Japanese woman, 73, again oldest atop Everest

Kyodo

A Japanese woman stunned the mountaineering world Saturday by successfully climbing the world’s tallest mountain at the age of 73, setting a formidable record that could stay unchallenged for decades.

Tamae Watanabe launched her final assault on the treacherous upper slopes of Mount Everest from an altitude of 8,300 meters Friday night, reaching the top of the 8,848-meter peak Saturday morning, said Ang Tshering Sherpa, chairman of Katmandu’s Asian Trekking, which organized her expedition.

“Watanabe reached the top of Mount Everest at 7 a.m. Nepali time,” Sherpa said after receiving confirmation by telephone from Watanabe’s team. “She, along with Japanese mountaineer and photographer Noriyuki Muraguchi and three other team members reached the top successfully.”

According to Sherpa, all of the climbers were in sound health and descending back to Camp 3, which sits at 8,300 meters.

Watanabe made the ascent from the north ridge route that begins in Tibet.

She left Katmandu for the mountain last month but had to reschedule her summit plans twice because of fickle weather that was plaguing the upper slopes of the mountain.

Weather has been so erratic this season that a summit wave from the southeast ridge route in Nepal only began Friday when 30 climbers reached the top at least a week behind schedule, according to Tilak Pandey, an official in Nepal’s Tourism Ministry.

“Several climbers abandoned summit plans in the past weeks due to bad weather,” Pandey said by telephone from the base camp on the southeast ridge route.

Watanabe initially wanted to push for the summit Tuesday, but strong winds around the upper slopes forced her to reschedule the attempt for Sunday at the earliest.

But when conditions turned favorable sooner than expected, she decided to launch her attempt Friday night.

Saturday’s feat bettered Watanabe’s own age record for conquering the mountain.

On May 16, 2002, she scaled Everest from the southeast ridge route in Nepal at the age of 63, a record that stood for a decade until Saturday.

Watanabe, a retired office worker from Yamanashi Prefecture, is one of two Japanese women who have set records on Mount Everest. Junko Tabei, a member of the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition team, secured her spot in mountaineering history in 1975 by becoming the first woman to climb the mountain.