A Zoomer’s Journey: 57 and Climbing Mountains

By Charlotte Bumstead
As she climbs the last of the snow-capped peaks on the September night of 2005, tears of joy stream down from Maureen Munsie’s green eyes. Hugging her white, billowy coat for warmth, Munsie lets her headlamp dictate her path through the blanket of darkness, focusing closely on the heels of her guide, Eyan Minja. He has been her lifeline throughout this incredible journey. Finally, after an extensive six days of hiking, they come to a much anticipated halt. Munsie stands at Minja’s side—her knees shaking—and wipes the tear stains from her rosy cheeks. Together, the travellers peer out across the landscape, watching the creamy saffron sun ascend beyond the jagged rock in the distance. Munsie waits for reality to sink in. She made it. She is standing on top of a rock, 5,895 metres above sea level. The rock rests on an inactive volcano, otherwise known as the world’s highest free-standing mountain. She is at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

When she was a young girl, Munsie liked to close her eyes and spin her globe of the miniature world. She would see what random destination her finger landed upon and look it up in her collection of National Geographic magazines. Born in Edmonton, Munsie first left home at age 17 to explore British Columbia. At 18, she travelled to New Zealand and Australia, where she worked for a year and broke in the hiking boots. She then returned home to attend college, enrolling in biological sciences. Her dreams were of becoming a marine biologist or a photographer for National Geographic.

Her life took a slightly different path—though with no shortage of excitement. On her 41st birthday, Munsie returned to college full-time for two years to become a registered massage therapist. Her three kids were forced to take on a great deal of responsibility at the ages of eight, 10 and 12. “But, it didn’t kill them,” says Munsie. “They are all following their own incredible paths now.”
Munsie explains it was after she turned 50 when her life really took a thrilling turn. “The doors kind of all opened for me,” she says. “Or maybe they were always open and I was finally going through them.” Munsie celebrated her 52nd birthday on Mount Kilimanjaro with the Tanzanian porters and guides, as well as with her hiking partner, an inspiring woman named Norine Blyth, who has since become her very good friend.

Just last year, Munsie and Blyth hiked to Everest Base Camp. The trip took 14 days of trekking up and down the treacherous terrain. There were no roads, no motorized vehicles. There was no hot water, no beds to sleep in, and they wore the same clothes for days at a time. “It was 11 days before I washed my hair,” says Munsie. “It was long, and I was like ‘Oh my god, I want to be on a five-star beach.’ But it was amazing.”

Munsie’s adventurous side goes beyond her love for hiking. She started taking guitar lessons in her 50s and last year she recorded her first ever album, titled Ever Dreaming. “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Munsie says of recording two cover songs and a third song that she co-wrote with a friend. “I never sang out loud, really, until three years ago.” Her recordings can be found on her website. After a year’s hard work, Munsie is proud to check another item off her bucket list.

Also located on her site is the voyager’s extended works of photography. She captures beautiful images of her hiking trips, as well as wedding photos and various stills. Her photos are available for purchase online, and they can be viewed on show at the Aurora Cultural Centre this spring.

Munsie enjoys donating her time to aid the well-being of her community as well as other communities she visits, including working for two weeks at an orphanage in Africa. She also volunteered for four years at a hospice north of Toronto, near the town where she now lives with her husband of 32 years.

As for future plans, 57-year-old Munsie will continue her hiking adventures through the incessant trails of Ontario, including her completion of the 500 km long Ganaraska Trail. She intends to publish a photography book of this endeavour. She has also selected hiking paths throughout the U.K., where she prepares to travel to within the next year. She continues writing songs and playing guitar.

In reflecting on her various accomplishments, Munsie says it is all about timing and taking advantage of opportunities. She leads by example, showing fellow Zoomers you don’t have to be an athlete to climb Kilimanjaro and you don’t have to be an experienced musician to record a CD. These goals are attainable for anyone who has the desire and determination to pursue them. Munsie says her way of life is to “fly by the seat of [her] pants.” All she needs is her globe and a copy of National Geographic—from there, her next journey awaits her.