KATMANDU, Nepal – A 71-year-old Japanese mountain climber has apparently become the oldest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
"I didn't think I would make it," Katsusuke Yanagisawa told The Associated Press in the Nepalese capital of Katmandu on Tuesday, after returning safely from the world's highest mountain. "No more high mountains," he added.
He was 71 years, 2 months and 2 days old when he reached the 29,035-foot peak on May 22, beating the previous record set last year by another Japanese climber, Takao Arayama, who was 70 years, 7 months and 13 days old.
Yanagisawa, a retired junior high school teacher from central Japan, said he is exhausted and lost some movement of his right palm during the treacherous climb but is mostly fine.
"Everest was much more difficult than I expected. It was difficult to breath, hard to walk. Even coming down the mountain was more difficult than what I had thought it would be," he said. "Everest is a really hard mountain."
But once he reached the summit, he was overwhelmed.
"I did well ... better job than I expected," he said.
He was inspired to attempt Everest last year after he managed to scale the nearby Mount Cho Oyu.
"It was my dream to climb Cho Oyu — a peak which was higher than 26,240 feet — when I reached the age 70," he said.
From the summit of Cho Oyu, he got a glimpse of Everest. "I found my next dream," he said.
Yanagisawa was the third Japanese in recent years to set a record as the oldest climber on Everest. In 2003, Yuichiro Miura became the oldest to reach the summit at 70 years, 7 months and 10 days.
Miura told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he plans to scale Everest again next year, at age 75.
Nearly 200 climbers scaled Everest during the popular spring climbing season which ends on Thursday.
Hundreds of climbers have scaled Everest since New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay conquered the peak on May 29, 1953. Some 205 people have also died on the mountain's unpredictable slopes.
Officials of the Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Nepal government's Mountaineering Department said they could not confirm the new record since the climb was from the Chinese side of the mountain. Officials at the China Tibet Mountaineering Association could not be reached for comment.