When are you too old to climb Everest; or too young? How about 13 or 80? Does age really matter anymore?
I don’t like to discuss age with respect to records because they are hard to prove and records are difficult to maintain plus there is no unified system to confirm the climber’s claims.
However, Nepal requires permits with birth dates so climbs from the south side are as accurate as the information provided.
The youngest person to summit Everest was in 2003 was Miss Ming Kipa, sick a Sherpani, discount 15 years-old. She summited from the north since you have to be 16 to summit in Nepal – this is to protect the kids. The oldest? 76-year-old Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan, from Nepal on May 26, 2008 via the south side.
Courtesy of 8000ers.com this table shows the youth movement on Everest:
|Edmund Hillary||New Zealander||20 Jul 1919||29 May 1953||33 years, 313 days|
|Jürg Marmet||Swiss||14 Sep 1927||23 May 1956||28 years, 252 days|
|Hansrudolf von Gunten||Swiss||12 Dec 1928||24 May 1956||27 years, 164 days|
|Chu Yin-hua||Chinese||31 Mar 1935||25 May 1960||25 years, 55 days|
|Sonam Wangyal||Indian Ladakhi||8 Jan 1942||22 May 1965||23 years, 134 days|
|Shambu Tamang||Nepalese Tamang||20 Oct 1955||5 May 1973||17 years, 197 days|
|Pema Chiring||Nepalese Sherpa||17 Dec 1983||22 May 2001||17 years, 156 days|
|Temba Tshiri||Nepalese Sherpa||6 May 1985||23 May 2001||16 years, 17 days|
|Ming Kipa Sherpa||Nepalese Sherpani||later 1987||22 May 2003||15 years, ??? days|
The oldest was 76-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan, from Nepal in 2008. Japanese Yuichiro Miura (the man who skied down Everest) is neck to neck with him being a few days younger. He has already summited twice and and wants to return in 2013 at age 80 for another attempt.
Announced for 2010, 80 year old Former Foreign Minister of Nepal, Mr. Sailendra Kumar Upadhyaya wants to attempt to set the age record. Tamae Watanabe of Japan is the oldest woman to summit Everest at age 63 in 2002.
With all this talk about extreme ages, the reality is the average Everest climber is in their 30’s. In 2005, I did an analysis based on the press releases from Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Civil Aviation of the ages of the guides, climbers and Sherpas who summited that year from the South side. Not every age or title was listed but there was enough information to get an idea.
|2005 South Summiteers||Leaders||Climbers||Sherpas|
In 2010, there are a few Everest climbers to watch with respect to age. It seems that each country has an age race underway.
First up is Jordan Romero, the 13 year-old from Big Bear California. He has already climbed 6 of the 7 Summits along with his father, Paul. Clearly controversial at such a young age, you can read more at Backpacker and Outside about Paul and Jordan. They will climb unguided via the North side with their own expedition using a Kathmandu logistics company.
Of note was in 2009, two 17 year-olds summited. Johnny Collision with professional guide Damian Benegas and Johnny Strange with professional guide Scott Woolums thus establishing the low-end for American climbers.
Bill Burke set a high bar for the aging Americans with his summit last year at age 67. Bill, now at age 68, is back to climb not only from the North but then will move to the South for another attempt during the same expedition – a double summit with Asian Trekking. Nils Antezana, a US citizen who was born in Boliva summited in 2004 at age 69 but died on the descent.
In the UK, Bonita Norris is looking to summit at age 22. Bonita is climbing with Kenton Cool’s Dream Guides.
India’s 16-year-old Arjun Vajpai ing to join last year summit of 19-year-old Krushnaa Patil. Vajpal is climbing with Asian Trekking.
Finally, let’s not forget the planned climb of 80 year old Mr. Sailendra Kumar Upadhyaya.
Is there a risk in climbing to altitudes where the oxygen density is 1/3rd that of sea level? The short answer is yes. Multiple medical studies have shown decline in brain size and almost near-death symptoms in the most healthy athletes. In 2007, team of UK doctors from the Caudwell Xtreme Everest expedition conducted extensive research. It is unknown the impact on the youngest or oldest climbers.
For young climbers, the questions include brain development, judgment, maturity and skills. For older climbers, it involves health issues, speed and stamina.
So why are we seeing such as large variation in age on Everest. Three reasons: infrastructure and opportunity plus the willingness of sponsors to push the limits.
The infrastructure on Everest, and many other 8000m mountains, make climbing accessible to many climbers with the right skills and resources. Equipment is significantly improved just in the past decade. Oxygen systems are more reliable and the routes are well understood and maintained – especially on Everest’s south side.
Note, that I have not said it easy – every climber, regardless of their age, must carry gear and put one step in front of the other from base camp to summit; and back.
With so many expedition operators offering logistical only services, the costs are relatively low so young climbers can afford it. Also, the filter for climber’s skills and conditions are not what they used to be. Historically, guides required a physician’s statement plus a resume showing solid experience at high-altitude before accepting a climber for Everest. Clearly this “opportunity” comes with increased risks.
Sponsors see value in promoting their brand with unique climbers. While the vast majority of sponsored are in their late teens and twenties; some are on the extreme youth end thus targeting a desirable demographic for today and tomorrow. Just look at snowboarder Shawn White’s career as an example.
However, high-altitude mountaineering is quite different than resort activities where staff and medical support is immediately available. Climbers often put other climbers at risk. So it is important to be on a team with reserve capacity to help out in an emergency. The responsible ones think through worst case scenarios and prepare for them with competent teams and support staff.
The older climbers are proving aging does not mean stopping and the youth are showing that under the right conditions, you can do amazing things at any age. I admire these “extreme” climbers. They are pushing the envelope of conventional boundaries and I wish them the of luck. But more importantly, to be safe and return home with or without a summit.