Japanese octogenarian becomes oldest to reach Everest summit

KATHMANDU Thu May 23, 2013 4:34am EDT

1 of 2. Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura, 80, gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters in Kathmandu March 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - An 80-year-old Japanese mountain climber who has had four heart surgeries reached the top of Mount Everest on Thursday becoming the oldest person to conquer the world's highest mountain.

Yuichiro Miura, who took the standard southeast ridge route pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay 60 years ago, reached the top of the 8,848 meter (29,028 feet) mountain at about 9:00 a.m. (0315 GMT). He was accompanied by three other Japanese, including his son, and six Nepali sherpas.

"This is the greatest feeling in the world," he told family members and supporters gathered in Tokyo, speaking from the summit by satellite phone.

"I never thought I'd get to the summit of Everest at the age of 80. It was the best feeling to get here, but now I'm completely exhausted."

Miura, who first climbed Everest in 2003 and repeated the feat five years later, takes the oldest climber record from Nepal's Min Bahadur Sherchan, who reached the summit at the age of 76 in 2008.

"The record is not so important to me," Miura told Reuters in April, before setting off for Everest. "It is important to get to the top."

Miura spent the night at 8,500 meters (27,887 ft) at the Balcony in the so-called death zone before launching his final ascent, rather than the 8,000 meter South Col which is used as a resting place by most climbers before the summit climb, said Gyanendra Shrestha, a Nepal Tourism Ministry official.

His ascent had been watched closely in Japan, with daily broadcasts of phone calls and photographs from the climb - including one night when he and his fellow climbers drank green Japanese tea and ate hand-rolled sushi in their tent high on the mountain.

A noted adventurer, Miura skied down Everest from the South Col in 1970, a feat that became the subject of a documentary. He has since skied down the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, following the tradition of his late father Keizo, who skied down Europe's Mont Blanc at the age of 99.

He trained for the Everest climb by hiking in Tokyo with weighted packs and working out on a treadmill in a special low-oxygen room in his home.

Nearly 4,000 climbers have reached the Everest summit since the pioneering May 1953 climb, while 240 have lost their lives on its slopes.

Miura is not the first record-setter on Everest this climbing season.

Raha Moharrak became the first Saudi Arabian woman to conquer the peak, while Sudarshan Gautam, a 30-year-old Nepali-born Canadian who lost both arms in an accident, became the first double amputee to summit.

Miura's record may only be his to savor briefly. Nepal's Min Bahadur Sherchan, now 81, plans to start climbing the peak this weekend.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma and Elaine Lies, editing by Elaine Lies and Michael Perry)

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