Seniors like to hike. A park or a bike trail is fine for everyday walks, but nothing compares to the “walking meditation” that you experience when hiking in the wilderness. We rented a cabin near the Mount Baker National Forest last week and did several lengthy hikes. Normally our hikes are closer to home, and more of the foothill variety, but this particular vacation was perfect.
We drove 11 miles on a primitive road to the trail head. There were more than a dozen cars in the parking lot and twice as many hikers. Many of them were seasoned hikers who were planning to stay overnight. We were surprised how many seniors made up the small groups.
We like our creature comforts these days so gave up overnight backpacking years ago, but we still try to do day hikes most weekends. A small backpack to carry water, energy bars, and a kit with emergency supplies are all we usually take with us. A few hapless hikers were wearing sneakers but for the most part cargo pants, long sleeve shirts and sturdy hiking boots were the uniform of the day. I have never used trekking poles but saw many people wielding them with great proficiency, and it seemed like a good idea.
A mountain trail probably isn’t the greatest place to start if you aren’t accustomed to distance walking or altitude, but a short hike might inspire you to do more. We met a few younger people who were huffing and puffing before they got to the first switch back so we allowed ourselves to feel a little smug. Although the best thing about hiking is that it is not a competition. It is okay to slow down and rest at every switchback. Use this time to catch your breath and admire the view. If you look around when you should be watching your feet you could trip and fall, and that is not why you are out there. Older hikers need to be a little more careful as most of us are not as surefooted as we used to be. If you are not having fun because the hike is too hard take a break. Stop as often as you like, nibble good tasting energy bars, and drink plenty of water.
Wear comfortable clothing and dress in layers. It doesn’t take long to work up a sweat. One minute you might feel too warm, but thick foliage and cool breezes will have you shivering a few minutes later. The most important thing is comfortable hiking shoes; break them in before that first hike, and don’t forget to splurge on a pair of hiking-specific socks.
Be safe. Hike with others, and be prepared for emergencies. No one expects to get lost but it does happen. Tuck a whistle, map, compass or GPS, flashlight, matches, and first aid kit in your backpack.
If you plan more than the occasional day hikes think about purchasing and mastering trekking poles. The lightweight poles ease impact on knees and will help with balance. When a sudden loss of balance occurs you will appreciate that extra contact point. If you carry a sizeable backpack you want to be sure the contents are distributed so as not to throw off your balance.
You will be pleased to know that waterfalls, amazing views and snow packs can found within a few miles of the trailheads. Research your hikes, start early in the day, take your time and enjoy the beauty of it all. If you don’t have a hiking buddy you will find that most senior centers and recreational facilities have age specific groups for you to join.