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Older climbers face uphill battle on Mount Everest
Date:8/14/2007

In this era of not surrendering to age, some claim that 60 is the new 40. But new research shows that 60 year olds cannot keep up with 40 year olds on Mount Everest and suffer a sharply higher chance of dying if they do reach the summit.

The study shows that among 2,211 climbers during the spring seasons from 1990 through 2005, the overall chances of reaching Everest's summit were nearly 31 percent, but they dropped to 13 percent for climbers in their 60s. The overall chances of dying on the mountain were 1.5 percent, but they more than tripled to 5 percent for climbers 60 and older.

The researchers did not find any gender differences.

"Before we did this analysis, we didn't know whether age would be important. Younger climbers have a physical advantage but probably have less experience than older climbers," said Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor. "We used to refer to this advantage of age as the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar effect. As he got older, his physical skills declined but he was so smart and experienced that he was able to compensate and still play professional basketball at the highest levels.

"Unfortunately for older climbers, that effect does not apply on the world's highest mountain," said Huey, lead author of a paper describing the research published online Aug. 15 in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters. The Royal Society is the United Kingdom's national science academy.

Other authors are Richard Salisbury, a database analyst and mountaineering historian in Ann Arbor, Mich., and statisticians Jane-Ling Wang and Meng Mao at the University of California, Davis.

The findings run counter to the notion published in a medical journal in 2000 that people in their 60s could safely climb peaks of about 26,300 feet. Mount Everest is about 29,030 feet.

"I think they were overstating the safety factor. I think it's much more risky," Huey said.

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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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