Mt. Everest Deadlier for Older Climbers

Experience won't always compensate for flagging stamina, study suggests

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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 15, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- While many claim that 60 is the new 40, that's not the case on Mount Everest, according to a study that found that older climbers are less likely to reach the summit and more likely to die.

"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," lead author Raymond Huey, a University of Washington biology professor, said in a prepared statement.

His team studied more than 2,200 people who tried to climb 29,030-ft. Mount Everest during the spring seasons from 1990 through 2005.

They found that the overall chance of reaching the summit was 31 percent but only 13 percent for climbers in their 60s. The overall risk of dying on the world's tallest mountain was 1.5 percent but five percent for climbers 60 and older.

Among climbers who made it to the summit, 25 percent of those age 60 and older died before they completed their descent compared with 2.2 percent of young climbers.

The study found no differences between men and women.

"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," Huey said. "Unfortunately for older climbers, that effect does not apply on the world's highest mountain."

The study was published online Aug. 15 in the journal Biology Letters.

More information

The PBS program Nova has more about Mount Everest.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, Aug. 14, 2007

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