The Oldest Man and Woman to Climb Mt. Everest are Both Japanese
It doesn’t seem likely that, after 70 full years of life, anyone would want to brave one of Nepal’s most harrowing climbs, Mt. Everest. Despite the mountain’s reputation for claiming new lives every single year, two unbelievably brave souls have taken it upon themselves to push the limits of aging and climb the mountain from bottom to top successfully – and they’re both Japanese.
Yuichiro Miura climbs Mt. Everest at 80 years old
The Japan Times got a hold of the story in early 2014, and every news agency imaginable trickled it down throughout the year – an 80 year old Japanese man named Yuichiro Miura has successfully climbed to the top of Mt. Everest and beaten the Nepalese record holder for what’s likely to be a very long time.
But unless you’re Japanese, it’s difficult to find out who exactly Yuichiro Miura is. Where does such an extraordinary man gather the strength to take on a physical challenge that bests countless young men and women overnight? The secret lies in his dedication to his communion with nature and life.
Who is Yuichiro Miura?
The record setter has lived a life full of intense exercise as a professional skier and mountain climber. Born in Aomori on the northern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshu, he had direct exposure to long, 6 month winters blanketed in soft snow. Half of the year he was able to perfect his skiing, and the other half he could dedicate to climbing.
Yuichiro was born to be a great athlete and influential person. His father, Keizo Miura, was also a mountain climber who, thanks to his superior health and dedication to physical strength, lived to be 101 years old. His young son Yuta is an accomplished competition skier, and his older son Gota has competed in the Moguls skiing event at the Winter Olympics.
But his family’s dedication to success wasn’t the only factor that drove him to accomplishment. He embraces the lessons of failure as well and holds human values dear. Even as a child, he was not a skiing prodigy – he had to work his way toward success and fame.
Miura’s skiing roots
He entered his first skiing competition in elementary school as a 2nd grader. He placed in the competition and decided he wanted to continue skiing extracurricularly. However, fate had already decided to slowly trim his chances to dedicate his time to skiing.
After a series of moves further south over the course of his time at elementary and junior high school, he found that he missed the constant access to mountains and snow as well as the thrill of competition and, upon graduating high school, entered Hokkaido University for the chance to ski again.
It was during his time at Hokkaido University that he met his future wife, Tomoko, who was an avid skier looking to spend some time abroad. Due to lung problems, she was relegated to life in Japan, but it allowed her relationship with Yuichiro to continue, which led to their eventual wedding.
Yuichiro the Mountain Climber
Being surrounded by the world of skiing and professional skiers kept him motivated to maintain his good health, and he continued to embrace larger and larger mountain climbing challenges when the snow melted in the summer. His love of backcountry skiing meant that many of his descents were preceded by long climbs to the top of mountains with gear on hand.
Yuichiro actually managed to climb to the top of Mt. Everest 3 separate times. In 5 year stints from the time he reached 70 years old, he took the challenge while maintaining his climbing and skiing careers.
His first climb at 70 in May 2003 was a clean ascent and descent and an impressive victory for humankind. He also set the record at the time for the oldest climber of Mt. Everest.
His second climb at 75 in 2008 reset the Guinness World Record at the time, but not for long. A Nepalese hiker named Min Bahadur Sherchan had actually reached the top of Everest a day before Yuichiro did – but he didn’t have the papers to prove he was 76 years old. Sherchan rectified the error in records and claimed the oldest climber record in 2008.
In answer, Yuichiro announced that he planned to climb Everest in 2013 after turning 80. After a grueling climb, he made it to the top on May 23, 2015. Exhausted, he began his descent but had to be airlifted from the 6500 meter mark to base camp. Sherchan attempted to beat Yuichiro’s record at 81 years old, but failed to reach the top of Everest due to heart problems.
Yuichiro Miura has appeared on Japanese TV, in commercials, and for advertisements for hiking gear and outdoor sports. He is also a prolific writer, and has made contributions to outdoor magazines as well as written books about his skiing and hiking experiences.
Tamae Watanabe climbs Mt. Everest at 73 years old
Tamae’s story has not received the press and attention that it has earned in media outside of Japan. She has climbed over 15 major mountains throughout her lifetime, many of which have astounding death rates. Everest is only one of those, but she currently holds the record for oldest female climber, at 73 years old, to reach the top of Mt. Everest.
Who is Tamae Watanabe?
Tamae came into the world in 1938 at a hospital in the town of Fujikawaguchiko, part of Yamanashi prefecture. She attended high school while lending a helping hand on her parents’ farm. She had opportunities to hike around her farmland, but moved to Shinagawa following her graduation from college.
While working as a member of the Board of Education in Shinagawa, she decided to challenge herself both by visiting a foreign country and climbing a tough mountain. Tamae chose Mt. McKinley in Alaska to conquer first. In 1977, she became the first Japanese female to ever reach the highest point of the mountain.
Her victory fueled her thirst for mountain climbing. Only 4 years later, she took on the 4,807 meter high Mont Blanc in the Graian Alps in France. Another 7 years later, she hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. These two climbs began a regular spree in dangerous mountain climbing for Tamae.
Tamae Watanabe gets serious
In 1989, Tamae decided to climb to the top of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. The Matterhorn, known for its steep cliffs and unusually high rate of death, proved to be no problem for Tamae. She followed her Matterhorn climb with an ascent on Aconcagua, one of the Seven Summits that make up the highest points on each continent.
Aconcagua is the summit of Asia and stands at nearly 7,000 meters high. Cold weather injuries are the leading cause of death on the mountain, but Watanabe cleared the ascent and descent unscathed. She followed this feat with 3 more climbs each over 8,000 meters at the top and continued to dominate major mountains up to the year 2012.
Setting the Everest record
Tamae’s first ascent of Mt. Everest happened in 2002 at 63 years old. She set the record at the time for oldest female to make it to the top. Lhotse and Khüiten Peak followed up her Everest victory, after which she decided to beat her own record and climb Everest again at 73 years old.
Her successful climb has made her the oldest woman again to make it to the top of one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. She received praise and minimal media attention for her efforts in Japan, but her ascent has not reached Western audiences.
However, Tamae Watanabe’s victory is still a huge step in garnering world attention for gender equality and helping to keep the small islands of Japan on the map. Even the Sherpas of Nepal are wary to push the limits of age and some of the best will only ascend and descend a handful of times before retiring. Tamae Watanabe and Yuichiro Miura, the current record holders of Mt. Everest, may never quit.