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Old and Scary?

Recently I have reviewed some trips and routes I readily followed when I was younger say under 40. Now at 63 I am much less willing to paddle Class III rapids in a canoe, or Class V in a raft. Pack trips in rough country 50 miles from the nearest dirt road have lost their appeal. Backpacking where other people don't go is now much more intimidating. Anyone else share this same change in outlook? I still like adventure as well as the next person. It is confusing and not an easy topic to talk about. What is your view and how had it changed over the years? what does the future hold?

I have a caving buddy who is nearing the 60yo mark. He has been doing as many caves and pits as he can for the past 10 years, realizing his caving days are numbered. Unfortunately, I don't have the kind of job that gives me time off on the weekends. So my caving trips are getting fewer and fewer. Still not sure how my arthritis will impact me in a cave (BUT going to find out this weekend!)

At 50 I notice I cross bog boards a lot slower than the younger guys.  Well some of them have pointed it out with a laugh ;)  I'm OK going far enough that I stop seeing people for a day or two, but I am always reminding myself not to break my neck which I never used to worry about when soloing.

I think things definitely change as you get older and you'd be silly not to acknowledge that. I try to plan more trips with other people now just so my wife doesn't worry as much and if I do break my neck at least someone knows where I fell.

50, 60, 63? You guys are just kids.

I go on more solo trips and climbs now, because I am retired and my time is more flexible. This does mean I have to carry all the climbing and camping gear myself, which does slow me down. And yes, when i am out with 20-40 yo companions, they do hike a bit faster, though not all that much (I get a lot more photos than they do, which more than makes up for it).

I have always been fairly conservative in the risks I take, compared to some. But I am still climbing 5.10+ on a regular basis (solo), and WI4. My day hikes tend to be more in the 10 mile, 3000 ft of accumulated gain, with fewer of the 20-30 miles in a day hikes (the bike rides tend to be less than 50 miles with fewer Centuries, but that's because a lot of my time is spent on my volunteer work - which takes up far more of my time than working for pay ever did).

I think it is all personal. I have several friends who are older than me and still do far more than I do.

I realised some years ago, that by 70, no matter what my physical fitness level I tried to maintain, I wasn't going to be able to do those 600 mile routes, those 10 mile portages, those three month trips. Oh yeah, I can still paddle class 4, or climb to a reasonable standard, but the joints are not there. I still marvel at Fred Beckey, not climbing to his old standards, but climbing to new ones, and still able  to challenge himself. And somehow, still able to impress the girls!

At  age 21 in 1977 when I started adventure travel I went to parks like Yosemite,Glacier,Denali and the Grand Canyon and hiked for many months at a time, packing a large volume pack and often carried as much as 90 lbs per trip (pack,tent,sleeping bag,water,camera,binoculars, stove/cook pot and food)  staying out in the woods for 30 days straight. Only coming out to resupply and go right back out for another 30 days. 90% of the BCO rangers didn't like this, especially because in many parks in the late 1970's there were no time limits on permits. The other 10% were seasoned backpackers like myself and also liked the thrill of being away from civilization for as long as one could carry supplies. The 90% rangers would drill me on the dangers of hiking alone and make me give a detail equipment list to them in case I became lost or didn't return on said dates. I never had problems but a couple rare times. The 10% rangers gave me the permits willingly and just said to have a great time!

In my 30's I dropped to 2-3 week trips with 50 lb packs. In my 40's a week became the norm, and the in my early 50s I started staying out only for weekends or 2-3 days at a time. But if I am with someone else I can stay longer with someone else to help carry a single shared large tent, share cooking equipment and help carry food to share making a week or longer possible.

I have made a few hiking buddies that are as experienced as I am after 30-40 years on long wilderness trips and are willing to do the above staying out for a couple weeks at a time. But still prefer the solitude of hiking alone and will base camp in areas one to two days hike from the closest road/town or resupply points. I rarely worry about injury as I am very careful when outdoors, I don't climb steep routes especially if I may have to come back the same way. I still do off trail hiking which I prefer for the "first to have seen an area feel" other than perhaps a early human/Indian hunter or nomad to have been there before me.

At almost 58 years old now I am resetting my boundaries and attempting this winter to go back to the long trips. I have stayed in relatively good shape over the years from long bicycling trips and still ride my bike to and from work every work day which keeps my legs strong. This past summer I purchased new outdoor equipment (roomy tent for times when the snow may keep me inside for long periods/days, cold weather sleeping bag, pad, stove fuel (in quantity), long underwear, down jacket and warm gloves both for cycling and hiking use. I hope to stay outdoors for between 4 days a week to extended periods of 1-2 weeks at a time and am keeping my house trailer to come back to when I return to town to resupply.

