Suddenly I don’t feel quite so old. After all, I’m a mere 69. Saturday morning a 73-year-old Japanese woman, Tamae Watanabe, reached the summit of Mount Everest. At 29,035 feet (still officially 29,029 ft), Everest is the highest point on earth. Men die there every year, four just last week.
Watanabe is the oldest woman to have conquered Everest and in doing so breaks her own record set when she did it in 2002 at age 63. Only one older person, 76-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan of Nepal, has climbed Everest.
From the 1922 British Mount Everest Expedition through the end of 2010, 219 fatalities were recorded on the mountain. Fifty-four of those occurred after 2000: 33 on the northeast ridge, 17 on the southeast ridge, 2 on the southwest face, and 2 on the north face. Watanabe climbed the northeast route this year and the southeast in 2002. Some 4,000 people have climbed the mountain since Sir Edmund Hillary made the first successful ascent in 1953 with Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
I’ve been a mountaineering fan since I was a kid and read my first book about Hillary’s climb (The Conquest of Everest, Sir John Hunt, 1954); to this day I’m in awe of people who challenge the world’s great peaks. That a 73-year-old woman — or anyone — could beat Everest — for a second time — is just stunning. (I wanted to say breathtaking …)