Posted by Ken Campbell March 16, 2014 0 Comment 3170 views

In the world of alpine mountaineering, the real estate located above 8000 meters is known as the “Death Zone.” It doesn’t mean that climbers hit the 26,000-foot level on a particular peak and then keel over dead; it simply means that, above this line, their bodies are unable to acclimatize and physical wear-and-tear becomes acute and irreversible. Too long above that elevation, and death is the inevitable result. The only real cure is to descend, to get as far down as possible where the air is rich as fast as their climber legs can take them.

climbingRainier_p3Sarcopenia is the name given to the condition of age-related muscle loss. After the age of forty, the human body begins to shed muscle tissue. Slowly at first (and there are methods of counteracting the effects for a while), but as the smoke clears from the candles on your fiftieth birthday cake, the process is well underway. You can alter your diet and exercise schedule as much as you like, but time will not be denied. Forty is the death zone for human beings, at least when it comes to muscle growth and function. One possible cure would be to reverse course, to descend in years the way that climbers can go lower on the mountain and by becoming twenty once again. That would fix the problem, no question, but until I can work out the bugs on my time machine, it seems that this particular cure is sadly out of reach.

But climbers that turn around don’t reach the summit. Likewise, turning forty (or fifty, or sixty) doesn’t mean that all forward progress stops. The answer to the problem is the same, whether you are a successful climber or just someone who is starting to get too much junk mail from AARP: will. Do you want to continue? Really want it? Is your will to persevere stronger than the effects of advanced years or high altitude? If so, you have a chance. If not, you will slowly succumb to the effects of your environment eventually, whether you find yourself near the roof of the world or in a rocking chair in a stuffy sitting room.

I am thinking about these things as I sit here nursing a broken rib, with my fortieth birthday well back in my rear-view mirror and a relatively demanding paddling project coming up in a few short weeks. It all eventually comes down to will.

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