Science, sponsors abetted Miura's Everest success


Japanese alpinist Yuichiro Miura, who at 80 became the oldest person Thursday to reach the summit of Mount Everest, used a carefully structured scientific training regime and support from corporate sponsors and fans to achieve his goal.

His ascent of the world’s highest peak has inspired more climbers aiming to repeat the feat, which has become a popular goal of even nonelite adventurers.

Miura’s training room is in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, where he walks on a treadmill in an oxygen chamber that keeps the oxygen level at about half of sea level. At the top of 8,848-meter Everest, the oxygen density would be even lower at one-third.

Mimicking an elevation of 6,000 meters, Miura sometimes spent whole days in the room reading books and sleeping there at night to acclimate his body to the harsh alpine conditions.

He survived a bout of arrhythmia during a Himalayan expedition last fall, thanks to generous medical assistance. At the time, he was temporarily stuck at an elevation of about 5,000 meters because of palpitations. He eventually descended and returned to Japan, where he underwent a series of surgeries, ending with the fourth one in January.

“I would not have given him permission unless he recovered. His resilience is amazing,” said Yoshito Iesaka, director of Tsuchiura Kyodo General Hospital in Ibaraki Prefecture and Miura’s chief physician.

In March, Miura had his fitness gauged with the help of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kagoshima Prefecture.

His scores, including a gripping power in excess of 40 kg and a back muscle strength of 148 kg, were his best in several years. He also had a bone density comparable to a person in his 20s.

Born in 1932 in the city of Aomori, Miura competed as a professional Alpine skier and in 1970 became the first person to ski down Mount Everest, from an elevation of 8,000. He went on to ski down the Seven Summits — the highest mountain on each of the seven continents — by 1985.

He scaled Mount Everest for the first time in 2003 at age 70 and again in 2008 at age 75.

Climbing Everest is an expensive proposition. Miura’s latest expedition was largely financed by donations and corporate sponsors and cost about ¥100 million, including ¥6 million paid to the Nepalese government and the cost of hiring a local staff of about 30 that included Sherpas, doctors and cooks.

Hiroyuki Kuraoka, 51, a leading member of the group, has nearly 40 years of climbing experience. He has climbed Mount Everest five times as a guide, including an expedition six years ago with 71-year-old Katsusuke Yanagisawa, who was the oldest person at the time to reach the summit.

After establishing a fund last October, Miura had collected about ¥20 million from donors all over the country by May. This was topped up with donations from six companies that each gave ¥15 million. He was also helped by a climbing gear manufacturer that provided thermal clothing and other equipment.

Challenging Mount Everest is no longer a privilege reserved for elite adventurers. In recent years, guides have been publicly soliciting willing climbers to form expeditions.

World Expeditions Consultants Inc., a Tokyo-based travel company, charges about ¥7 million per participant for its Mount Everest climb. Participants must be free of medical issues and undergo high-altitude training in overseas locations several times before the attempt. Every year, 10 to 20 Japanese take on the challenge, many via such expedition groups, it said.

A similar group organized by the Tokyo-based Adventure Guides Co. has produced successful Everest climbers in their 60s to 70s.

“Mr. Miura accomplished the climb at age 80, which was once seen as impossible, because he spent all of his daily life preparing for it, including food and training,” said climber Ken Noguchi.

“It is not the kind of mountain that anyone can conquer, but (Miura) has given us the notion that we can do it, if we try,” he said.

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