81-year-old Nepalese climber quits Everest attempt

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) - An 81-year-old Nepalese man has abandoned his attempt to climb Mount Everest, leaving a Japanese mountaineer with the record as the oldest person to scale the world's highest mountain.

Team member Dame said on Wednesday that Mr Min Bahadur Sherchan turned back on Tuesday because weather conditions were worsening late in the spring climbing season for the Himalayas. He would have made the attempt sooner but had funding problems that were resolved only last week.

Mr Sherchan became the oldest Everest climber in 2008 at age 76. He held the record until last week, when 80-year-old Japanese climber Yuichiro Miura scaled the 8,850m mountain.

Mr Miura, who returned to Tokyo on Thursday after his successful climb on May 23, expressed sympathy for Mr Sherchan, saying he faced difficult odds due to the brief climbing window he was facing.

"He is to be pitied," Mr Miura said, criticising the Nepal side for not ensuring Mr Sherchan had adequate time to prepare for this ascent.

Money had been a big hurdle for Mr Sherchan. He had no sponsors and it took until last week for the Nepal government to follow through on a promise to give him a grant and waive the US$70,000 (S$88,700) climbing permit fee.

By the time his financial problems eased, the weather got worse. The popular spring climbing season ends in May on Everest. Monsoon sweeps the country in June, making climbing high peaks impossible.

Reports said the route has become unstable because heat has made the slopes slippery and melted the ice chunks where ladders are fixed and ropes are tied. It has also been raining for the past few days in Nepal.

More than 500 climbers scaled the peak last week during the window of favourable weather conditions, but most climbers had packed up and left the mountain by the time Mr Sherchan was able to begin.

Mr Dame, who uses only one name, said conditions were too dangerous for Mr Sherchan to attempt the climb, and that it would have been difficult to get help had there been an emergency. He turned back soon after leaving the 5,300m elevation base camp and was back in Katmandu, the capital, on Wednesday.

Mr Sherchan's family members said he was planning to rest for now and hold a news conference in a few days to give his reasons for quitting the climb.

Mr Miura blamed what he called "questionable" people among the Nepalese authorities and questioned whether Mr Sherchan had really trained for the ascent. But he and others in his team emphasised their great appreciation for the help Nepal and its people have given him over the years.