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How old is too old to climb Mount Everest, Nepal wonders

Purna Kumari Serchan, right, mourns her husband, Nepalese mountaineer Min Bahadur Sherchan, at his funeral Sunday in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Narendra Shrestha/European Pressphoto Agency)

In the wake of the death of 85-year-old Min Bahadur Sherchan, officials in Nepal are considering whether to place an upper age limit on adventurers seeking to climb Mount Everest.

Nepali law requires climbers to prove that they are at least 16, but there is no upper limit. “It is very necessary to immediately bring that age-limit law,” Ang Tshering, head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told the Associated Press. “If there had been a limit, the loss of life could have been prevented.”

85-year-old man dies preparing to climb Everest

Tshering added that the association plans to push for an upper limit of at least 76, and Dinesh Bhattarai, the head of the country’s Tourism Department, told the AP that the government is seriously discussing limiting the age for elderly climbers in Nepal.

Although Sherchan was a seasoned climber and Nepal native, a 2007 study led by Raymond Huey of the University of Washington showed a significant increase in the likelihood of dying among older climbers. Using a database of records of more than 2,200 climbers from 1990 to 2005, the study showed that, overall, climbers had a 31 percent chance of making it to the summit and a 1.5 percent chance of dying. However, those age 60 and up had only about a 13 percent chance of reaching the summit. Those who did had a 25 percent chance of dying during descent.

A change in the age limit would give Yuichiro Miura an unbreakable record. The Japanese climber made it to the summit in 2013, when he was 80, breaking the record Sherchan had set at 76 in 2008.

Famed Swiss climber Ueli Steck dies while training near Everest

Sherchan, a father of seven, grandfather of 17 and great-grandfather of six, died of altitude sickness at base camp Saturday, an official said. “Doctors said that he died of natural causes. There was water build-up in his lungs because of altitude sickness,” Shiv Raj Thapa of Summit Nepal Trekking told Agence France-Presse after an autopsy. Sherchan was resting at the base camp and waiting for a weather window to summit, skipping multiple acclimatizations because of his age.

Over 370 climbers from 40 expedition teams have permits to climb the mountain this year from Nepal’s side during the small window of opportunity that the mountain affords. Everest is likely to be especially crowded this year, AFP reports, because this is the last chance for climbers who were forced off the mountain by the 2015 earthquake to use their extended permits, which cost thousands of dollars.

Sherchan is the second man to die this season. Ueli Steck, a renowned Swiss climber, died last month in a fall from a steep ridge during acclimatization near Everest.