73-year-old woman conquers Everest

Tamae Watanabe, 2002
Tamae Watanabe at Everest base camp in 2002. Photo: AP

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 …)

10 comments

  1. I figure you got another 30 years or so. You can start on the peaks in Rocky Mts. Park.
    Get one of those T-shirts and check one off each year?
    (Did you hear they are concerned how crowded Everest is getting? There’s less snow this year – and more exposed rock and dirt -which is apparently making the climb more dangerous. Who would have guessed?)
    Nice read.

    1. I bagged the highest peak in the park (Longs) back in ’79. And got the T-shirt. Just came across it the other day, actually. Having done that, the others don’t hold any special appeal. A common goal of climbers in Colorado is do all of the “fourteeners,” those over 14,000 ft. I think there are 54 of them. My brother has done them all, but Longs (14,259 ft) was the only one I really wanted. These days I’d have to go into serious training for a year or two to even manage a couple of miles of hiking up there.

      It’s sad what’s happening to Everest. Actual traffic jams of climbers near the summit, causing delays and costing lives. There are so many people on the mountain every year that litter has become a serious problem. It seems there is no point on the face of the earth that man can’t get to and spoil …

      1. I haven’t done Longs – my brother has – he’s doing the shirt. I still like Estes Cone even though it’s not a biggie – just fun and pretty.
        All the litter and leftover stuff is so ugly on Everest. Seen pictures. What happened to if you take it up, bring it down?

        1. I guess “take only pictures, leave only footprints” falls by the wayside when it’s all you can do to put one foot in front of the other to get down the mountain and survive. Much of the litter higher up is empty oxygen cannisters. Still, that doesn’t account for the trash heaps in and around the lower camps. I’ve always believed you pack out anything you pack in, and if you’ve got an extra minute here and there, you pick up others’ litter on your way out (admittedly grumbling all the while about the thoughtlessness of those who dropped it).

          But I’m the romantic and idealist. I walk 50 feet off the highway and want the view to be as pristine as it was 200 years ago. I move among hundreds of other park visitors and feel as though the park is mine alone and they are interlopers, as though I discovered it and they are latecomers. Oh well, I can dream …

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