Magazine article Insight on the News

Seniors Seek Adventure Hiking Canadian Rockies

Magazine article Insight on the News

Seniors Seek Adventure Hiking Canadian Rockies

Article excerpt

As people stay healthy into their golden years, travel companies are packaging tours for active seniors. One woman found her group of spirited `elderlies' outwalking younger sightseers.

Not so long ago, most people more than 50 years old would have chosen to vacation on a luxury cruise, or opted for one of the excellent tours sponsored by museums and learned societies. Today, however, the great outdoors has become more popular, and people are healthier and more physically active. This combination of factors has created a new niche for the travel industry -- exemplified by the Colorado-based Walking the World Co.

I made arrangements through the company for a seven-day hiking tour of the Canadian Rockies, specifically Banff and Jasper national parks, and found myself in a crowd of six women, two men and our guides, a man and a woman. We made a well-blended, very pleasant little group, all of us older than 60. Nevertheless, everyone was fit and had some hiking experience.

Our guides, expert naturalists, planned daily walks that varied from four to six hours and took us to elevations of 2,800 feet. (The entire valley floor is just above 5,000 feet, which is a great advantage for acclimatization.) The trails are excellent, hardpacked soil with many switchbacks. Daytime temperatures in the springtime are pleasantly cool. Hikers should wear warm clothing if they plan to venture above the tree line, and they should be prepared to get a few good drenchings.

Aspens dominate the landscape at low elevations; Douglas fir, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce take over higher up. One trail leads through a forest of larch, the only deciduous needled tree on the North American continent. Wildflowers are astoundingly abundant.

I remember three hikes especially. One was a visit to the Columbia Ice-field, one of the largest along the Continental Divide. Meltwater from the field drains into the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans. The ice field is receding, although the Saskatchewan glacier is advancing.

Walking up Parker Ridge, we found ourselves traipsing over 25 million-year-old coral reefs with tiny seashells and creatures embedded in the rock. (When the continents were crunched together, this area was submerged.) On the same day, we visited Athabasca Falls, a steaming, boiling narrow gorge where a river is forced between two canyon walls. It is no wonder that 18th-century explorer Peter Pond did not continue his search for the all-water route across North America. …

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