This last May 23, 67-year-old Californian Bill Burke became the oldest American to reach the lofty summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain and one of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks. Burke made it up on his third attempt on the peak. His first attempt in 2007 ended a mere 300 feet from the summit when he turned around, afraid he wouldn’t have the strength to climb down if he continued.
The day after reaching the summit, he called his wife Sharon and told her about a horrendous storm on Everest. “I’ve never been in a storm like that in the mountains,” he said. “Snow, freezing, freezing cold, high winds, it was quite a wild ride. It was really difficult, a very hard mountain. There is nothing about it that is easy. But, thank God, we made it and we made it back safely.”
What’s ironic about Burke’s ascent is that on May 21, two days before Burke reached the summit, 66-year-old Dawes Eddy, a Spokane, Washington senior citizen, summitted the big boy and held the honor of oldest American to stand on the roof of the world for a scant 48 hours. Tough break for Dawes.
Another Spokane senior, 60-year-old Kay LeClaire, became the second oldest American woman to reach Everest’s summit when she topped out on May 22. The ascent, coming on LeClaire’s fourth attempt in five years, was also the last of her Seven Summits.
These three senior Americans were among the 300-plus people that climbed Mount Everest this spring. Unofficially there were five deaths on the mountain.
Good for these three oldsters. Instead of sitting around playing cards, hanging at the shuffleboard court, or taking a brisk walk around the local mall, they're getting out there and breathing thin air and suffering and having a great time redefining old age in the mountains.
Photograph top: Bill Burke and Mingma Sherpa atop Everest on May 23. Photograph courtesy Bill Burke.