Mountaineer Miura to tackle Everest at 80

by Takeshi Ozawa

Kyodo

Veteran alpinist Yuichiro Miura has set his sights on a target no one has ever achieved — reaching the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 80.

“It may be that I can surpass some human limits,” Miura said when he announced the challenge, slated for this spring, at a news conference on his 80th birthday on Oct. 12. He was wearing red, the color men put on to celebrate their 60th birthday, traditionally known as “kanreki” in Japan.

“Kanreki in present-day Japan is 80 years old,” Miura stated.

But the 8,848-meter Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, presents a far from friendly environment.

With oxygen levels as low as one-third of those at sea level and conditions almost unbearably cold and windy, “people at 20 become physically as weak as 90-year-olds” at the summit, said Masayoshi Yamamoto, a professor who specializes in high-altitude medicine at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture.

The summit is the “breaking point” for the vital force in human beings, Yamamoto said.

Miura said Everest presents him with the “biggest possibility” of his life.

“I must regain the strength and energy I had in my 40s to climb it,” he said, and doing so will be the “best antiaging” activity.

Born in Aomori Prefecture, Miura learned how to ski from his father, Keizo Miura. He competed as an Alpine skier and later turned professional, becoming the first person to ski down Mount Everest in 1970 when he was 37 years old.

In that adventure, Miura descended from the South Col at an elevation of around 8,000 meters. The feat was documented in the Oscar-winning film “The Man Who Skied Down Everest.” He barely survived, managing to avoid plunging into a crevasse by crashing into a rock.

“When I realized I was alive, I thought I should continue playing the role of Yuichiro Miura in the human theater again,” he recalled.

Miura kept skiing on the world’s highest peaks. By 1985 he completed his adventure of descending the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, on skis.

But he began to feel burned out and took to living an easier life over the next 10 years or so, teaching skiing in Sapporo in the winter and relaxing in the summer. “I began to wonder if my life would end like that,” Miura said, recalling the sense of emptiness he began to feel at around age 65.

“My father was planning to ski down the Mont Blanc glacier at the age of 99, while my son (Gota) was trying to be an Olympic skier. I asked myself what I was doing.”

Miura had fallen out of shape by that time and at 164 cm tall weighed around 85 kg. Partially prompted by envy of his father and son, Miura declared he would conquer Everest at age 70.

He began serious preparations, including walking numerous circuits around Meiji Shrine in central Tokyo near his office wearing 5-kg weights on each ankle and carrying a backpack of up to 30 kg. Among other preparations, he worked out on an exercise bike in a low-oxygen room at his company.

While Miura hadn’t climbed to the summit of Everest during his 1970 skiing adventure, he did achieve that goal when he was 70, becoming the world’s oldest person to do so.

He took it one step higher by again reaching the summit at age 75 and is now hoping to break his own record once more at 80, an age just above the average Japanese male lifespan of 79.44.

Miura said he is giving himself this challenge “out of curiosity.”

“It is possible for human beings to climb to the summit of Mount Everest even at 80 and I believe I am a front-runner” in that endeavor, he said.

Miura’s daughter, Emili, 52, said her father “cannot help but enjoy attempting to see where the limits of human beings lie.”

Miura has undergone an operation for an irregular pulse for the coming adventure.

“I might give up my attempt midcourse if it were financed by my own money,” he said. “But I am responsible to my (financial) sponsors and have pride in myself.”

But because the adventure will cost more than ¥100 million and is unlikely to break even, Miura said he will write books and make speeches to make up for the loss.

As a pioneer in an aging society, Miura shows no signs of the weariness that the passing years usually bring.