points with your team. Here are a few essential survival skills you can learn.
- Basic first aid including treating snake bites and fractures
- How to find water on a mountain
- How to avoid hypothermia
- How to build an emergency shelter
- How to find food
- Lighting a fire with and without a match
- How to handle wild animals
- How to identify poisonous plants and insects
8. Go Camping
Hiking takes time. Sometimes bad weather can pin you down and force you to spend an extra day or two on the slopes. When you are above 50, you will need to travel slower and take more frequent stops than 20-year-olds. Going camping can get you used to spend several days in the wild.
Camping also gives you a chance to try out some of your survival skills in a controlled environment. It’s one thing to learn how to light a fire and another to keep it from burning down the forest. If you can’t survive a camping trip on flat ground, then hiking might not be for you.
9. Make a Journal
If you are new to hiking, it would be valuable to document the journey. From the first step of choosing your mountain to the time you reach the summit. A step by step journal can give you a reason to pay closer attention to the details every step of the way. If you don’t document your journey, you may miss or forget many significant memories. Making a journal is like creating a gift for your future self. Photos may only tell one side of the story; however, a journal can be read by your grandchildren for years to come.
10. Learn When to Walk Away
As a hiker over 50, you need to be aware of your limitations. As you train, you are not only working to improve your abilities but also trying to find your limit.
In training, you should push hard so that you can know what it feels like when you are at the end of your line. By mastering and understanding this feeling, you will recognize if it shows up on the mountain. Guides take hikers through a series of safe zones along the way and can work with your pace and give you more rest time when necessary.
However, in some cases, the best move is to descend the mountain and try again when you are better. In its first stages of altitude sickness is defined as Acute Mountain Sickness. It can typically be treated by resting for a day at a mountain post. However, if your symptoms approach the Chronic Mountain Sickness stage, you must descend and seek professional assistance. Persistence to scale the mountain with a deteriorated health condition can result in a fatality.
There are many ways to enjoy a mountain that we have not covered here. However, lessons like learning how to take a selfie without falling over may need practical demonstrations. All-in-all, the main take away is that you need to put your safety first. It is difficult to enjoy the mountain when you don’t have faith in your safety.
Your confidence to let loose and enjoy is built on the back of your training and the team you work with. Identifying a reliable team to train and climb with is just as important as developing your skills. Making friends with your teammates and guides can make any journey worthwhile. After you conquer one mountain you may find it is addictive and begin the hunt for another adventure.