mountain climbing

No expiry date in chasing dreams: Elderly mountaineer aims for Everest

Rommel Rebollido

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No expiry date in chasing dreams: Elderly mountaineer aims for Everest

MOUNT FUJI SUMMIT. Elderly mountaineer Feliciano Legara Jr. unfurls the Philippine flag at Japan’s Mount Fuji on August 8, 2023.

photo courtesy of Feliciano Legara

At 66, retiree Feliciano Legara Jr. has already reached the summits of the three highest mountains in the Philippines, Japan’s Mount Fuji, and most recently, Mount Jade, the highest peak in Taiwan

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – A Filipino retiree’s desire to scale the world’s highest peak reflects his belief that age is never an obstacle to pursuing dreams and life’s aspirations.

It’s not only about climbing mountains but also redefining the life and health of the elderly after retirement, according to 66-year-old Engineer Feliciano Legara Jr., who has made climbing mountains his career after retiring from work in December 2022.

Legara has already reached the summits of the three highest mountains in the Philippines, Japan’s Mount Fuji, and most recently, Mount Jade (Yu-Shan), the highest peak in Taiwan and the highest in Northeast Asia.

Legara made all these arduous minor and major climbs in the Philippines and abroad in less than two years, despite having no prior experience in mountain climbing before his first ascent.

Land, Nature, Outdoors
MOUNT PULAG MOSS. Despite his lack of experience in mountaineering, retiree Feliciano Legara Jr. negotiates a moss forest to reach the peak of the Philippine’s second highest mountain in September 30, 2022. photo courtesy of Feliciano Legara

In conquering the 3,952-meter Mount Jade amid biting cold weather on March 19, Legara completed the second leg of his Asian Trilogy Peak Challenge. He was the only elderly person in a group of 19 young climbers who reached the peak of Mount Jade, known for its rugged Alpine terrain.

Legara reached the peak of the 3,776-meter Mount Fuji on August 8, 2023. Despite his senior age, he arrived at the Fuji summit ahead of a group, half of whom failed to reach the peak.

As the final leg of the trilogy challenge, Legara will climb the 4,095-meter Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia this May, en route to an icy trek to the 2,228-meter Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak, this August.

Should all the preparations go well, Legara said he hopes to see the Everest Base Camp (EBC), nestled at 5,364 meters high at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain, by October.

He said trekking to the EBC alone would require great determination, sustained physical endurance, and mental resilience. 

“I anticipate it as quite challenging, but tremendously rewarding,” he said.

Post-retirement climb

Months before reaching the retirement age of 65 in 2022, a group of younger colleagues invited him to climb the 2,938-meter Mount Dulang-dulang in the Kitanglad mountain range in Bukidnon, considered by mountaineers as a major climb.

Legara’s lack of mountaineering experience and scant knowledge of the dangers involved did not deter him from joining his younger colleagues in climbing the Philippines’ second-highest peak on September 29 and 30, 2022.

After Dulang-dulang, Legara developed a keen desire to conquer mountains, including the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest. He said the Dulang-dulang climb exposed him to the incredible feeling of being on top of the world, boosting his confidence.

“I thought that if I made it to the Philippines’ second-highest peak on my first attempt, maybe I could succeed in other major climbs,” Legara said.

Conquering mountains

About five months after the Dulang-dulang climb, Legara gathered his gear and set out for his second major climb. This time, it was Mount Pulag, the Philippines’ third-highest at 2,928 meters, famous for its sea of clouds and a view of the Milky Way at early dawn.

The Pulag climb in the Cordilleras was followed by an ascent on March 25, 2023, to the summit of the 2,954-meter-high Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.

Legara scaled smaller mountains in preparation for major climbs, like summiting Fung Wong Shan, Hong Kong’s highest peak before his Mount Jade ascent.

Clothing, Glove, Person
CONQUERING MOUNT JADE. Reitree Feliciano Legara Jr. conquers Taiwan’s highest peak, Mount Jade, on March 19, 2024. photo courtesy of Feliciano Legara

Before his Mount Fuji climb, Legara had preparatory treks to Mount Mamuyao and other mountains in Luzon, even as Typhoon Egay battered the country, and then to Mount Takao in Hachiōji, Tokyo.

In less than a year, the neophyte elderly mountaineer conquered the country’s three highest peaks, not to mention the treks on smaller mountains before embarking on major climbs.

Family’s apprehensions

“After the major climbs in the Philippines, it became my dream to stand atop Mount Everest,” said Legara, who hails from Cotabato City but now resides with his family in Cagayan de Oro City.

However, Legara said his family’s apprehensions, noting that “the risk is way too high for an elderly person like me.” Mountaineers, he said, always consider there is a 1% fatality rate and a 25% chance of failure.

He recalled some difficulties due to extreme heat during a climb to Mount Batulao in Batangas, preparatory to the Mount Fuji ascent. A female climber perished at the summit during that climb due to heat stroke, leaving a grim reminder not to take things for granted, he added.

In each of his climbs, Legara said he puts the same effort into preparations, whether it’s a major climb or a minor one.

Defying limits

Legara’s family knows well his character of defying limits when he sets his mind to something, but his decision to pursue mountaineering came as a bit of a surprise. His engineer wife, Emedita, and their children were expecting him to pursue a lucrative business or go into farming.

His daughter Erika Fille, an acclaimed data scientist, said the family discussed what her father would do after retirement. Out of the blue, Erika said, his father told them that he wanted to “climb mountains!”

“Mountain climbing is a dangerous activity and too risky for elderly persons. But knowing him, he always has the determination to get what he wants,” Legara’s wife, Emedita, said.

Legara’s daughter Erika has a deeper view of her father’s decision, saying it’s not just about climbing mountains. 

“It’s about a guy who’s been hustling since he was a kid,” Erika said.

Legara sold newspapers when he was 10 years old to help provide for his family. His father died when he was five years old, and his mother made a living doing laundry.

Unlike other retirees who opt to stay at home and rest, Erika said her father decided he has more mountains to conquer, both literally and figuratively, showing everyone that there is no expiry date in chasing dreams.

“Keep climbing, Dad!” she quipped. –

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