Going for the top of the world — again and again

Costa Mesa mountaineer William Burke is trying to double-summit Mt. Everest in a single season.

March 30, 2011|By Sarah Peters,
  • William Burke with Mt. Everest over his shoulder in 2010.
William Burke with Mt. Everest over his shoulder in 2010. (Courtesy William…)

COSTA MESA — William Burke has enough ambition to climb mountains. You might even say that he has enough to climb the world's highest mountain, back to back, from opposite sides.

At 69, the Costa Mesa resident will attempt what he believes to be the first ever double-summit of Mt. Everest in a single season. He will attempt to summit the peak from the north and south sides.

"There's only a short weather window in May when you can get to top, but the altitude just takes a lot out of you," Burke said.

He's been to the top before. In May 2009, Burke said he became the oldest American to summit Everest. He descended safely from the south side, in Nepal.

This will mark his fifth expedition to Everest.

"It's just fabulous," Burke said of standing on the mountain's peak, which is 29,029 feet above sea level. "Just the whole experience of being at Mt. Everest, even putting your foot on the mountain, is sacred to me."


Burke, a corporate lawyer for more than 40 years, said he started out as an amateur mountaineer relatively late in life. Burke's website,, boasts that he has climbed to the top of the highest mountain on each continent. He began high-altitude climbing after turning 60.

He will have about two weeks around the end of May in which the weather creates safe enough conditions for a single summit — let alone a double summit.

"It's going to be a little like threading a needle," Burke said. "But I'm going to try."

Burke blogs about his climbs on his website, and will periodically file updates during his upcoming trip.

However, after four previous trips to Mt. Everest, he is prepared for what he described as a grueling six-week climb through ice and snow.

In 2010, he attempted to summit the north side, but bad weather and safety precautions forced him back down.

In 2009, he said he had a close call when descending the south side, where a dangerous ice face poses an obstacle.

While descending, his feet slipped from beneath him and he was swept out over the sheer drop, held secure by his rope and harness.

"I was literally hanging there," Burke said. "I looked over my shoulder, down at a 3,000-foot drop down an ice face. That got my adrenaline going."

Mountain Man

Eight peaks reached by William Burke:

Mt. Everest, the Himalayas, 29,029 feet.

Aconcagua, the Andes, 22,834 feet.

Mt. McKinley, Alaska, 20,320 feet.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, East Africa, 19,339 feet.

Mt. Elbrus, Caucasus range, 18,510 feet.

Vinson Massif, Antarctica, 16,067 feet.

The Carstensz Pyramid, West Papua, Indonesia, 16,023 feet.

Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia, 7,310 feet.


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