Midlife to the Extreme: The Spark that Started it All

Updated: Jan 20

Happy New Year!

One of our first rock climbs in July 2015

Whether we like it or not, every January first, our inboxes and social media feeds explode with screams of a NEW YEAR, NEW YOU.


Honestly. As if there isn't enough to stress us out without the yearly pressure to COMPLETELY CHANGE WHO WE ARE.


Like many places in the world, cases are rising exponentially here in Manitoba, Canada, and restrictions are back, making us all collectively anxious about the renewed threat of Omicron and the ambiguity of how this will all end. Everywhere, I see new features on rising anxiety and how to manage it.


It's a massive bummer.


And so tough for so many.


Ray and I have tried to find good moments where we can, to break the monotony, and improve what we call our pandemic funk.


People often ask us where our Midlife Mountaineer journey started, and I'd like to share part of that story today.


And should this tale find someone who is also feeling low, my hope is that the Midlife Mountaineer story might ignite a tiny spark that fuels a new experience.


And pull you out of this funk. Even if just a little.


And who knows where that new experience might lead you?


Trust me, it could be amazing.

It's hard for me to believe that 2022 marks seven years since Ray and I jumped into the world of mountain sports.


The Midlife Mountaineer spark was ignited in Japan, October 2014.


Ray was turning 50. I was 46.


For Ray's milestone birthday, I wanted to do something EPIC. Japan had been a part of my life for five years (1997 - 2002) and I wanted to share my favourite experiences in the country I still consider my second home.


At the same time, my friend Tomomi invited me to sing at her wedding, to be celebrated in Tokyo right around Ray's birthday.


AND, my koto teacher wanted to gift me one of her instruments, so we had to find a way to get it back to Canada safely.


A win-win all around! We bought the tickets and boarded the plane for a three-week whirlwind "homecoming" of sorts.


It was magical to see Japan through Ray's eyes and share all the people and places I'd loved so much when I lived there.


Ray and Jackie at the wedding afterparty in Shibuya, dressed as Queen Amidala and Darth Maul
One magical day of many. The wedding afterparty in Shibuya. Can you guess the theme?

During our trip to Chino, Nagano (where I'd spent the last year of my time in Japan), we ventured out to trek in the Yatsugatake mountain range. When I lived in Chino, I could see these mountains clearly from my apartment. I fell in love with them on some solo adventures in 2002.


Ray and I did the same hike that I'd done 12 years before, and took a photo in roughly the same spot. Incidentally, the 2002 photo was the one I posted to the online dating platform where Ray and I met in 2005.

Jackie hiking in the Yatsugatake range, Chino, Japan
Jackie's hike in 2002. A proud girl-power moment!

That hike ignited a tiny spark that grew to a flame by the time we returned to Winnipeg.


We wanted more mountains in our life.


But what to do, when you live on the Canadian Prairies?


Here's what we did.


Step 1: We joined the Alpine Club of Canada, Manitoba Section.


Local clubs are a great way to learn about a new activity and meet like-minded folks.

Same hike in 2014, still wearing my red bandana!

Our first event was the annual meeting in November 2014, and we didn't know a soul. I am an introvert, and this was way outside my comfort zone.


But the community was so welcoming.

Many of the folks who attended that evening are now great friends.


Step 2: Through that first event, we learned about a local school climbing wall, run by the Club d'escalade de Saint-Boniface. Ray had climbed in a gym before, but I had never done it. At the gym, I got a tiny bit comfortable with being in a harness and hanging on the rope. I had a fantastic teacher, who must have been in his early 20's at the time.


It was enough to get me to step 3!


Step 3: At the climbing gym, we'd noticed a climbing area that we later learned was for dry tooling. Ice climbers would bring their axes and climb in the gym to prepare for the season.


Ice climbing? Ray and I were shocked to learn there was a 60-foot tower of ice in downtown Winnipeg, and we couldn't wait to check it out. In January, once the icing was complete, we headed to the tower, strapped on a harness and crampons (aided by helpful volunteers), and attempted to climb.


Wow. As we quickly learned, most beginners try to haul themselves up the ice using mostly their arms. Both of us pumped out pretty fast, but still - I only got 20 feet off the ground, and what a feeling!!

Jackie standing in front of the Winnipeg ice tower with ice tools
My second climb at the ice tower.

Step 4: We learned new skills. We tried new sports. We fell. We got back up. We took courses. I cried (a few times).


And we kept going.


Since we started in 2015, Ray and I have done multiple mountaineering and climbing trips (rock and ice) and made lifelong friends in the process. Ray has completed climbing certifications and mountaineering courses. We've led an ice climbing trip each year. We're active in our local clubs. We launched an ice festival (sadly, now cancelled due to new restrictions).


We launched our website and a film company to do a movie about ice climbing on the Canadian Prairies (check out the film trailer) and to tell the stories of inspiring mid-lifers.


We didn't even own a proper camera before March 2021.


Who knew?


|We're now 53 and 57. Our mid-lives have been enriched beyond what we ever thought possible at "our age." Our vision TODAY of what lays on the other side of midlife is much different than it used to be.


Climbing mountains can be hard. Sometimes very hard. And we all climb them, both real and metaphorical.


So why not reinvent what's "over the hill?"


This belief is at the heart of Midlife Mountaineer.


Feel the spark. Take a a tiny step.


Could this be YOUR year? What's your first tiny step going to be?




106 views4 comments

Recent Posts

See All