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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Couple in their 70s conquers Everest Base Camp to celebrate 70th birthday

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Korean American couple – Olivia Lee (70), left, and her husband, Jun H. Lee (74) – are climbing Everest Base Camp. [Provided by Lee couple]

A Korean American couple from Los Angeles is making headlines for climbing Everest to celebrate the wife’s 70th birthday.

In October, Jun H. Lee, 74, and his wife, Olivia Lee, 70, reached Everest Base Camp (EBC) at 17,601 feet after a 22-day challenge.

The couple are experienced climbers who ascended Annapurna Base Camp (ABC – 13,550 feet) in the Himalayas four years ago for Mr. Lee’s seventieth birthday. However, climbing Everest was never an easy challenge.

“My husband has been an avid hiker since he was in college, and we’ve been climbing ever since we got married,” said Olivia Lee. “We’ve climbed Mount Baldy, the highest peak in LA, and Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the U.S., but Everest is something completely different,” she said.

The couple arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, after a 21-hour flight from the U.S. via Singapore. Their climb took 22 days, starting on October 25 and concluding on November 15.

“Altitude sickness was the toughest part. We were climbing for about six to seven hours a day, and we could only move seven to eight miles,” Lee said. “The altitude was so high that we were out of breath with every step.”

The couple woke up at 4 a.m. each day to hit the trail and walked for 22 days, totaling 75 miles, to reach base camp.

Even now, the couple still suffers from altitude sickness, including coughing and dizziness. Even though Mr. Lee has been hospitalized for frostbite on his fingers, their passion for the mountains is undiminished.

“Climbing mountains is like life,” said Lee. “It gives me a valuable experience of feeling the great outdoors and reflecting on human vulnerability. It’s often rainy, windy, and snowy. Life is not always sunshine. Hardships and adversities in life are like the descent of a mountain.”

Since immigrating to Los Angeles in 1978, Lee and his wife have been avid hikers and, since 2017, have been regular members of Hiking LA. “We want to show that age is just a number and that you can always challenge your dreams if you have the will to do so,” Lee said. “We are grateful for the valuable experience of reflecting on ourselves through the beauty of nature.”

BY YEJIN KIM, JUNHAN PARK    [kim.yejin3@koreadaily.com]