The magnificent view of a mountain lake in the high Sierras
where Joyce and Bill Kiefer celebrated her birthday and their
own 50th wedding anniversary.
Why should advancing age
spoil a nice moutain hike?
By JOYCE KIEFER
The day the Olympic athletes paraded around the stadium in Opening Ceremony, ready to meet their challenges with years of preparation, I set out for a contest of my owna hike to a favorite spot in the high Sierras, hoping age would not pull out its stealth maneuvers and win the day.
I planned to take this hike to Granite Lake with my husband, Bill, as a celebration of my birthday. Late July coincides with the peak bloom of mountain flowerslupine, asters, Indian warriors, mule's ears. Their glorious confetti of color makes me glad I was born on Planet Earth. They create the Opening Ceremony for mountain springtime, which doesnt occur until its summer on the calendar.
But my birthday wasnt the only reminder of advancing time. Bill and I marked our 50th anniversary this year. Only old people get to do this. Therefore, being certifiably old, I knew that age would use various strategies to put me in my place. How could I still expect to breathe easy and maintain energy along four miles of trail that threads the woods and rocks between 8,000 and 9,000 feet when Im accustomed to sea level? I was able to do that six years ago. But last year I needed training just to visit Bills brother and wife in their multi-level house at the same altitude in the mountains near Denver. Once I hauled my suitcase to the upstairs bedroom, I was ready to collapse.
I have listened to descriptions of my friends aches and pains and their stories of joint replacements. Time grinds down the best of us. Ive wondered if my own ankles, knees, back, and balance still have the right stuff.
My fitness training consists of a low aerobics exercise class. During the hour I chat with the women in my end of the room about family and book club books as we work through our routine. But real training for true grit demands deep focus and pushing beyond your limit to the point of tears. I know. Ive seen this on TV.
A few days before we took our hike, I climbed a chair while balancing two precious serving bowls--one from Israel, the other from Spain. I wanted to put them back in the cabinet above the refrigerator until our next dinner party. Then the chair started to slip. Juggler-like, I flicked a fast move to keep from dropping them. I twisted my lower back.
I got out the cold pack , the Ben Gay and the Ibuprofen and prayed for healing.
Then came acclimation. To adjust, we arrived at our vacation home in the Sierra foothills two days before the hike. Our place is at 3,000 ft. The final prep was mental. The night before the hike I read The Places in Between by Rory Stewart about how he crossed Afghanistan on foot, sometimes pulling along his recalcitrant 160-lb dog. He didnt let anything stop him or convince him to accept a ridenot the Taliban, diarrhea, migraine headaches, or elevations of 12,000 ft. If his body (much younger) could overcome such obstacles, the least mine could do was to give my own mountains a good go.
Bill Kiefer rests beside
a mountain lake. You will notice he's
not eating any
trail mix or fresh-baked
Before we left home, I planned what wed eat on the trail. Trail mix, of course--our favorite blend of nuts, dried fruit and plenty of chocolate. Also, bar cookies with nuts, cinnamon chips, and more chocolate. I brought along the recipe and ingredients for the cookies and baked them the day before we left so theyd be fresh. Sandwiches and grapes would complete our menu. During his trek, Rory Stewart lived on flat bread and tea. His dog skipped the tea.
The morning of our hike I took an Aleve and once again rubbed my back with Ben Gay. I was ready for age to put up a physical fight, but I never expected it would blindside my mind.
It tackled my short-term memory.
The morning of the hike I poured the trail mix into individual packets and put the cookies in a crush-proof container. I filled the water bottles and chilled them in the refrigerator. I put the sandwiches and grapes into the daypack, along with my cell phone and camera, and jumped into our new Toyota Rav 4, ready to go.
Bill looked in the back and asked, Wheres the water?
Oops. Still in the refrigerator!
We could go hungry but not thirsty on this four-or-so mile hike. Like typos in something Ive written, I had looked right through the omission without noticing it.
We both did splendidly on the hike. In fact we passed up a family with teenage sons. I felt so good when we reached the first lake that I thought we should treat ourselves to a snack. I searched through our packs.
No trail mix. No cookies, either.
This is when age struck its victory. It hit me in the mind. Perhaps I had overwhelmed my brain with anticipation that shoved out the practicalities. Perhaps I should have made a list of what to take so I wouldnt forget anything, but for me lists dont always work. If one is too long, I simply quit in the middle. Or I misplace it. There are really no excuses. The space for remembering things is shrinking rapidly.
Flowers bloom along a mountain
lake in the high Sierras, just the
right place for hardy hikers to
spend a summer day.
I decided not to accept defeat. I could still enjoy a beautiful day and see the beauty along the trail. We made it to Granite Lake, a turquoise jewel set in flowers. A pile of boulders to the side of the lake promised a panoramic view from the top. I started to climb up to take a look. Bill decided hed better go, too, and show me the best way up. But I didnt watch where he stepped, too engrossed in grabbing rocks and twigs that wouldnt slip. I watched my feet, not his.
We both made it to the top and were mesmerized by the view. Waves of crested peaks rippled east toward Nevada. In the other direction an emerald green lake sparkled through time-twisted trees. The strong breath of the wind began to stir.
Ill embrace whatever I can manage to enjoy. At this point everything is a gift.
©2012 by Joyce Kiefer. The photos are by the author. All rights reserved. This column first posted Aug. 7, 2012.
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