On a sun-struck Tuesday morning I sign a waiver, strap on a helmet and harness, clip myself to a cable running up to a 9,200 foot peak and start climbing. It’s hard work—three days later, my quads are still barking—and intimidating at times. To my left, the world falls away abruptly; If I choose to, I can look thousands of feet straight down. Mostly, I do not so choose. My climbing buddy Sarah is in her forties and a mom of teens, but the other climbers range from 18 to 33. They could have been my kids if I’d gotten an especially early start on childbearing.
This is a day when age doesn’t count. We’re all in it together, making the same slow, steady progress up Mt. Nimbus, deep in the mountains of British Columbia. After four hours of climbing, when we finally stand together on the summit, we represent five different decades of life. On that little rocky outcropping, I could have been 33 or 27 or even 18.
We’re on Canadian Mountain Holidays’ newest adventure, the Via Ferrata, a rock-climbing course designed to give novices like me the thrill of a steep-pitch climb. I figured via ferrata was Italian for “scared silly,” but it turns out to mean “iron way.” A series of U-shaped metal steps, like the ones repairmen use to scale telephone poles, lead up the rock face with a metal cable running alongside. You ascend this rudimentary stairway to heaven, methodically re-clipping yourself to new segments of cable to assure that the farthest you can fall is the length of your tether, an umbilical cord that connects you and your harness to the rock.
The CMH guides spent three summers constructing the course and dreaming up inventive ways to get our attention. Like the 150-foot-long suspension bridge that connects two spires, a bridge only Indiana Jones could love. “How far is the drop?” I ask Bruce, our guide. “Only 200 feet to the first bounce,” he helpfully replies. Believe me, you have plenty of time to contemplate that fate as you gingerly inch your way across, tiptoeing from rung to rung, trying not to set up a sway. Did I mention that the rungs are placed more than a foot apart, so there’s always plenty of viewing space straight down? Sarah, who goes first, advises me that Zen yoga walking, one breath per step, is the key, and it does help, but I notice that every one of us makes a final, grateful lunge to grab a handhold on the far side.
One more steep ascent, and then we all pose for photos on the summit with big, stupid grins on our faces. We are kings and queens of the universe. From there, it’s a crazy-fun 200-foot rappel to a spot where the Bell 212 twin-turbine helicopter picks us up to fetch us back to the lodge. “Best day of my life!” one climber shouts on her way down. We all "whoo-hoo" back, punching our fists in the air.
Conquering Mt. Nimbus is a top-of-the-world emotion that makes me feel like a kid again, with an afterglow that lasts and lasts. I’m in the mood to stretch, to reinvent, to try other new things.
At midlife, we spend a lot of time trying to look younger. Nothing wrong with that. But isn’t the real point to feel younger? For that, there’s nothing like getting out of your comfort zone and doing something you didn’t know you could. If adventure is your thing, Canadian Mountain Holidays has got you covered. They run superb heli-hiking trips from lodges deep in the mountains of British Columbia. By day you explore far-flung alpine meadows and glacier-clad peaks; by night you enjoy a hearty dinner, a roaring fire and a soft bed at the lodge. Take a look at canadianmountainholidays.com (and be sure to check out the via ferrata). Best day of your life: I promise.