A Geezer’s Guide to the Backcountry
Age in the mountains means new adventures: at night, when you have to get up to pee, the question now is whether you can actually unzip your sleeping bag fast enough.
Age in the mountains means leaving all electronic devices in the glove compartment and wondering why no one else uses map and compass anymore.
Age in the mountains means the biggest decision of the hour is selecting the exact height, in centimeters, to which to adjust your trekking poles.
Age in the mountains means upgrading from the occasional drab brown Ace wrap to a fully hinged knee brace in black with accents of cobalt blue.
Age in the mountains during the summer of the pandemic means crossing paths with another hiker and being the first—or only one—to hoist your bright red neckerchief to cover up your nose and mouth.
And if that hiker is a beautiful young woman, age in the mountains means no longer wondering how you might appear to her.
And, speaking of women, age in the mountains means traveling with a light rucksack but nevertheless being very patient and cheerful about being passed on the trail by a pair of overweight, middle-aged ladies with full packs, one of them cradling her left arm in a cast and sling.
Age in the mountains means wearing your baggy swim trunks when going for a dip in the lake—just in case someone walks by, to spare them the sight of you.
Age in the mountains means cresting a pass you once crossed in adolescence and recovering only, as Wordsworth put it, “recognitions dim and faint.”
Age in the mountains means deep delight at finding a route on a major summit that is so gentle and gradual you could ride a horse up it.
Because age in the mountains means leaving the rope, crampons, ice axe, and helmet in the basement—and no longer mourning that choice.
Age in the mountains means coming upon the scarred blade of an airplane propeller on a high col and wondering why it wasn’t you.
Age in the mountains means reaching the top of a peak and, instead of taking in the view, focusing on the lavender musk of sky pilot, bunching out of a dark crevice.
Age in the mountains means watching fleecy clouds from a summit and actually getting down before they become the black sheep in the family.
Age in the mountains means putting your palm to the twisted snag of a whitebark pine and wondering just how long it can hold on.
Age in the mountains means making camp in the middle of the afternoon and being happy for all that extra time to sit around and watch a patch of chartreuse lichen cooperate with itself.
Age in the mountains means marveling at a perfectly pitched rain fly as a thing of beauty.
Age in the mountains means watching the sun disappear behind the ridge and feeling a slight tinge of envy.
Age in the mountains means, after supper, Ibuprofen for dessert.
Age in the mountains means bowing, ever so slightly, at the moment of moonrise—because you are still here.