Tag Archives: Hiking

Boomers on the Trail

It all started with a routine physical with my internist, a man I’ve been going to for years. He’s a runner, a fit baby boomer only a few years younger than me.

“As you age, your lung capacity decreases, even if you’ve never smoked. You should expect some changes.” He probably said something about heart function but I can’t recall now. I was mad. I plan to die with my hiking boots on.

On Heartbreak Ridge

I again told him about the older folks in Carolina Mountain Club, some much older than me, but I think he’s heard it all before from me.

Last Sunday’s hike on Heartbreak Ridge was in the Appalachian District of Pisgah National Forest near Old Fort, NC.

The trail is 11.5-mile with a 3,000 foot ascent, which is considered strenuous. Eighteen hikers showed up, a larger number than usual. Carroll K. was leading this hike and this was his fan club. Carroll, who’s 87 years old, is the “poster hiker” of the fit, serious, all-day hiker who just keeps on going.

Still thinking about my conversation with my doctor, I took a survey of ages and their genders. I know that 18 data points is a very small sample size but it was a start. No one hesitated to give me their age.

The average age of the hikers was 61.6 years old. The women averaged 59.3 years of age (46 the youngest, 70 the oldest). The average for men was 65.1 years old (51 years was the youngest, 87 the oldest).

Not surprisingly Carroll was the oldest man and I was the oldest woman. That’s been true for a long time on all day-hikes. We seem to accept the disparity in ages between the genders but Bruce questioned it. Why?

I don’t know is the quickest answer. After all, Grandma Gatewood did her first A.T. thru-hike when she was 67 years old and again seven years later. The oldest person, a man, completed a thru-hike when he was 81 years old. Historically only 15% of the completers (2000-milers) were women, though the numbers are rising. See the numbers on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy website.

I do know that the professional advice is meant to scare older exercisers.

“See your doctor”.
“Don’t overdo it!”
“Carry a cell phone, a stick, a ….”

After all these dos and don’t, it’s easier to just stay on the couch.

Why do we see fewer women over 70 on the trail or in the gym? Ideas?

Diamond Head – a classic

Climbing Diamond Head

Our last day in Honolulu – and I hadn’t climbed up Diamond Head yet.

The hike is less than two miles round trip, but climbs over 550 feet – up, up, up. By now, my son, Neil, and family had arrived to join me on this Hawaii vacation.

We drove out to Diamond Head State Monument before 8:30, a late start for us. How naive! On Christmas Day, all the parking spaces closest to the trailhead were already taken.

We left my daughter-in-law with seven-year old Isa to study the exhibits at the visitor center and turned back down to find a parking space. We climbed an extra couple of hundred feet and reunited. The five of us started climbing.

The route starts as a paved path, then turn to a hard-pack trail – all continuously up. We’re marching like ants: frustrated runners, slow-poke women in sandals, sneakered families and couples carrying babies in their arms or backs.

Then the stairs, tunnel and more steep stairs. The crowd is so orderly and polite. People are constantly apologizing for passing or for being too slow. By the time we get toward the top, there are lookouts and picture-taking opportunities.

Finally the top where groups are taking pictures of each other and the view. And what a view! Downtown Honolulu, the ocean, and Koko Head, where I had been several days ago. Reluctantly, we all started down the same way we came up.

Where did this trail come from?

Diamond Head was an ideal site for coastal defense of O’ahu. The Federal Government started fortifications in 1908. They built the trail for men and mules to bring building supplies and access. Now it’s managed by the Hawaii State Parks and, unlike Koko Head, is maintained.

Koko Head Crater – Steep and steep

I thought I had done my homework on Honolulu but it took a chance conversation with Jason, my seat mate on the plane to find out about Koko Head Crater in Oahu in the east side of the island.

“Don’t do it,” Jason said. “It is incredibly steep. Do Diamond Head instead.”

That was all the challenge I needed. Yesterday I went to find the trailhead but the only road down was closed.

I searched for an official address. I just trusted my iPhone and it led me to Koko Head District Park. At about 8 am, I had a tough time finding a parking space. This was going to be a group experience with many friends I had yet to meet.

Look at those steps.

This was the beginning of a thousand foot climb in less than a mile. But this is no ordinary trail but an old railroad, built by our military as a lookout after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. According to one fellow hiker, the military brought all the supplies by helicopter and dropped them along what would be the railroad.

There are 1,048 steps/railroad ties. But this was a long time ago and now, the railroad tracks are falling apart. No one is maintaining it as a trail and still so many hike it. Even though it was less than a mile one-way, I treated it as a hike with a pack, water and poles. Was I glad for poles!

On top of Koko Head Crater

On top, the 360-degree view was magnificent. There were remains of a concrete lookout tower.

People were taking pictures of the view, themselves and each other.

Everyone congratulated me, because I was obviously the oldest person there, maybe by a generation.

If I thought it was tough, I had to hand it to the young family carrying a baby. I wouldn’t have tried this forty years ago.

On top of Koko Head Crater

But the walk down was tougher. I had to watch every step as not to slip. There is so much space between the railroad ties that each step was a negotiation. This is where all the “young people” passed me. I remember the saying,

“Be nice to the people as you pass them on the way up because they’ll pass you on the way down”.

When I got back to my car, I was spent. Nothing hurt, nothing was bruised. I found the closest coffee shop and just sat for a while.

Thanks, Mahalo, Jason, for telling me about this challenge.