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North America:

Aging, Altitude and Climbing Smart

Tusker's Kilimanjaro Climb Blog Series

Among the top questions that hikers ask is the classic: how high is Mount Kilimanjaro? If you’re planning to tackle this journey, you’ll certainly want to know all about the mountain’s 19,341-foot height.

If you’re worried that this height is too much for someone your age, you may need to think again. It seems that altitude sickness and the strains of hiking at these heights impact older adventurers less than their younger counterparts. Exploring this interesting phenomenon may just give you the inspiration you need to let go of your reservations and book your trip to the majestic Kilimanjaro now.

It’s an inexact science, but some doctors who specialize in high altitude medicine suggest that older people can tolerate altitude better because as we age our brain shrinks, requires less oxygen, and has more room in which to swell when inflamed

Experienced mountain trip leaders suggest it has more to do with your ego than the physiology of your brain. Older trekkers show no more vulnerability to high altitude than much younger hikers and their summit success rates are just as good. The reason may be older trekkers are less ego driven and not trying to be first up the mountain. By taking a slower pace it aids in their acclimatization.

It seems counterintuitive to those nervously asking how high is Mount Kilimanjaro, but at 65 you can hang with those muscular millennials climbing Kilimanjaro where the 19K air is razor thin. Your competitive advantage—the wisdom that comes with age.

Viagra to the Rescue

Dr. Peter Hackett heads Telluride’s Institute for Altitude Medicine and is among those who believe those over 50 are less susceptible to altitude sickness. He posits that as people age their brain shrinks and needs less oxygen, but adds that genetics often determines who gets Acute Mountain Sickness. In his studies on Mt. Denali in Alaska he has found that high caliber younger athletes are more prone to altitude problems than rank and file non-athletes who are older.

Perhaps Hackett’s most provocative altitude and aging observation—guys who take Viagra can deal with altitude sickness problems better because Viagra promotes oxygenation through increased blood flow. As we all know Viagra wasn’t designed for altitude issues and is used primarily by older gents.

Tusker’s Take on Age and How High Mt. Kilimanjaro Is

Tusker’s clients cover the age gamut and have included star athletes, Type A professional, elite military soldiers, as well as retirees on bucket list quests. Andrew Springsteel, Tusker’s South American guide, observes that some of his clients over 55 treat trekking Peru’s Cordillera Blanca with respect. They prepare for the 16,000 foot altitude highest point in the trek with the caution it deserves. They often train harder and are smarter about their pace especially in the early days of the Andean climb.

“After 60 they take it more seriously and in some cases they are more efficient than the 30-year-olds because on day one they don’t push it and acclimatize better later on.  By day three and five when we get to extreme altitude their willingness to go slow earlier shows a benefit,” Andrew said. “Culturally they feel that when you’re in your 50s and 60s that you will have a tougher time so they take getting ready for the trip more seriously.”

Another factor could be years of experience. Some older hikers who have failed to summit in the past because of altitude issues take an analytical approach to their failure and don’t repeat their past mistakes. They eat and hydrate properly, and take hygiene ultra-seriously by not sharing snacks to prevent infections.

“When they put their pack on the ground they make sure the water bladders’ bite valve doesn’t get in the dirt where pack animals have been. If you get sick your body requires more oxygen to fight an infection and that could mean less oxygen for your body to get to the summit, “Andrew says.

Age, Altitude and Attitude

Tusker founder Eddie Frank has been pounding the trail above tree line for more years than his knees care to remember-42 to be exact. Although he has summited Kilimanjaro 53 times and is among the lucky ones in the genetic lottery, he is also a student of high altitude and its medical issues. He has watched the super athletes fail to summit yet seen the cerebral graybeards celebrate atop Kibo.

“Climbing smart” is among his mottos. “Go slow or go down,” is a favorite saying as is, “If you tried Kilimanjaro in your 20s and didn’t make it, do it now in your 60s, and climb smarter.”

Now that you’ve answered the question of how high is Mount Kilimanjaro, it’s time to tackle the question of how memorable this trek can be.

The first questions you’ll need to answer is what time of year should I make my climb and what route has the right experience that I might expect from climbing Kilimanjaro.  Well you’re in luck because we have 45 years experience on the mountain and there’s a reason why we have a 5 Star rating on Trip Advisor. Because we not only love what we do, we love ensuring you have a climb experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.

So take a moment and reach out to one of our amazing seasoned guides who can answer all your questions.  Contact a Guide

Here are some tips on how to prepare for your Kilimanjaro hike

Ready to Explore?

Tusker Trail was founded in 1977 with Eddie Frank’s first trans-Africa expedition. Today, 45 years later, Tusker Trail is recognized across the globe as a world class, expedition company with an incredible track record and reputation for training the finest guides on the planet. On Kilimanjaro, Tusker’s mountain guides have earned the nickname “The Lions of the Mountain” by guides from other companies.

Take a look at Tusker’s treks, each a unique experience of some of the most amazing journeys that will challenge you and change your life forever. If you have a question about our treks give us a call  +1.775.833.9700 or 1.800.231.1919  and if you talk to Eddie Frank be sure to ask him about the bet he made 45 years ago that sent him on that first expedition across Africa.


ALL Our Treks…

Kilimanjaro Climb – (Tanzania)

Kilimanjaro Climb Routes

Everest Base Camp Trek – (Nepal)

Greenland Fjords Trek – (Greenland)

Greenland Dog Sledding Expedition – (Greenland)

Mongolia Nomad Trek – (Mongolia) – “Trip of the Year Award: Outside Magazine”

Patagonia Trek – (Chile and Argentina)

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