Sacramento man attempts to be oldest American to conquer Everest

At an age when others might be thinking about collecting Social Security, Sacramento’s Jim Geiger has headed off to climb Mount Everest, where he will attempt to become the oldest American to summit the tallest peak on Earth.

And the 68-year-old said he is ready.

“At 68, I’m in the best shape of my life,” said Geiger, who has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains.

Geiger, who left Sacramento Saturday, was scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu, Nepal, today where he is to gather with IMG guides and elite mountaineering Sherpas. From there, he flies to Lukla at about the 9,300-foot elevation, the beginning of the trek.

He arrives at Everest base camp April 6, and, if everything goes as planned, he will summit the mountain May 11.

Geiger’s belief that he would be the oldest American to accomplish the feat is echoed by Eric Simonson, co-owner of International Mountain Guides.

“Yes, I believe that Jim is correct,” said Simonson, whose company will guide Geiger up the mountain. “He would become the oldest American to climb Everest if he is successful.”

Simonson said the American record holder, at age 67, is Bill Burke. The oldest man to climb Mount Everest is Yuichiro Miura of Japan, who reached the summit May 23 at age 80, according to Guinness World Records.

IMG has taken two 66-year-old climbers to the summit – Dawes Eddy in 2009 and John Dahlem in 2010.

“From our standpoint, there is nothing different about climbing at 68,” said Simonson. “Regardless of age, you have to climb safely. Mount Everest does not know the difference.”

Geiger acknowledged the dangers of the attempt but said he wasn’t worried. Mount Everest climbers face arctic temperatures, injuries and death. More than 200 climbers have died attempting to summit the mountain. Countless others have had to turn back.

The costs for Geiger’s summit attempt were paid by a sponsor he met on another climb.

At the Everest base camp, elevation 17,590 feet, Geiger will try to get acclimated to the thin air before his summit attempt.

“That whole month will be spent going up and down, going higher and higher,” he said. “Eventually we will be back to base camp to recover and then off we go for the final summit bid.”

The ex-Marine has climbed mountains such as Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Denali in Alaska. His previous highest climb has been 22,841 feet, to the top of Aconcagua in Argentina.

On that climb his body performed well, he said, but he needed more breaks than his hiking team.

“That was three years ago, and I’ve been working at getting in better shape,” he said.

To prepare for Mount Everest, Geiger’s training has included hauling a 65-pound backpack up hills. His favorite training mountain is Pyramid Peak, elevation 9,987 feet, in Desolation Wilderness between Pollock Pines and South Lake Tahoe.

“I probably have climbed that thing at least 80 times over the last 28 years,” he said. “It is my favorite because it is a quick 4 miles up and 4,000-feet of elevation gain.”

Geiger said he feels no special need to get to the top of Mount Everest. He simply has a passion for climbing mountains. And he believes that aging well requires intense challenges.

“This is something that I do,” he said. “I want to see if I can do this next one. Can I still do these mountains?”