In the past I worked just 3 months a year from 1981-2009 and took 275 day vacations either backpacking and/or bicycle touring, just living in my tent and not paying rent anywhere for 9 months of the year. Food becoming the only expense plus fuel for my stove and buying water when I cannot just pump it thru my purifier from a natural source.

But now at age (almost 58) I like my creature comforts like living indoors in a temp controlled house and living in leisure but still being able to take time to do the things that have kept me happy and not bored by only working to make money towards a new adventure. Its nice waking in the morning turning on the electric light, opening my laptop and going to my now favorite website Trailspace and seeing where my new friends are going, fining out what they are doing and seeking and giving information of outdoor pursuits.

I now figure for the rest of fall to work 3 days a week and hike 4 days/5 nights camping and still make enough to pay rent ($300 a month) and enough to buy a months worth of food. In late November to late March I plan to take off from my job and hike and do whatever I want for 120 days and then return to working full time again in April for another 7-8 months of work to save for next (2014) winters free time.

Bill S said:

50, 60, 63? You guys are just kids.

 Easy for you to say but you have to remember that every day I'm older than I've ever been before 8p

Joking aside I am actually more adventurous now than I was ten years ago.  I go farther, higher (in terms of gain) and to places I wouldn't have dared to back then.  I don't let getting older stop me from going, but I am more conscious of the effort involved and the impact on my body. Older yes, but smarter is how I see it.

I guess getting married and having a kid have also changed my perspective about dropping dead on the trail.  It never used to cross my mind but now that the girls are waiting at home it seems more important not to break my neck.

LoneStranger said:

Bill S said:

50, 60, 63? You guys are just kids.

 Easy for you to say but you have to remember that every day I'm older than I've ever been before 8p

 Keep in mind that "Life picks up when you are over the hill!"

You are only as old as you feel. I was just at my 55th high school reunion this past weekend. ("who are all these old folks??"). Most of them could still "cut the rug" pretty well (our class was in the middle of the "Rock and Roll" era). There is a selection effect, of course - the sick and dead don't get to the Reunions. Still, most of those there were hale and hearty. The cheerleaders are no longer "cute young things" anymore, but some are still in pretty good shape. One of my classmates has been working with the education programs in Afghanistan. He has a bodyguard with him at all times when there and has spent a few hours down in the basement when the Taliban were using his office building for target practice (not my cup of tea!).

Early on in the Reunions, they used to ask questions like "how many kids do you have?", which morphed to "how many grandkids", which this time became "How many have had a hip replacement? Both hips replaced? How many have had stents?" One had an appointment for yesterday to get a pacemaker installed. It was actually surprisingly few, considering we are all beyond the 7 decade mark.

What scares me the most is the number of my contemporaries who are falling like flies daily. A couple of my mentors have passed recently, and one of my mentors/heros has a degenerative nervous system disease so that he can barely climb out of a chair, much less do the kind of big wall climbing he did even 10 years ago (the deterioration over the last couple of years is really scary, with the prognosis being maybe as much as 5 years - cause unknown, no known cure or even treatment).

No win our sixties, we get out more than we did earlier, when we had kids in the house and more of their activities, fewer of ours.


But to your point, yes, we are more cautious.  Not so much because we think we are more prone to injury---just because we have learned that injuries now can be more serious, and take much longer to hear than they did when we were younger. 

Bill is one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has aged as well as he has. He should be thankful for good genes and good luck.

Luck? To some extent, yes. My father passed at 63 (heart attack, while we were hiking in the Sierra, by far the earliest of his family), but all his 10 siblings lived into their late 80s or 90s (despite some having worked in coal mines and steel mills, plus being born in the late 19th/early 20th centuries). My mother and her 9 siblings all grew up and lived in the midwest rural areas, and all made it into their 90s.

But a major part of it is life-style (to borrow an often mis-used term). I have watched my diet pretty much all my life and been out in the woods and hills a lot, doing a lot of exercise (not exercise as exercise, but as my everyday activities). Plus good medical care. Excess time in the sun is catching up, though (I am keeping my dermatologist in an expensive life style), between the Sonora Desert where I spent most of my years before my teens, lots of time in the mountains at high altitude, and lots of time on skis and climbing on glaciers around the world (we used to believe in "healthy tans" and soaking up lots of Vitamin D - little did we know).

Bill said:

(not my cup of tea!).

