30 Jul 2020

Age or Attitude - what matters more

Reminders of my age (and our perceptions of ageing) pop up when I least expect it.  

While lunching with a group of women, one of the group told us how her mother slowed down their party on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. When asked why, she said it could have been due to the unfamiliar alpine conditions or that she was not so fit.   

Her story made me wonder about my experience completing the same walk in my sixties, a similar age to her mother. Did I slow down younger walkers on our guided Tongariro trek?  

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is no walk in the park. This challenging one day trek covers steep volcanic terrain. The weather and conditions are unpredictable so you have to be prepared. 

Our group experienced some difficulty breathing during the first steep ascent from Soda Springs to South Crater. After a short respite we had another steep and tricky climb to Red Crater. Our guide observed I was less surefooted so she held my hand for a short spell when the path narrowed along a cliff ledge. At Red Crater summit we were rewarded with spellbinding views of the crater’s deep rust colours. We had reached the highest point of the trek at about 1900 metres. 

Then we slipped and slid down moving scree for 20 minutes to reach the glistening Emerald Lakes. We marvelled at the spectacular aquamarine and deep turquoise lake colours set against a barren mountain landscape.  We felt on top of the world on a superb day in crisp mountain air.

Our descent was arguably the more difficult part of the journey. I stumbled a few times, a clear sign I was tiring.  Our guide gave me a glucose sweet for a burst of energy. That did the trick. 

It took 8 hours to complete the trek with two finishing a bit earlier. Did I slow our group down? I don’t think so. Time spent building my fitness level and doing practice climbs before the trek helped. 

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a deeply moving spiritual experience. Our wonderful sense of shared achievement reinforced ‘we can do this!’. 

On reflection the lunch discussion raised a bigger question for me. Do I belong with this group of younger women who could be the same age as my daughter (if I had one)? Do they want me around?

Older adults, like me, are sometimes guilty of being ‘ageist’ about ourselves. 

A favourite quote of mine from Anne Lamott sums it up beautifully “I am all the ages I have ever been”.

Attitudes matter more than age. I thrive on the company of a variety of people of different ages from different backgrounds with similar interests, having interesting conversations and fun times together.

So my answer to ‘Do I belong in this group?’ is ‘Absolutely’. I am enriched by hearing their experiences and perspectives on life, just as they are by mine.


Mary Somervell

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