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After Everest, what next for 67-year-old?

Bill Burke of Costa Mesa is believed to be the oldest American to

June 08, 2009|Ruben Vives

Three months ago, after failing to climb Mount Everest for the second time in two years, 67-year-old Bill Burke, a retired attorney, set out to give it another try.

"This will be my year," Burke wrote on his blog, eightsummits.com. "I feel great, physically and mentally, and I just can't wait to begin this journey again to finish what I started two years ago."

On May 22, just hours away from the top, Burke began his final treacherous climb up the mountain, aided by Sherpas, pushing through a snowstorm and 40-knot winds.

"The sun was out for only about 40 minutes and then a storm blew in," Burke wrote. "I've never been in a storm like that in the mountains. Snow, freezing, freezing cold, high winds, it was quite a wild ride."

About 3 a.m. the next day, Burke's wife got a wake-up call in Costa Mesa.

"He said, 'Sharon I made it,' " she recounted. "He was very excited. It was exciting."

Burke is believed to be the oldest U.S. citizen to reach the summit of the world's highest peak, an altitude of 29,035 feet, and he could be the oldest to reach the highest summits of each continent.

The idea of climbing Earth's highest summits, Sharon said, came 12 years ago when the couple lived in Hong Kong. She said her husband would hike the hills while she was away on business.

In 2007, Bill Burke made his first attempt to climb Everest but was forced to turn around about 100 meters from his goal.

"My legs became weaker, my pace slackened and I found myself stopping about every 20 feet, gasping for breath and digging deep for that last ounce of energy," he wrote that day.

Then in 2008, Burke canceled another climb after he arrived at base camp and began suffering from pulmonary edema, or fluid in the lungs. He was airlifted from the lowest campsite, at 17,700 feet, Sharon said. There are four camp sites along the mountain that climbers use as resting points to adjust to the change in altitude.

Married for nearly 47 years, Sharon Burke said she couldn't imagine what her husband would do next. "I just don't know what to expect from him. He always makes life interesting."

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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