An 80-year-old Japanese man who began the year with his fourth heart operation became the oldest conqueror of Mount Everest on Thursday, a feat he called "the world's best feeling" even with an 81-year-old Nepalese climber not far behind him.
Yuichiro Miura, a former extreme skier who also climbed the 8,850-metre peak when he was 70 and 75, reached the summit at 9:05 a.m. local time, according to a Nepalese mountaineering official and Miura's Tokyo-based support team.
It was a moment Japanese news agency Kyodo captured on video from 10 kilometres away, using a camera crew at 5,500 metres elevation on another mountain.
"We have arrived at the summit," Miura said in a radio transmission to Kyodo from the world's highest point. "80 years and 7 months. ... The world's most incredible mountaineering team had helped me all the way up here."
Miura and his son Gota made a phone call from the summit, prompting his daughter Emili to smile broadly and clap her hands in footage shown by Japanese public broadcaster NHK.
"I made it!" Miura said over the phone. "I never imagined I could make it to the top of Mount Everest at age 80. This is the world's best feeling, although I'm totally exhausted. Even at 80, I can still do quite well."
Nepalese mountaineering official Gyanendra Shrestha, at the Everest base camp, confirmed that Miura had reached the summit and was the oldest person to do so.
The previous oldest was Nepal's Min Bahadur Sherchan, the 81-year-old on Miura's heels.
Sherchan is preparing to scale the peak next week despite digestive problems he suffered several days ago. On Wednesday, Sherchan said by telephone from the base camp that he was in good health and "ready to take up the challenge."
The two elderly mountaineers have crossed paths before.
Miura, who had become the oldest Everest climber with his ascent at age 70, would have reclaimed the title in 2008 as a 75-year-old, but Sherchan, then 76, reached the summit just a day before he did.
Emili Miura said Wednesday that his father he "doesn't really care" about the rivalry. "He's doing it for his own challenge."
Giving 'hope and courage' to elderly
Sherchan's team leader, Temba, who uses one name, said Sherchan will congratulate the new record holder when he returns to the base camp, and that he won't turn back until he completes his mission.
Sherchan got good news Thursday when Nepal's government approved financial aid for his climb. The cabinet approved about $11,000 in funds for Sherchan's expedition and waived $70,000 in permit fees, said Bimal Gautam, the press adviser to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Miura conquered the mountain despite undergoing heart surgery in January for an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, his fourth heart operation since 2007, according to his daughter. He also broke his pelvis and left thigh bone in a 2009 skiing accident.
On his expedition's website, he explained his attempt to scale Everest at an advanced age: "It is to challenge (my) own ultimate limit. It is to honor the great Mother Nature."
He said a successful climb would raise the bar for what is possible, a point echoed after his success by Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
"This will be deeply touching to all the people of Japan. And, especially, in an aging society, it will also give much courage and hope to all elderly people," Suga said at a news conference.
Miura became famous when he was a young man as a daredevil speed skier.
He skied down Everest's South Col in 1970, using a parachute to brake his descent. The feat was captured in the Oscar-winning 1975 documentary, The Man Who Skied Down Everest. He has also skied down Mount Fuji.
It wasn't until Miura was 70, however, that he first climbed to the top of Everest. When he summited again at 75, he claimed to be the only man to accomplish the feat twice in his 70s. After that, he said he was determined to climb again at age 80.