Age is just a number. If it starts with a ‘7’, you are not eliminated from certain activities. Same with an ‘8’. Regardless of the kids saying, aren’t you too old to take that risk? Bucket list items should never become casualties to a number. Yes, we need to be a bit more cautious and maybe we aren’t the fastest folks on the trail, but being out in the fresh air, bending your joints and stretching your muscles, oxygenating your system is a most valuable reward. Will today’s youngsters ever find the peace, serenity and solitude that we all have? I hope so.
We, at 73 and 76, are ordinary examples. We have been physically fit and blessed with good health and joints, but have kept up exercising even when ill or injured, just pressing on through it. Sure, it may hurt, but if it isn’t physically damaging our bodies, we proceed. Most of you do that too.
So we have discarded the ‘7s’ and are looking forward to ignoring the ‘8s’.
We climbed the 14,411 foot peak of Mt Rainier over forty years ago when we were dating. It was bitterly cold fun. We revisited the mountain last year, albeit this time only for a 5,000 ft. vertical day climb from Paradise up the Muir Snowfield to the 10,000 foot Camp Muir. A beautiful August hike. Climbing without acclimation to higher elevations is a little harder as we age, yet last September we still climbed up 4,800 vertical feet to the top of Colorado’s Mt Elbert, at 14,432 feet, the highest point in the Rocky Mountains. A slow, but successful, climb.
However, beyond age, we are afflicted with a problem. Climbers have an insatiable need to stand on top of whatever challenges we see. If unclimbed, it is filed away on our bucket list. On a Caribbean cruise in the 1980s, we stopped on beautiful little St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean with its pleasant port of call at Castries on the northern part of the island. We didn’t do much except poke around with our little boys. But staring back at us were the near-twins Gros Piton and Petit Piton, gigantic tooth shaped volcanic spires. (Spires are solidified lava that forms inside volcanoes and are all that is left when the volcano erodes.) The Pitons are located on the southern part of St Lucia and they have taunted us for decades. Are we now too old for this?
So we set our sights on Gros Piton, at 2,608 feet, the slightly higher of the two. Both are now a World Heritage Site. This was a good chance to use up some of our Alaska Airlines mileage. Obligingly our flight passed alongside the Pitons before landing at Hewanorra International Airport where we stepped into an ecotourism paradise. The southern half of the island is less developed, more natural, and less frequented by tourists. This a delightful step into the ‘real’ St Lucian culture where cruise ships don’t stop.
With the exception of two popular super luxury hideaway resorts of Ladera and Sugar Beach, the accommodations are more local. We stayed at the Downtown Hotel in Soufriere, a little very old port in the shadow of Petit Piton. An immersive experience. Constant chatter of Creole accented English on the streets. The Piton Peak Café is close by and the small Still House resort (best lunch buffet) is only a 10-minute walk. The monthly Friday night Jump Up in the town square went on until 2am. Fun and loud.
We had selected Treasure Tours (Ms. Charkar) for transfer and guide services and mentioned our ages and climbing experience, so they wouldn’t be surprised by our white hair. So with an early pickup from the hotel and 45-minute drive to tiny Piton Village where the guides live, we met our great guide Martin. (Due to the risks, the government tightly controls the route. Climbers must go with a guide and sign stringent release of liability forms.) An early start is advised before the sun moves fully around and starts cooking the trail. The trail is 2,200 vertical feet over two miles, with benches at .5 mile, 1.0 mile, and the famous mango tree at 1.5 mile. Only determined climbers can love this trail – it is almost all over rocks, large and small, and the last mile is just straight up steep. Trail keepers have added several handrails of native sticks to help over the worse spots. It is a precarious climb, not for the faint of heart.
We reached the top of Gros Piton in the average two hours, much to Martin’s satisfaction. There are two tops – government guides go to the more frequented south top with a view south, but Treasure Tours guides can also go to the north top with its breath-taking view of the Petit Piton 3 miles away and Soufriere Bay. Martinique was in the haze 40 miles away (or a 90-minute fast ferry ride from Castries)
After pictures, snacks, water and rejuvenation – and a chance to feed the abundant mosquitoes – we headed down. The descent is as perilous as the ascent.
We reached Piton Village and stopped for, what else, an ice cold Piton Beer. Another peak conquered, another item off the bucket list. Was it ‘appropriate’ for folks of our age to test our limits? Yes. It was there, we climbed it, end of story. We seem to be drawn by volcanoes – last May we climbed El Teide Volcano on the Canary Island of Tenerife, a tough one, and climbed Mauna Loa in Hawaii in November. Outdoor adventures are in our blood, so we’ll undoubtedly seek out a few more volcanos to add to our bucket list.