Photo/IllutrationYuichiro Miura (Photo by Reina Kitamura)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Even at 86 and living with an irregular heartbeat, professional skier Yuichiro Miura isn’t ready to hang up his skies just yet.

He’s set to climb and ski down Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, this month.

Miura is keenly aware of his advanced age and declining health, but he is determined to continue trying to push the envelope.

“I may give up after giving it a go, but I’ll push myself to the limit and if that limit puts me on the mountaintop, it’s more wonderful than anything else,” he said.

Miura is set to leave Japan on Jan. 2 and make a full-scale start on Jan. 16 after undergoing high-altitude acclimatization. He plans to climb Aconcagua on Jan. 21 before returning to Japan on Jan. 31.

At a height of 6,961 meters above sea level, Aconcagua stands in the Andes mountain range in Argentina near the border with Chile.

It is estimated that the air temperature decreases by about 6 degrees for every 1,000-meter increase in altitude, meaning that the temperature at the summit is about 40 degrees colder than it is at the base.

Also accompanied by a substantial drop in air pressure, the oxygen level is only at about 40 percent compared to the ground level.

But the biggest challenge is Miura’s physical condition.

“He needs to carefully adapt himself to high altitudes from the early stages where the altitude is not too high,” said Kazue Oshiro, 51, an international doctor specializing in mountain medicine who will support Miura as team doctor. “We also want to pay attention to dehydration.”

The aging adventurer has an irregular heartbeat.

“The most crucial engine for a human being has a problem,” he said.

Miura’s accomplishments include skiing down Mount Everest from a point 8,000 meters above sea level in 1970 and achieving his goal of skiing down the highest mountains in each of the seven continents in 1985.

In 2003, he scaled Mount Everest for the first time at the age of 70 and set a new record as the oldest person who conquered the world’s highest mountain. He also climbed Mount Everest when he was 75 and again at age 80.

If successful in reaching the summit on Aconcagua, Miura and his second son, Gota, 49, who also accompanied his father when the skier climbed Mount Everest three times, will ski down the Polish Glacier from near the mountaintop. It is a steep slope riddled with crevasses.

As for skiing at 7,000 meters above sea level, Gota pointed out that it would be “more difficult than climbing Everest.” He will make sure to constantly monitor his father’s pulse rate.

It is summer over there, and the temperature rises in the heat of the sun. But the winds are strong and dry. Climbers are also at risk of sustaining frostbite and hypothermia due to “viento blanco” (white storm), or high winds common on Aconcagua, which whip through the area.

Members of Miura’s climbing expedition will obtain information from weather experts in Japan and analyze it carefully to prepare for the ascent.

Led by Miura, the expedition will include six others who have all climbed Mount Everest.

Hiroyuki Kuraoka, 57, a mountain guide who has climbed Aconcagua more than 10 times, will serve as climbing leader to play the central role in scaling activities. Other members include Kazuya Hiraide, 39, who twice received the Piolet d’Or (golden ice ax) award, the Academy Award of mountaineering; Kenro Nakajima, 34, who was given the French award last year; and Muneo Nukita, 67, who has long supported mountain climbing expeditions outside Japan and scaled Aconcagua four times.

“This is the ‘ultimate mountain climbing adventure of an old man receiving nursing care’ with the support of an elite expedition,” Miura joked.

Masayoshi Yamamoto, a professor at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya in Kagoshima Prefecture, said Miura had maintained his muscle mass about the same as when he was 80, when his fitness level was evaluated last year.

Yamamoto, who specializes in sports physiology, has been checking Miura’s physical fitness to offer advice since his first Everest expedition at the age of 70.

“The key is how much he can put his muscles to use at the site,” Yamamoto said.

Miura said, “I have been challenging myself, thinking each time that, ‘I wouldn’t mind dying if I could get it done.’ This is also a challenge to what others believe is impossible.”