At the age of 83, Mary Fowlkes slung a pack over her shoulder and set out into the fog.
Fowlkes has never been the type of woman to let anyone carry her pack for her. And she wasn’t about to start that day.
On Sept. 30, roughly one year after suffering a heart attack, Fowlkes came face to face with a larger-than-life monument and, along the way, proved to herself that she’s still got it.
The round-trip hike to Crazy Horse Memorial monument in South Dakota is about 6 miles and climbs 500 feet. At its peak, the mountain is 6,532 feet. At the summit, hikers come face to face with the famous Lakota leader Crazy Horse.
It was Fowlkes’ friend Lois Petersen who urged her to participate in this year’s Volksmarch up Crazy Horse. The hike takes place twice a year – in June and September.
Fowlkes has made the hike in the past, but after her heart attack last year, she was worried she might not have the energy to reach the summit. She told her hiking companions that she would go as far as she could. When she “ran out of gas,” she told them, she would turn around and make her way down.
But Fowlkes has never let anything stop her before and when she started to climb, she didn’t stop.
“I’ll tell ya, I passed people who were younger than I am on the way up,” Fowlkes said. “And I met them as I was coming down, they were still going up.”
Petersen is a close friend of Fowlkes.
“Ever since her heart attack a year ago, she has been out walking as much as she could. Smaller distances first and then building up,” Petersen said. “She’s just stayed at it.”
Fowlkes is an active woman. She’s a backpacker and Nordic skier. She worked as a seasonal employee of the U.S. Forest Service for three years and volunteered with them as often as she could. She went on hunter patrols and visited camps, sharing any information hunters might have needed.
She’s very familiar with the southern end of the Bighorn Mountains and has spent much of her time enjoying being in the mountains.
“I’m an outdoors person,” Fowlkes said. “I don’t go as far as I used to. I mean I don’t hike up to Lake Helen and back in a day anymore.”
Fowlkes is still volunteering where she can. Most recently she spent a rainy afternoon helping to improve floodgates in the Buffalo wetlands, and at 83, she has proven that being outside and enjoying what you love to do is good medicine.