Is that a Greg Mortenson jab?

at 47, i still do pretty much the same things i did in my youth. 

my primary concession has more to do with responsibility than age.  in a bow to my wife and family, i can be persuaded to avoid winter hiking and climbing in the worst weather conditions.  last winter, for example, i was on my way up to the White Mountains ahead of a huge blizzard but ultimately turned around.  i was fully prepared to deal with 2 feet of fresh snow, super-cold temperatures, and scouringly high winds.  would have had to avoid certain locations due to avalanche risk, but it's like that a lot up there.  certainly wouldn't have been the first time i spent a long winter weekend up there in a storm. 

i turned around and settled for some lower-risk snowshoeing day trips because it made my wife too nervous to think of me in the bad conditions.  it's a compromise i'm willing to accept. 

at 49 I don't get out as much as I used to, my husband's bad knee is the reason now, he just can't carry a pack anymore without feeling pain and I am not willing to go solo. so have settled for short dayhikes along the santa margarita river (20 min from home). was thinking about joining the sierra club and going on their hikes, but most of their hikes are pretty strenuous. I guess I will have to settle for short dayhikes...

I am a recovered adrenaline junkie.  I liked getting right up to the edge of cliffs and survival itself.  But I also realized there are some things that sane folks would consider plainly stupid to engage in.  that said I have always avoided adventure water sports and motor sports, as finding one’s limits in water or while rocketing around corners at 90 mph entails seriously flirting with drowning or death, thus I cannot comment directly about Class XX rapids on a raft.  But I use to do other “stupid stuff” that involved significant risk of a grave outcome it the objective risks turned against you.  I no longer play chicken with the weather, take the hardest way to the top, or contrive scenarios designed to scare the crap out of myself.  I know what I can do, and no longer are interested in testing my limits (and luck).  But I have no problem walking far off into the wilderness; there is nothing in that act that makes it dangerous.  If you get hurt, it can be a major pain getting back out, and if you suffer a heart attack, or other urgent crisis, the time to get back to civilization may be your undoing.  Then again which is riskier, driving the freeway or risking a stroke while walking a desolate high desert plain?  Some of your concerns are well grounded; rapids are dangerous at any age.  But some of your fears, like extended trips far from the road head are entirely a matter of perception, especially if you are traveling with a companion.  In any case should the Maker decide it is time for me to have a fatal coronary, I would much prefer the gentle surroundings of a wooded park to the sterile and annoying environs of an ICU.


Lots of the people on this forum probably did things like motorcycling in dirt, fast downhill skiing, long solo backpacking trips, etc. when they were younger. Now some of us have sore body parts.

I still love to go out there, but chose easier trips now. I go slower and try to avoid the days with 4,500 feet of vertical gain or 8 big rapids. I am more safety conscious from experience.

It is only logical after 40 mule wrecks, sunk canoes, wrapped rafts with holes punched in them, many sprained ankles and a few broken bones. The injury list with this group would be a mile long.

I sympathize with an old salmon fisherman I heard of on the St. Mary's many years ago. He was in his mid-80's and his doctor told him that any more salmon fishing would kill him. He died the following spring fishing his favorite pool.

Waders makes a great point.

A famous story in the horse world is just as poignant. A 94 year old lady got thrown by a horse and killed. The doctor and the coroner gave the family a very hard time for "letting a 94 yo lady ride horses." You don't understand" they said, "She rode everyday of her life, and was in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City."

We all take some risk or we wouldn't be out there.

I once knew a man in his 70's who after a 36 year lifer term in the Air Force, decided to spend the rest of his life to live and hike at the Grand Canyon. I met him in 1998-99  when I was working at the Maswik Lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon from October to April.

He and I worked together as cooks, he as a back up cook and I a server cook in a hamburger/hot dog cafeteria area.

On his days off and morning or afternoons before and after work would hike the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trails down into the canyon. He also volunteered with the park service and worked at the Grand Canyon Store's backpacking section selling gear and Golite products.

In the month of January 1999 we did a 4 day hike from the South Bass to and out the South Kaibab Trail. He was 79 at the time and I was 43. He had a new type of satellite phone that would work in the canyon and called his wife every morning and evening after we got up or were stopped for the night. She worked on the south rim as well in the coffee shop of the Grand Canyon store.

After that hike  we later did his first Rim to Rim hike from the North Rim to the South Rim. Its a 23 mile hike and is about 6000 feet down from the North rim to the Colorado River and 14 miles in length. Then a 5000 foot hike up to the South Rim over 9 miles of the Bright Angel Trail and the River Trail. He did it in 19 hours from 4 am when we started and 10 pm taking his time and stopping along the way to talk to other hikers and eat breakfast,lunch and dinner at Cottonwood,Bright Angel and Indian Garden Campgrounds. It took me just 7 hours as he told me not to wait up for him.

