The world could end in a traffic jam. It’s blocked everywhere, not only in Washington, but also at Mount Everest. If you follow breaking news, you’ve seen climbers clumped up near the top of the tallest mountain in the world. Why would anyone want to climb Mount Everest? There’s no sensible reason other than what George Mallory said. He was the first to try climbing Everest in 1924, “Because it’s there.” Yes, and there’s beltways around every city, too, but do we get stuck on them just because they’re there?

If you’re weary of living a traffic-jammed life, waiting for the government to repair potholes at every interchange, I suggest you walk, a lost art. I did and found it to be healthy and revitalizing. But, like traveling on beltways, if you carry it to extremes, it can be deadly. There’s nothing worse than dying in a car without food and water.

Lucky me, after retirement, I walked out over the earth to see the glories and magnificence of it. I’ve trekked (hiked) for three weeks at a time over arduous mountainous terrain carrying a sleeping bag rated to below freezing temperatures and other supplies. If you decide to walk over beltways, I suggest you carry a 50-pound backpack to keep your muscles and mind strong.

And then after trekking to above climber’s base camp at both the north and south faces of Mount Everest and at K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, I thought it would be challenging and exciting to give technical mountain climbing a try. In whatever you decide to do with your life, don’t let aging deter you. Better late than never is better than living life to its end in a rocking chair. Which is more difficult, climbing mountains or running marathons? They’re both sort of dumb, but what are you going to do with your waning life, rock yourself to death?

Friends tell me they’re afraid of heights, including skyscrapers. Me, too, but we’re roped together, and if you begin falling 5,000 feet straight down, your new friends will jerk you back up. When’s the last time you were stalled in your car and a good-neighbor car provided you with food, water and an oxygen tank when you were gasping for breath?

The reasons there are many deaths on mountains — eight recently on Everest — is the lack of oxygen, exhaustion, disorientation, avalanches and an assortment of other natural elements. But climbers are equipped with ropes, clips, ice axes and crampons attached to their climbing boots. Crampons have sharp points protruding at the front of each boot and are used to climb up ice falls. Slam your ice ax into the ice above your head and stomp the crampon points into the ice at your feet and pull up step-by-step maybe 100 feet or more. It’s something like your wife directing you to climb a ladder to clean an upstairs window so she can see out. I advise you not to let her hold the ladder for you. People tend to lose their focus when they’re overly excited.

Most climbing accidents occur going down, when elation distracts from focusing on the next step. I didn’t climb every mountain, but a few that became “grand days in my life.” Older people can have grand days, too. It’s not how many breaths one takes, but how many times one’s breath is taken away.

When I climbed to the 20,000-foot summit on Hyuna Potosi in the Andes, my breath went away. It was two days after my 64th birthday. Looking down on the good earth from that perspective, there are no words to describe it. Time and space unlimited. A freedom that soaring eagles surely feel. And a climb is not a race. Each cautious and deliberate step you take leads to a thinner air where an inward-light appears that illuminates.

A friend asked, that when I came down, wasn’t it a letdown? No, my spirit is still up there, a permanent fixture, a high that won’t come down. But there is a gravity law stating that what goes up must come down. Don’t let gravity deter you from soaring to those grand days, then and now. Gravity does cause potholes and that’s why we get stuck on beltways. Build roads and pure airwaves, not walls that prohibit dreams.

When you gravitate to a rocking chair, have enough memories stored inside your spiritual space that opens to the highest heavenly place.

— Contact Terry Cummins at