Hulda Crooks put on her 25-pound backpack and headed out in the early morning to climb Mt. Whitney, a mountain reaching 14,505 feet (4421 m). She had climbed it 23 times before. According to reports, Hulda also claimed many other mountains, including San Gorgonio Mountain, at 11,503 feet (3506 m). She had climbed it 30 times and currently holds a record of climbing 97 peaks in total.
However, the amazing aspect of the Hulda Crooks story is that she had climbed Mt. Whitney for the first time at the age of 66. And she is considered to be the oldest woman to climb Mt. Fuji at age 91. As a health educator at California’s Loma Linda University, Hulda lived a very long and healthy life and died at the age of 101 in 1997.
Ms. Crooks’ story is undoubtedly an inspiration for anyone in their senior years. And although she was a mountain climber and hiker, her message of taking on challenges later in life transfers to those of us seniors who are interested in snowshoeing.
Much of my active snowshoeing life started when I was in my early 40’s. But it recently dawned on me that during the first week of January 2020, I will turn 70 years of age. Yikes! Where has the time gone? They say time goes by when having fun. I must have been having a blast these last few decades.
I have come to realize that turning 70 does not mean I need to curtail my snowshoeing activity. However, I do admit that I now snowshoe slower, I don’t go as far, and my muscles ache more.
Snowshoeing authors Sally Edwards and Melissa McKenzie say that age is not a factor for snowshoeing and writes, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”As long as I can walk and know whether I’m coming and going, I will continue snowshoeing. And people 70 and beyond interested in the sport should also snowshoe.
Why Seniors Should Snowshoe
What are the reasons for senior citizens to participate in snowshoeing? The Outdoor Foundation’s 2018 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report noted from their key findings that “the biggest motivator for outdoor participation was getting exercise.” So let’s start there.
Exercise, keeping fit and healthy
Plenty of evidence supports that a lack of exercise combined with a poor diet in older adults can contribute to obesity and a variety of diseases. These may include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, some cancers, and more. Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that regular physical activity is vital for healthy aging.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for older Americans recommend “150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of each per week.”
The National Institute on Aging recommends four types of exercise: endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility. They also have Go4Life videos with a personal trainer helping older adults exercise.
If an older person is looking for exercise and an aerobic workout in winter, an excellent way to accomplish that objective is by snowshoeing. A leisure hike on snowshoes provides great exercise. Additionally, you can pick up the pace or hike in deeper snow until your heart rate increases. After an extended period, your trek will provide an aerobic workout.
Something to do outdoors in winter
I hear many Wisconsinites my age complain that they have nothing to do outdoors during winter due to the cold and snow. When I ask them if they are involved in any outdoor winter recreation, most are not. I recommend they give snowshoeing a try because of its simplicity, low cost, and no need to travel far to do so.
In my area of Wisconsin, there are places nearby to rent snowshoes, take a lesson, and hike on groomed trails. Should someone try it and like it, they can invest in a quality pair of snowshoes for around $100 to $200.
Every time I put on my snowshoes and head out on a hike, it is an adventure. Plus, a snowshoe hike in a location I’ve never visited is exciting. The planning and anticipation of the terrain, vegetation, wildlife, and challenges keep me in suspense and provide a new adventure for me to experience.
Midwest environmentalist and author, Sigurd Olson, once said, “When you lose the power of wonder, you’ve become old no matter how old you are. If you have the power of wonder, you’re forever young.” I don’t ever want to lose the sense of wonder. I am convinced that a sense of wonder and a desire to experience adventure will keep me forever young at heart.
Appreciation of nature
Snowshoeing down a trail through a stand of conifers laden with snow enhances my aesthetic appreciation of nature. All the sights, sounds, and smells of woodlands, meadows, or mountain trails come alive when hiking on snow in winter. My appreciation of nature is even stronger in my senior years. Time and experience have taught me how to appreciate it more than when I was younger.
Sense of accomplishment and self-worth
Going on 70 and retired, I look for things to do that give me a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Since I no longer achieve those attributes for a job well done as I once did in the workplace, I strive to find them in post-retirement challenges. A snowshoeing challenge and writing an article to tell you, the reader, about it will do it for me. Perhaps other seniors who snowshoe may discover accomplishment and self-worth in their adventures.
Tips For Heading Out On The Trail
Now that you know the reasons why seniors should snowshoe, here are some recommendations to consider when planning to head out on the trail. Keep in mind that safety is a priority, and prevention is a must.
See Your Doctor First
It is proper prevention to have your physician give you a clean bill of health before heading out on snowshoes. Some people tend to overestimate their health and physical condition. Set up a time for a checkup.
Be Consistent With Your Health
As previously mentioned, physical activity is vital for healthy aging. However, sitting around waiting for snowshoe season to begin is like trying to start your car after it has sat in the garage for a long time. Consistent activity and exercise during the 3-seasons help to prepare for snowshoeing in winter. Also, eat healthy, since diet is important as well for keeping in shape.
Stay Within Your Limits
Set your goals to be within your limits. Outdoor expert and author Karen Berger once wrote, “Hiking is physically challenging. And age sooner or later slows everyone down.” She adds, “Like any other hikers, seniors need to set mileage goals that are consistent with their stamina, personality, and fitness.”
There is no sense in taking risks by setting unrealistic goals when snowshoeing. Set a realistic pace and distance. For example, you could snowshoe about a mile in 40 minutes on a snow-packed trail since an average hiking speed on flatland is about one mile in 30 minutes.
Know Your Bearings
Become familiar with where you are snowshoeing. Keep away from high ridges, cliffs, outcroppings, and overhangs. Unlike solid earth or rock, snow can give way when not supported underneath. It is not worth the risk to snowshoe out further on a cliff for a better view or to take a picture. People have died doing so. Also, avoid snowshoeing on frozen water, especially creeks and rivers. Moving water does not freeze, so find an alternative route.
Be Prepared With a Daypack
When heading out for a day of snowshoeing, carry items in a daypack for safety and comfort. Such items include:
- First aid kit
- A compass and map
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Matches and a fire starter
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Chemical hand/body warmer (the kind you shake to heat)
- Compact survival blanket
- Homemade snowshoe repair kit
- Extra clothing
- Cell phone
- Food and ample water
Bring Along Hiking Poles
Everyone can benefit from using hiking poles, especially us seniors. Poles help with balance, stability, momentum while ascending, and ease of impact on the knees when descending. I prefer my anti-shock, collapsible aluminum Komperdell hiking staff. Some friends of mine prefer using dual poles. It is all a matter of preference.
Stay Safe With Winter Survival Skills
Learn basic first aid. Know what to do in the event of frostbite, hypothermia, or injury. Also, learn what to do if you get lost or stranded, including building a shelter and starting a fire. These are basic winter survival skills that everyone should develop no matter what age.
Finally, wear appropriate winter clothing and dress in layers. Use waterproof and breathable items, including jacket, boots or hikers, gloves or mittens, and caps.
Go Out And Snowshoe!
The above suggestions can help make snowshoeing for people in their senior years a more enjoyable experience by being better prepared to meet the challenge. Keep in mind that you do not need an invitation to snowshoe. All that is required is an ability to walk, a healthy and positive attitude, a pair of snowshoes, and snow.
For those seniors who have snowshoes, do not give them away or put them away. Keep them out for this coming season. And for those who have never snowshoed before, take a lesson from Hulda Crooks, who met her first major mountain challenge at age 66. You can achieve your first snowshoe challenge now. So, snowshoe into your 70’s and beyond. And perhaps, snowshoe where no one has gone before.
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