The Longest Day: Alzheimer’s and Climbing

MomJune 21st is the longest day of the year for the northern hemisphere but for Alzheimer’s caregivers, everyday can be the longest day.

The Alzheimer’s Association has many events today to honor those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers focusing on patience, salve strength, endurance, and challenge.

I know that when my mom went through her Alzheimer’s journey, we experienced all of those as I often do while climbing.


High winds on Denali preventing summit attemptOn each climb, short or long, my patience is often tested. Waiting out bad weather on Everest or spending a week in my tent at 17,000 feet on Denali; each day seemed to pass at a snail’s pace. I was constantly tested to maintain focus, high spirits, and a sense of purpose.

Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s shares these characteristics. It is easy to loose your temper or forget the purpose when asked the same questions over and over. It is tempting to want to quit even though you know you cannot leave your loved one alone for even a moment.

For me, I drew on the reason I was doing what I was doing to keep going. Whether going for a summit or providing a moment of love that would be soon forgotten. Living in the moment provided the focus I needed to get onto the next moment


Alan KarakorumSometimes people think I am strong to climb as I do, especially at my age! But the reality is that strength in climbing comes from balance. It is all about a healthy heart, lungs, body and mind.

Researchers still do not fully understand Alzheimer’s Disease, but they are getting closer each year. What is known is that the only proven way to potentially avoid getting Alzheimer’s is to keep a healthy mind and body. It has been proven in multiple studies that daily exercise not only helps the heart but also the mind.



I often say during my public speaking on climbing Mt. Everest that there are 1000 reasons to stop and only 1 to keep going. In three of my four Everest climbs, I found one of the 1,000 and on my forth, I found that one.

Endurance is a trait often overlooked for caregivers. The daily tasks are demanding and often go unthanked. Starting with taking care of yourself is the key to taking care of others.


Alan Ice Climbing

There are no limits to the challenges of climbing, and that is one reason I love the sport. Whether climbing steep cold ice, high sharp rock or pushing the limits at altitudes where airplanes fly; the challenge is often between you and the mountain. It can be a lonely sport.

I can only imagine what it is like having Alzheimer’s. I would sit with my mom for hours sometimes talking, sometimes laughing and often just quietly enjoying the moment.

At times, my  mom would become very still, very quiet. She stared off in the distance not focusing on anyone or anything. I wondered where she went during these times. Was she remembering her childhood playing with one of her eight brothers or sisters? Was she dreaming of what was to come? Or was she lost?

Holding her hand gently, she would eventually come back. She would look at me, smile softly and then ask me “When did you come in?

I would squeeze her hand and softly say. “Mom, I never left.”

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3 thoughts on “The Longest Day: Alzheimer’s and Climbing

  1. A very moving little written piece and video. I am sure you would say how lucky you were to have such a devoted mum but in return I am sure she would say how fortunate she was to have such a devoted and loving son.Cheers Kate, you’re right Memories are Everything.

  2. Oh and of course I will share it w the Help Stamp OUT Alzheimer’s community.

  3. Eloquent and deeply touching as, of course, I have come to expect from you. You never left your mom and, we who know you, know that you won’t leave the fight until this disease is defeated. Proud to call you friend.

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