Over a year ago, I got 2 partial knee replacements and decided to road test them on a Kilimanjaro climb – my 54th. The climb was interesting. What ensued was more than a test of mechanical parts. I got a key insight into my own aging process, and what to do to smooth the path.
The 14-day conversation with myself was not so much about the knees, but about how one deals with the aging process with the demise of our physical parts. Because, as you’re hiking through some of the planet’s most spectacular terrain over multiple days, the sound in your head gets deafening. It’s like a meditation and a screaming debate – all rolled up into one.
On this climb I tried something that I learned from my younger days as a safari and expedition guide in the African bush. You learn more from sitting still, and letting the world come to you, than from being in constant motion. This flies in the face of youthful “go,” but lies more comfortably on the side of getting older and wiser (not always guaranteed to go together.)
So, I went ahead of the climbing group to the Shira Plateau at 11,500 ft. and decided to stay there a few days – 5 to be exact – and let the world pass me by. And that it did. I saw a lot of people come and go, with visits from numerous local guides I’ve known and trained over the years. A pleasant surprise for me was meeting Tusker’s climbers who were passing through on their various routes around the mountain. I shook a lot of hands and got a lot of hugs. That’s always good, no matter where you are.
I met quite a few Tusker climbers who were on their second and third climbs. I’ve been noticing this trend over the past couple years. Some climbers return with their grown kids, or their spouses that stayed behind on their first climbs. And some climbers just came back for another Kili fix. I asked them why return? It’s tough, and for most people this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And they all said the same thing. They came for the drug. The feeling at the top. It’s like a prescription for feeling good about life. And you get a full dose at the summit. It doesn’t cost anything but the challenge; and it stays with you long after you reach home. Every one of these climbers came back for more – and wanted to share it with friends and family.
Shira Plateau is a beautiful place to sit and cogitate. When the clouds clear, you have the most spectacular view of Kibo peak just 10 miles across the plateau. You can explore the rim of the Shira caldera, which, before it collapsed a half-million years ago, made up one of the three Kilimanjaro peaks. Nowadays only two remain; Kibo and Mawenzi. Shira’s also a great place to just sit and soak up the grandeur that is Kilimanjaro.
The EUPHORIA is part of the reason I keep climbing, and I’m fully hooked on the buzz. It’s that same feeling that you or your children experienced when you did something new for the first time. – the wonder, the newness, the excitement. I am hooked on it. I also get special joy when I guide other climbers to their dreams on the summit. It’s a feeling that stays with you the rest of your life.
As I write this, there is a climber I know well on the mountain from Montreal. Jean H is on his third climb. I’ve been to the summit with him twice before. And he can’t stop coming back. And on the climb I just completed, Terry Soucy, the great philanthropist completed his 6th climb up Kilimanjaro with me.
So, the knees passed the road test. They’re not what they were in my twenties, but better than they’ve been for the past 25 years. The key to getting them to perform well was a highly focused rehab program after the operations, leading up to a regular intense well-designed training program 6 days a week. I used my old friend Dylan Staniec, whom I met when he was a young teen, and is now one of the best trainers in the country. And what’s great is that he directed my program remotely, because I live far away from him. Dylan’s method is simple – You walk his talk.
Lessons I keep learning on Kilimanjaro, as my body and mind age are threefold:
Keep on moving
You need to move your body daily with strenuous exercise. That way your body, joints, and mind don’t atrophy into a big mass of jelly. You keep your body tight, strong and capable. And your mind stays lucid.
Challenge your brain
This is the second part of moving. Don’t forget your brain. Read regularly, and get in arguments with your spouse to keep your knife sharp (but make up afterwards.)
Slow it down
No need to rush. You’re getting older. So if you take it slower, you’ll appreciate the beauty around you without the rush. If you go too fast, you’ll pass it by.
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t wear out the tread on your new knees.