NEW DELHI – Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura broke the record for the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest when the 80-year-old reached the summit Thursday at 9 a.m., according to his website.
But the octogenarian may not be able to bask in the limelight long. There are reports that Nepalese climber Min Bahadur Sherchan, 81, is planning an assault on the world’s highest peak next week, despite some recent intestinal problems.
Sherchan frustrated Miura’s record-setting ambitions once before when, in May 2008, Miura conquered the mountain at the age of 75, only to arrive a day after Sherchan's ascent at age 76 years and 340 days.
This is Miura’s third ascent of the 29,028-foot peak. He also earned the oldest climber title in 2003, at age 70, a milestone broken four years later when fellow Japanese climber Katsusuke Yanagisawa ascended at age 71.
But at least for now, Miura is expressing nothing but satisfaction at his accomplishment.
"This is the best feeling in the world,” an entry said on his Facebook page. “How could I have come so far at the world's oldest age of 80, I’ve never felt like this in my life. But I've never been more exhausted than this."
A posting on Miura’s website Thursday evening said he had descended to 26,180 feet on his way to base camp, which is at about 17,400 feet.
The veteran adventurer also hit the spotlight in 1970 when he became the first person to ski down Everest with help from a parachute, a feat documented in the 1975 Academy Award-winning documentary "The Man Who Skied Down Everest."
Fellow climbers hailed his latest accomplishment.
“I’m extremely happy that a man who’s 80 years old could do this,” said Rajeev Kumar Sharma, former deputy director of a state-owned adventure sports training center in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh who ascended Everest in 1993 at age 38. “It’s just amazing -- what willpower to accomplish such a goal at his age.”
But Sharma and others also criticized the obsession with setting records, the growing amount of garbage left on the trail and the strain of so many people ascending the pristine mountain.
“Everest is under threat from more and more human activity,” he said. “The Nepalese tourism ministry should give thought to that. So many people shouldn’t be allowed to go. It’s a big strain on the environment.”
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the maiden ascent by Nepal’s Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand’s Edmund Hillary. Nearly 4,000 people have climbed the mountain successfully since then, while at least 230 have died, including 10 in 2012. The mountain straddles the border between Nepal and the Chinese province of Tibet.
Rishi Raj Kandel, manager of Nepal’s Utmost Adventure Trekking company, said while Miura should be congratulated, the push to be the first in various obscure categories is potentially dangerous.
“Last year, someone wanted to go up with a bicycle and a dog. It’s always like some competition,” he said. “Someone else wants to marry at the top, have sex at the top. People aren’t respecting the spirit of the mountain, some going naked in camp.”
Tension between Westerners, with their different moral codes, and Sherpas, with a traditional respect for the mountain, have periodically flared. In April, three Western climbers came to blows with dozens of Sherpa guides at 23,000 feet over some unidentified "misunderstanding."
Kandel has managed his company’s Everest base camp operation but has never made it to the summit.
“I don’t want to go. It’s too difficult, and even more experienced guides die,” he said. “I don’t know why so many people want to go there so much. But I help them, and it’s my job.”
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