Later he started doing a R2R every month and then in 2006 in his 86th year he decided to do as many R2R's as he could in that year. By October he had done the initial 86 he had originally planned for his 86th year on Earth. But he decided to continue and do as many as he could that year. He quit on what would be his last on December 24th with his 106th R2R, which at a little over 2 a week was quite impressive for a man 86 years old who only took to hiking when he was in his late 70's.

Sadly later when he was about 89 and had developed bad knees and other joints and could get lost even on tourist trails. He often emailed me about having delusions of not knowing where he was. My last email contact with him was when he had sent me some instep crampons from the GC store when I had asked him how much they were as I wanted a pair and could not find them online or at a local outdoor store in Wyoming. He emailed to tell me he had sent them.

Later sadly he took his own life and that of his wife when he was in his 89th spring in 2009. I was contacted by the park service as my email was the last he had received and they wanted to know if he had told me anything about his plan to do this. He had not and I miss the man and his wife very much.


This is the man, his name was Laurence, but he went by Maverick and was a always cheerful spoken man. He was small in stature but very quick walking tho he hiked an average of 1 mile an hour on any hike I did with him. He would walk for an hour then stop and take up to a 1/2 hours nap and then get up and start again. I usually walked a head of him at his request and would wait for him when he was out of sight. 

I also once met a woman 96 while on one of my first backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon in late October 1983. She and her husband and two old friends were backpacking as well in Clear Creek Canyon about 20 miles/2-3 days from the South Rim. When we met and I found out she was 96, I remarked that my grandmother at the time was also 96 and in a nursing home. She told me that 90% of her friends her age were in them too. But being she had been a ranchers wife all her life and was used to hard work she and her husband decided to take up backpacking when they retired from ranching.

I once met a man in the canyon also who was in his 70s and hiking a 5 day backpacking trip. And he hiked in flip flop sandals saying his ankles were very strong and he hated boots.

In Yosemite I met a man once as I was hiking down the Yosemite Falls trail who was running up it. He was 75, and besides the wrinkles in his face and hands he did not look 75 in his muscle tone and skin tightness. He was wearing the usual running shoes and fanny pack and not much else I see on younger runners.

Meeting these old timers still able to be doing whatever they are doing and in their 70's to 90's inspires me to be hopeful to be able to do my hikes and bike trips when I am much older too. I will be 58 January 21st 2014 and have spent more days/nights outdoors at the average of 275 days a year from the time I was 21 in 1977 to 2009. I started slowing down in 2009 but now want to try to return to my hiking out days and nights more again. It makes me feel better and I got sick less often when I was outdoors living like a Indian than when I am indoors and working my life away!

Great stories. I remember all of the old timers I used to meet backpacking in the 1970s. The most popular hiking shoe for that age group was the Converse high top basketball shoe. I have been trying to emulate them ever since.

I wore those shoes or sneakers as we called them,  playing basketball in college, ppine. My first hiking boots were steel toed work boots from a sawmill I worked for in 1977, I quit it to hit the road for my first 8000 mile hitchhike around the USA that summer. I was 21.


I wore the same shoes, playing basketball for money at the local schoolyard and then later in high school. I played in industrial leagues until I was 51 and coached for several years.

Where did you play in college? Bball not just a sport, but a way of life. I once played everyday for 2 1/2 years.

Carl Albert Jr College, Poteau, Oklahoma a small college of 60 students back in 1974-75.

good to hear those stories about the old timers. inspiring.

I played high school bball with a guy that later was my college roommate at the Univ of Maryland. He walked on and made the team playing for Lefty Drisell. He was a pre-med student and couldn't get a scholarship so he quit. That was quite an accomplishment playing the likes of Duke and North Carolina.

I was only 6'2" at 18 and didnt stop growing until I was 23 at 6'7". I only played one year of college, not at all in Arkansas high school cause I grew up in New York state and the kids in the south did'nt like the fact that I was a Yankee. By college all I had played was lots of one on one with friends in the park courts.

I enjoyed reading this thread! It really inspired me!  I'm 52 and working past a few kinks I didn't have 15 years ago ...such as my new friend Arthur following me everywhere I go ...hoping as I get better conditioned, Arthur will learn to stay at home or at least wait his turn LOL ...not sure if it works that way!  I'm building my endurance back up and anxious to do some high peaks ...hubby squawks about me hiking alone but if I waited until I found a partner that could hike when I could hike ...I'd go twice a year.  I try to be smart about it though ...and once we're past trapping season (April) - hubby will hit the trails with me - looking forward to it.

November 24, 2020
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