Climbing High

Oldest American to summit Mount Everest reflects on life lessons

Art Muir was in high school when James Whittaker became the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1963. Since then, Muir has dreamed of climbing the world’s highest mountain.

Now, at age 75, Muir has become the oldest American to make it to the top of Everest, climbing 29,032 feet.

But that’s not what means the most to the retired attorney from Northbrook. Muir says he hopes to convey to others the importance of taking care of their bodies and having big dreams no matter their age.

“The takeaway from this story is that when you’re 75, your life is not over,” Muir says. “You don’t have to stop doing things. You can accomplish great things.”

During his career, Muir spent long hours at his desk practicing law, but on vacations, he traveled and did backcountry skiing, which kept him in good shape, he says.

Once he set his sights on Everest, he knew he had to be well prepared emotionally and physically, undergoing surgeries at NorthShore University HealthSystem to treat rotator cuff injuries and meniscus tears in his knees.

Muir also found good trainers and tackled other mountains, such as climbing the 20,310-foot Denali with his son, Charlie, in 2015. “It was one of the great moments of my life,” Muir says.

Muir attempted the Everest climb at age 72 but sprained his ankle and didn’t make it. In May 2021, he tried again. Muir battled below-zero temperatures, icy winds, and slippery surfaces, reaching the top in 10 hours.

“You climb mostly at night. It’s cold. The wind is blowing. I tell people it was about grinding away. You put one foot in front of the other,” Muir says.

His transformative experience came an hour before the top. 

“When I got to the south summit, the sun was coming up. I saw a ridge, and I knew at that point that I was going to [summit] the mountain,” he says. “That was an emotional moment.”