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Georgian Man Is Oldest to Scale Everest

Asia: At 60 years and 161 days, mountaineer Lev Sarkisov surpasses the record of the previous climber by one day.

May 22, 1999|From Associated Press

KATMANDU, Nepal — Georgian mountaineer Lev Sarkisov waited an extra week at the base of Mt. Everest so he could become the oldest person to climb the world's highest peak.

At the age of 60 years and 161 days, Sarkisov, accompanied by three countrymen, reached the summit May 12.

"I felt great at the top. I am 60 years old, and I knew this was the last chance for me to climb Everest," he told the Associated Press through an interpreter in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital.

Sarkisov, a mountain guide from Tbilisi, surpassed the record held by Venezuelan climber Ramon Balanca Suarez, who scaled Everest at the age of 60 years and 160 days in 1993.

"We were ready and acclimatized by the first week of May. But we waited to make the summit attempt on May 12 just so I would be able to establish the new record," he said.

Sarkisov said he used bottled oxygen only during his final approach to the summit to give himself energy and avoid hallucinating but took off his oxygen mask once there. With skies sunny, the team stayed on the 29,028-foot peak for 40 minutes, celebrating and taking pictures.

Sarkisov has been a professional mountain guide for 33 years, climbing almost all the high mountains in the former Soviet Union. As a climbing instructor in the Soviet army, he trained many of the soldiers in what is now part of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

But he had never climbed any of the 14 mountains higher than 26,400 feet. His highest peak was the 24,406-foot Mt. Pobeda on the Chinese-Russian border. It is known as "Russia's Everest."

His break came when one of his students, Benedict Kashakashvili, 35, asked him to come along on an expedition to Everest. The two have climbed nearly 60 times in the past 10 years.

"He was faster than the rest of us and one of the first ones in our group to reach the summit," Kashakashvili said. "You can learn a lot of skill by just following him."

The other Georgians to reach the summit were Bidzina Gujabidze, 39, and Api Gigani, 43, both also from Tbilisi. They were accompanied to the top by Nepali Sherpa guides Chhewang Dorjee, 23, and Nawang Tendi, 38.

"I do not have any plans right now, but I will return to the Himalayas to make another serious climb," Sarkisov said.

Since Everest was first conquered in 1953 by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, 800 people have scaled the peak. Authorities say 180 climbers have died on its slopes.

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