82-year-old's death on Everest can't dampen 'old' climbers

Tue, May 10 2011 12:09 IST | 452 Views | Add your comment
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Kathmandu, May 10

The death of an 82-year-old intrepid Nepali climber and veteran statesman on the slopes of Mt Everest has saddened the climbing community but not deterred other "retiree" mountaineers who still remain on course to reach the summit of the world's highest peak.

Shailendra Kumar Upadhyay, a former foreign minister of Nepal as well as the country's ambassador to the UN in the 1970s, died of high altitude sickness Monday evening while trying to acclimatise at an Everest camp located over 6,000m above sea level.

Upadhyay, born in Muzaffarpur in India and educated in Benaras city, had also joined the struggle for Indian independence led by Mahatma Gandhi.

He was making his Everest attempt as part of the Senior Citizens' Mount Everest Expedition that three years ago helped another Nepali veteran, Min Bahadur Sherchan, ascend the summit at the age of 76.

Had Upadhyay, who had planned his expedition last autumn but had to defer it, succeeded, he would have created a new record, replacing Sherchan as the oldest climber to summit the peak.

The frail, white-haired statesman, who had remained both physically and mentally alert till the last, had been appointed by the state to facilitate peace negotiations with the Maoist insurgents when they were waging an armed insurrection.

Before setting out on his last lofty mission, Upadhyay had said he intended to show the world that people regarded as old retirees by the world were still capable of new achievements. Like most Everest climbers, his contention was that it was the mind that helped a man attain his goal, not physical prowess.

Though the mountaineering community Tuesday expressed shock and sorrow at the lionhearted Upadhyay's death, other veterans, however, pursued their dream on the Everest without thinking of turning back.

This season, of the 258 people attempting to summit Mt Everest, the average age has been rising to 50 plus for men and near-40 for women.

Waiting for good weather to push for the summit is 71-year-old Matsumoto Tatsuo, a male Japanese climber who is part of the 13-member Himalayan Ascent Expedition that also has a 58-year-old woman climber from Brazil, Helena Coelho.

Also biding his time is William Mitchell Burke who at 69 will become the oldest American Everest hero if he succeeds.

Burke is followed, age-wise, by Tadek Kusonki and Toji Shigeo, both from Japan and both aged 68.

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