You’re Never Too Old for Everest
Hitting 50 can come as a shock to anyone. Retirement is often on the horizon, women are reaching menopause, bodies are aging and it can feel like life is somehow starting to wind down.
Recently, a group of 10 Indonesians, nine men and one woman, aged mostly about 50 years old, decided to put themselves to the test with a trek in the Everest region of Nepal.
Keen to prove they were no less capable than when they were younger, they named their group [email protected]
“Turning 50 wasn’t really an issue for me, but I was wondering at that time if I could still follow my hobby [mountain climbing] in a serious way,” said Manogari Siahaan, also known as Manung, one of the 10 trekkers.
According to Manung, men turning 50 can suffer a drop in self-esteem, receive less recognition and have concerns about whether they are still capable of doing the things they could in their 20s.
Manung, the director of a private company, has been an outdoor enthusiast since he was a teen. At the University of Indonesia, where he studied economics in the 1970s, he joined Mapala UI, a group dedicated to outdoor activities. He has remained a member ever since.
All 10 members of [email protected] are from Mapala UI. Although most are near 50 years old, the group ranges in age from 36 to 55.
For their planned trek in the Himalayas, they chose three peaks they wanted to reach: Gokyo (5,357 meters), Kalapatthar (5,550 meters) and Everest Base Camp (5,364 meters), all in the Everest region.
“We chose the Himalayas because we were already ‘settled’ in terms of age,” said Agus Radjani Pandjaitan, also known as Djani. “Having climbed the mountains here in Indonesia, we were looking for a more challenging journey overseas.
“Besides, for mountain climbers, the Himalayas are like Mecca is to Muslims. It is the journey you want to experience at least once in your life.”
Manung said, “The objective is to prove that we are physically fit enough to trek [at altitudes] above 5,000 meters.”
The group took more than a year to complete their preparations for the trip. Apart from physical training, the group also consulted friends who had been to the Himalayas, and they collected as much information about trekking in the area as possible.
“One of the tips I got was that wet tissues come in handy for many cleaning purposes as water is scarce there,” said Zamira E Loebis, 49, also known as Tatap, a journalist and the only female member of the group. “It was all ice.
“And thanks to bringing and using a lot of them, I now feel sick every time I smell wet tissues,” she said, laughing.
The 10 professionals all had their own schedules to work around as they designed a training program. While jogging and medical check-ups were part of all their routines, some members of the group went trekking in the mountains in West Java every month to maintain their fitness.
Other group members took a different approach to training.
“I have classes to teach so it wasn’t possible for me to go climbing. I hired a personal assistant at the gym,” Tatap said.
Asked if members who smoked had to quit the habit, the answer was no.
“It would have been better if they could have stopped, but it was their choice. And it turned out that they did just fine,” said Manung, who gave up cigarettes nearly 15 years ago.
Even during the climb, members who smoked could puff at certain altitudes, based on an agreement the group had which allowed smokers to light up once they reached certain points on the climb.
The group began their adventure on Oct. 4, 2009. The journey, which consisted of 17 consecutive trekking days, began with an overnight stay in Bangkok. The following day they headed straight to Nepal’s capital, Katmandu.
From there, on a 15-seater plane, the group flew to Lukla, a town in eastern Nepal, and the most common starting point for trekking in the region.
The Lukla airport appeared dangerous.
“The strip was short and right there at its end is a ravine. It was scary,” Tatap said.
Assisted by four local guides and five porters, the group began the trek, with Lukla as both its start and end point.
“But we chose a route that was not normally taken by other climbers to get to the Everest region,” said 55-year-old Syamsyirwan, also known as Ichien. “And that meant longer trekking days.”
Normally, the trek to the Everest Base Camp is made by taking a right turn at Namche Bazar, which is located at an altitude of 3,450 meters.
“But we took the left turn to Gokyo Peak en route to the Everest Base Camp,” said Agung Sutiastoro, who at 38 was one of the youngest members of the group.
The path they took from Lukla was via Jorsale, then up to Namche Bazar, Khumjung, Machermo, Gokyo and Gokyo Ri. Half the group then continued on to Dragnag, Chola Pass, Dzonglha, Lobuche, Gorak Shep, Kalapatthar, Everest Base Camp, Dingboche, Phungi Thanga, Monjo and back to Lukla.
After Gokyo, Agung said, five people decided to go down back to Lukla for health reasons, while the rest continued the journey.
The final destination the other five were eager to reach was Everest Base Camp.
Along the way, Agung made a sudden decision to go even higher, to Island Peak, which sits at 6,189 meters. So at Dingboche, after they had reached Everest Base Camp, he separated from the other four members. Taking a guide and a porter, it took him an extra three days to get there and back. The others went on without him.
“I just felt that I could go further. And also, because I was already there in the Himalayas, I thought, why not?” he said.
Before they began, the group was aware of the risks of acute mountain sickness, also known as altitude sickness, which usually begins between 4,000 and 5,000 meters. AMS symptoms may include a shortage of breath, vomiting and severe headaches.
“You lose your appetite and you become very sensitive, thus get annoyed easily,” Manung said. “We experienced that, although we’ve been friends for decades.”
Members of the group also suffered other symptoms, such as headaches and loss of appetite, but no one became seriously ill.
Despite the altitude sickness, the journey was the most wonderful any of them had been on, Manung said.
“We witnessed the greatness of Mother Nature. The views were so amazing that we took a great amount of photos.
“We had a hard time selecting the pictures for the book we’re currently making for ourselves about our journey.”
Next on the list for the group is trekking in the majestic Anapurnas, also in Nepal.
“But we might have to change the name of our group as we won’t be 50 anymore by the time we get there,” Manung joked. “Maybe it will become [email protected]”
Having trekked in the Himalayas, they achieved one important goal. They proved that 50 is just a number and not a barrier to doing the things they love.
Although Manung did not make it to the Everest Base Camp, he said he was happy with the trip.
“For me, personally, it was an achievement,” he said.
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