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Healthy You

Oldest American to Summit Mount Everest Says “You Can Do Extraordinary Things No Matter Your Age”

By Jonah Charlton

He whispered, “make no mistakes” with each step to the 29,032-foot peak, the top of the Earth, a one-way trip for the unfortunate – but not for him.

At 75 years old, Art Muir could have been enjoying a sun-soaked retirement in Florida or spending time with his six grandchildren. Instead, here he was summiting Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world that was throwing everything it could at him: stinging ice crystals, whipping 40 mph winds, shifting pillars of ice beneath his boots.

“I told my family that I was not going to die on Everest, that I would be coming home,” Muir said.

Art Muir

In late May, Muir did return home to Northbrook and to a gaggle of reporters and TV crews itching to interview the “Oldest American to Summit Mount Everest.” With his summit, he broke the previous record set by Bill Burke in 2014 at age 72. The attention perplexes Muir, a retired finance attorney and self-described “ordinary man” who has a message for people of any age.

“If you can take care of yourself and keep your body well, you can still do extraordinary things, even at my age,” Muir said. “So get out there, do these sort of activities, even if it’s not climbing Everest. Your body really will respond well.”

Although Muir was not an athlete in college and worked a desk job for most of his life, he felt the allure to the mountains ever since Jim Whittaker — the first American to reach Everest’s summit — visited his high school.

While he feels lucky to be able to complete such an adventure, he said he owes a great deal to the NorthShore physicians who helped him prepare for the journey, particularly his surgeon, Mark Bowen, MD, with the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute.

“Mark gets it. He knows all about my goals and what I want to still do after my surgery. All these doctors just get it, they’re great,” Muir said.

Their relationship goes back 15 years when Muir, an avid backcountry skier, started experiencing routine injuries. In total, Dr. Bowen performed four surgeries on Muir – one on each rotator cuff and one on each knee for meniscus tears.

The right rotator cuff repair in 2019 was highly complex since it was a chronic injury that Muir didn’t address right away because he didn’t have symptoms.

“I believe he was focused and determined to prepare properly," Dr. Bowen said, regarding Muir’s decision to get his right shoulder repaired before the climb.

If he had not undergone the procedures, Muir doubted whether he could have reached the summit or attempt a climb of Everest’s magnitude. It is a large reason why he encourages anyone who has an ailment to get it addressed.

Art Muir

“When you’re older, you absolutely can still do these things but you have to take care of things when they happen to you,” he said. “That means having the right medical team and when you have something wrong with you, go out and get it fixed.”

He prepared for the climb for nearly 3 years – which included logging hundreds of miles on a NordicTrack ski simulator – by working with a company that specializes in mountaineer expedition preparation.

Being in top shape allowed Muir to endure the final 10-hour trek to the summit, to which he brought photos of his family: his wife, Leslie, five grandchildren (the sixth grandchild wasn’t born yet) and his three children.

This was not Muir’s first attempt to climb Everest; in 2019, he fell on a ladder that was suspended over a crevasse and twisted his ankle. He was rescued by a team that had to roll him back up and onto the ladder.

Now that he’s back, Muir is thinking about his next adventure and what the future holds.

“As crazy as it sounds, I still don’t think I’ve pushed myself as far as I could have,” Muir said. “We’ll just see what’s next.”