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A Higher Calling

Many people love to hike, but some are so passionate about the sport that they have taken it to new heights.

Take Bob Jones, 60, a senior vice president and financial advisor at CAPTRUST in Charlotte, North Carolina. Besides taking hiking trips with his wife and children, Jones and a group of buddies go on challenging mountain adventures. They’ve traversed the Haute Route in the French and Swiss Alps, hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

“When you get to the top of Kilimanjaro, it’s a tremendously exhilarating feeling,” Jones says. “The adrenaline of success overwhelms the fatigue.”

Or consider Marcela Curry, 55, a senior vice president for Wells Fargo in Raleigh, North Carolina. After she trekked to the top of Colorado’s Pikes Peak for the first time, she thought “this was the most amazing challenge of my life. I have to do more.”

Since then, she has tackled trails in several regions, including hiking in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia region. She describes the area as “nirvana. It’s so pristine and so quiet. There are herds of guanacos (a relative of the camel) on the mountains, and beautiful condors flying overhead, and you have no access to iPhones or TV.”

Or take Maria McEvoy, 50, of New York City, who used to work on Wall Street but now stays home with her son. She started hiking a few years ago, and since then she has climbed three of Colorado’s fourteeners, which is what enthusiasts call a mountain that meets or exceeds an elevation of 14,000 feet. And she made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. “The beauty of mountain climbing is you are going to an incredible destination every single time,” she says.

These folks’ passion for adventurous mountain hiking doesn’t surprise Michael Lanza, creator of thebigoutside.com, where he writes about hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor adventures. He has hiked in most major U.S. National Parks and all over the world, including in the Alps, Scottish Highlands, and Italy’s Dolomites.

“Recent studies have proven what people have known intuitively for a long time: Being outdoors in nature makes us feel better. It’s good for us physically and mentally,” says Lanza, author of Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks and a former Northwest editor for Backpacker magazine.  

Hiking is really walking, he says. “We’re not all going to run through the mountains, leap high, or do things that specialized athletes do, but most people are capable of hiking as long as they pace themselves and eat and drink enough.”

Lanza describes beginning hikers as people who get out occasionally. Intermediate hikers have done a variety of trails and possess fundamental skills like the ability to read a map, use a compass, make good judgments in the backcountry, dress properly, and stay hydrated and fueled, he says.

Expert hikers are people who’ve hiked quite a lot, probably in a variety of environments. They have faced many situations, requiring them to adapt to a changing or unanticipated situation, and they can lead others through a crisis, Lanza says.

A mountain climber is someone who uses climbing gear, such as ropes, to climb rocks or even snow and ice on bigger mountains, he says. And the definition for a mountaineer is a person who climbs mountains as a sport.

The better your physical condition, the more you’ll be able to enjoy demanding hikes, he says. Walking 1,000 feet uphill is challenging for many; hiking 3,000 feet uphill in a day is a big day for most people, as is a fourteener, he says.

But there are many easy hikes that can be undertaken by adults of any age at almost any fitness level and by even the smallest children, he says.

Passionate hikers often train for their expeditions. Tom Wilson, 54, an investment banker in Charlotte, North Carolina, who takes trips with Jones, is already fit because he’s an avid runner and cyclist. But he does additional training because he knows from experience that the fitter he is the more he will enjoy himself. To prepare for Kilimanjaro and Mount Rainier, Wilson added biweekly stair climbing to his routine for several months. Wearing backpacks, he and his hiking buddies would climb up and down 90 flights of stairs in an office building.

McEvoy views hiking as a sport she’ll be able to continue doing into her 60s and beyond. “I want to be challenged mentally and physically, but I don’t want to get hurt. It’s an incredible workout, but you don’t feel like your body has been beaten up.”

Hiking gives her a sense of accomplishment. “When you do something that is so difficult, and you succeed, it is confidence building. I can point to that mountain, and say, ‘I did that.’ I’m constantly thinking about what my next mountain is going to be.”

So how expensive are mountain hiking adventures abroad?

A weeklong, unguided, hut-to-hut trek in the Dolomites, not including airfare and ground transportation, is about $1,000 per person, Lanza says.

Jones estimates the cost of a 5- to 10-day hiking trip is $2,000 to $4,000, excluding airfare. If you stay in tents or huts, the lodging and food costs are minimal, but many hikers hire a guide for the more challenging trips, he says. On the other hand, one can head to the nearest National Park and hike for next to nothing, Jones adds.

It’s hard to put a price tag on the benefits of this kind of experience.

Curry says the quietness of a mountain hike allows her to think about ideas and memories, providing her the opportunity for “great clarity.” Plus, she and her husband, John, have some of their “greatest moments of conversation” while on the trail.

Jones agrees. “You can sit out and look at millions of stars at night. Or you may be walking in a storm in pouring-down rain. It can be very relaxing, and you are off the grid,” he says. “Hiking is a very peaceful thing to do.” 

About the Author

Nanci Hellmich, an award-winning multimedia reporter, covered personal finance, retirement, nutrition, health, and other topics for USA TODAY for more than 30 years. She now enjoys writing for AARP, Encore.org, and other companies and organizations. She has been named one of the top 10 national online influencers on weight loss and nutrition. Nanci has appeared on both local and national television, including NBC's TODAY Show.

 

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