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Costa Mesan, 67, scales Mount Everest

Family members believe he’s the oldest American to reach the summit. ‘It was quite a wild ride,’ Bill Burke said.

May 23, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

Battling high winds and snow, 67-year-old Costa Mesa resident Bill Burke reached the summit of Mount Everest on Friday night after two previous attempts.

His family believes Burke could be the oldest American to ever reach the summit of Everest.

“I’ve never been in a storm like that in the mountains,” Bill Burke said in a satellite phone call recorded and transcribed after the mountaineer had reached the summit by his wife, Sharon Burke.

“Snow, freezing, freezing cold, high winds, it was quite a wild ride. It was really difficult, a very hard mountain. There is nothing about it that is easy. But, thank God we made it and we made it back safely,” Burke said.

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Burke battled winds at speeds up to 40 knots and snow that pounded against his face so hard if felt like metal pellets when he removed his goggles, Sharon Burke said.

“During the day, I was OK, because I knew he was just plugging along toward the end,” Sharon Burke said, who waited anxiously for hours on Friday to hear word of her husband of 47 years’ final charge up to the summit. “It gets pretty harry up there, and knowing it was storming like that was hard.”

Sharon Burke first got an e-mail from the climber’s base camp around 11 p.m. on Friday notifying her of her husband’s successful ascent. She also got to speak with Bill Burke by phone around 3 a.m. Saturday as he made his way back down the mountain.

“He felt good — he was really tired, but super excited,” Sharon Burke said. “It’s a pretty intense journey.”

The Burke family believes Bill Burke and his Sherpa guide will be the last two people to make it off the Mount Everest before the end of the climbing season on the south face of the mountain, when the weather gets too treacherous for climbers.

This was Burke’s third attempt at reaching the peak. During his first try in 2007, Burke stopped 330 feet shy of the summit, fearing he would not have the strength to get back down after making the final push up the mountain.

He tried again in 2008, but only made it as far as Kathmandu, Nepal, where he had to be airlifted out after coming down pulmonary edema.

“We’ve been really excited, cheering and supportive, but at the same time, really nervous for his safe return,” said Burke’s daughter, Newport Beach resident Lisa Giger.

The Burkes believe Bill Burke may be the oldest American to ever reach the summit of Everest.

Dawes Eddy, a 66-year-old Spokane, Wash., man was touted in news accounts earlier this month as the oldest American to reach the summit.

Bill Burke, who turned 67 in March, narrowly beat Eddy’s record.

“As far as we can tell, he is the oldest American, but there’s no real registry of this type of thing,” Giger said. “Any research we’ve found tells us he’s the oldest one.”

Bill Burke was expected to continue his way down the south face of the mountain after stopping to camp on Saturday. He is slated to return to Costa Mesa in June.

A blog and audio recordings from Bill Burke’s trip is at http://www.eightsummits.com/.


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