Marieta Atienza of Gorham accomplished her biggest goal this past fall shortly after she retired. She hiked Mount Everest. Contributed / Marieta Atienza

Marieta Atienza, 68, celebrated her retirement by crossing off a decades-old bucket list item – hiking Mount Everest.

Atienza, a Gorham resident who worked for 45 years as a nurse, headed to Nepal in September for a solo hike of the Himalayas, first spending two weeks hiking to Annapurna base camp at 13,550 feet above sea level. She then spent another two weeks hiking to Mount Everest Base Camp, 17,598 feet above sea level, and during that trek reached her highest elevation of 18,209 feet at the Kalapathar viewpoint. 

Marieta Atienza at home in Gorham. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Retirement, she says, is allowing her to seek the life she feels she owes herself.

“Life doesn’t stop after retirement,” Atienza said. “It’s just a beginning, actually. I’m just starting to live for me.”

Right after she retired in 2021, feeling like there was no time to waste, she hiked across Europe, along the Camino de Santiago. She said she was pleased to discover on her solo journey that she was unafraid and confident. She walked about 20 miles per day, sending updates to friends and family along the way. 

That trip and meeting another of her goals – climbing Mount Katahdin – confirmed for her that she still had the strength and capability to take on something even bigger, she said.


Atienza began hiking very young, but really got hooked on it when she went to school in California and solo hiked at Yosemite National Park. Not only did she surprise herself with her own endurance, she also found a sense of peace and fulfillment while adventuring out alone, she said.

“I like solo hiking because it gives me purpose,” she said.

Hiking solo helps her to appreciate nature and the beauty of life around her, she said. Sometimes she hikes with a group of friends, but she prefers to go by herself.

She’s wanted to hike Everest for years, she said, it wasn’t until after her retirement that she realized she finally had the time to accomplish that longtime goal.

Marieta Atienza, 68, says solo hiking has given her a deeper sense of purpose and connection to the world around her. Contributed / Marieta Atienza

She was used to traveling. As a nurse, she has volunteered in many far-flung places. She went to help in Haiti twice after the devastating 2010 earthquake and she worked in Africa every year.

Atienza hired an experienced guide for the trek, as well as a porter to help carry her equipment. Finding the right guide was important, she said, because she wanted to go at her own pace so that she could fully take it all in “because I don’t think I’ll be back.”


She told her guide, Kanchha Tamang, that the tallest mountain she had hiked was 7,000 feet. He responded, “In Nepal, we call those hills.”

Tamang, in a phone interview with The Forecaster from Nepal, said he has been guiding hikers for 16 years and Atienza “was the oldest women I’ve ever taken.”

He quickly recognized her strength, he said.

They crossed Cho La Pass to Gokyo Lake, a climb up of 2,362 feet and down 2,625 feet on the same day, he said. Atienza completed it faster than he was used to with other hikers.

“That just proved she was very strong,” Tamang said. “On our trip we met many hikers who were amazed by her,” he said. “She was faster than most.”

She was his first client to make the treks to Annapurna and Mount Everest base camps so close together.


Annapurna is considered the deadliest mountain in the world, with the highest ratio of deaths to successful summit survivals.

The scariest part of her hike to the base camp at Mount Everest was crossing two unstable glaciers, Atienza said.

She also saw three bodies being taken back down the mountain, those of a hiker, a porter and a guide. Everyone who commits to hiking Everest must, to some degree, understand that death or at least injury is a very real possibility due to the unpredictable nature of the elements and the effects the elevation can have on one’s body, she said.

Heart-shaped moss that Marieta Atienza spotted during a precarious part of her hike. Contributed / Marieta Atienza

At one point on the hike there was a narrow passage with 1,000-foot drops on both sides. As she crossed, she thought, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m not ready,” she said. She prayed, she said, for some sort of sign that she’d make it safely across, and soon she spotted a heart-shaped clump of moss growing where vegetation was few and far between.

Atienza said she hopes that her story encourages other people her age, especially women who are single, to prioritize dreams they’ve been holding onto, even if they aren’t as lofty as Everest.

Now that she has crossed Everest off her bucket list, the remaining items seem almost trivial in comparison, she said, and that’s how it should be. It’s important for people to prioritize what they want to do in their lives, she said, so they can be sure to do the things that matter most to them.

She’s found that retirement is the perfect time to get her priorities straight.

“There is a life after retirement,” she said, “and I’m finding that I have grit in life.”

Comments are not available on this story.