Reaching the summit — or not

Posted: March 22, 2012 in aging, discrimination

This little bit of good news/bad news from The Salt Lake Tribune caught my eye today:

Carol Masheter, at age 65, is now the oldest woman to have reached the top of the tallest mountains in all seven continents, a feat completed in four years: Denali, Aconagua, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Vinson Massif, Everest and Kosciuszko.

It’s likely she will keep the record, because those who issue permits for Everest in Tibet have since decided no one over 60 can attempt the climb.

Masheter, who arrived home in Salt Lake City from Australia Wednesday morning, said that attitude makes no sense when held up to death-rate statistics for big mountain climbs. Older people have better survival rates, she said, likely because they have better endurance and judgment.

“Each climber needs to be evaluated on their own merits,” she said.

While I am delighted that a mere woman from my often misogynistic state has achieved such a staggering feat, I am as baffled as she is that the powers-that-be banned the over-60 set from ever receiving a permit to climb the Big Kahuna.

I’m certain the Tibetans are tired of hauling all the thrill seekers, masochists and adrenaline junkies to the base of Everest only to have them litter up the place like New York City after the St. Patrick’s Day parade (only with oxygen tanks, human waste and tarps instead of green bunting, cardboard and glitter) and, yes, DIE in frightening numbers on their way up and down the slope, their corpses left to dry out in the relentless winds and subzero temperatures. Perhaps this senior ban was a cheap and easy way to cut down on some the sheer numbers.

But I find myself surprisingly saddened by it. Even a little kicked in the gut. Somewhere in the back of my mind, on my half-formed Bucket List (you know, that list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”) was the hope that I might do something nearly impossible someday, like travel in outer space, win a Pulitzer Prize, date George Clooney —  or climb Mount Everest. Of course. It is the ultimate lofty aspiration.

My friend Liz and I try to do something every year that scares us a little, and one year it was summiting our local Everest, although at 12,000 feet above sea level it is less than half as tall as the real thing. And it nearly killed us. I was so oxygen deprived and dehydrated at the end that I was scooting along the spine of the mountain on two legs and a hand, like a chimp. But I made it. And it is a great memory. I look at that mountain every day and know that I beat it.

But now I’ll never be able to “beat” Everest, and my odds of winning that Pulitzer are dwindling as well.  It is the latest in a series of lowered expectations that I have had to make as I move through time. I find myself looking at new, more reachable goals, like finally embarking on a serious study of art history, living in New York City for at least a month, or even learning how to knit — which for someone as impatient and domestically challenged as I am would be a good thing.

What “Everests” are you no longer able to climb, and what are you replacing them with?

  1. Libby Lu says:

    Great post! I share many of these feelings. Everest has slowly dropped from the #2 slot on my bucket list to maybe closer to #98. Sad. But I did do a half marathon a couple of years ago before that 50th birthday, and I did recite my ABC’s backwards finally. Right now, I think keeping my sanity has moved up on the list.

    But I don’t know…..a hot date with Clooney on a rocket to the moon is a nice thought…..

  2. notquiteold says:

    Look at the bright side – you can now devote all your energy to dating George Clooney.

    As for me, I am going to try stilettos.

    • msmeta says:

      I think I’d have better luck dating George Clooney’s FATHER. (And I wish you and your ankles all the best!)

  3. I don’t know if there are any particular “Everests” that I’ve given up on climbing because of my age, simply because daring, risk-takey pursuits have never been my thing. I do look forward to adopting more of a devil-may-care attitude. (I’m told that, in our 40’s and 50’s, we stop caring what other people think). I’m still waiting for that to kick in…… but I’m looking forward to it!

    • msmeta says:

      I’m not usually much of a risk-taker, but occasionally I do like to attempt some small thing that scares me a little just to shake things up. I’m also waiting for that magical moment when I REALLY don’t care what people think. It bothers me that it hasn’t kicked in yet.

  4. duchessomnium says:

    I’m beginning to think I probably won’t finish that doctorate but I did do my other biggie: run the London Marathon. Meanwhile I am really impressed with a 12,000 ft mountain. But why so hard and combative with the mountain? I’d say you didn’t so much beat it as join it.

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