Eastern Kentucky mountain climber Martin Douthitt is dropping plans to climb Mount Everest this year. He will have knee-replacement surgery instead.
Douthitt, a Breathitt County businessman, said he hopes to tackle the world's tallest peak next year if the surgery is a success.
Douthitt, who will turn 67 in August, said he knows that getting back into top physical condition will be tough — and that he could be running out of chances to reach the summit of Everest. This the third straight year that he's had to cancel the climb because of knee-related problems.
"The doctors say there's really nothing else for me to do other than have surgery," he said. "It's do that or just hobble around. I need to do it even if I'm not going to climb again.
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"I do think I will give it another shot if I can get the surgery done. But I'm not cocky anymore."
Douthitt took up mountaineering in the late 1990s, fulfilling a boyhood dream. He has climbed six of the Seven Summits — the highest mountain on each of Earth's seven continents — leaving only Everest to conquer. But he has had repeated setbacks since his last major climb, which took him to the summit of Alaska's Mount McKinley, or Denali, in 2009.
Douthitt canceled a planned trip to Everest in 2010 because of knee problems. Last year, he didn't feel fit enough to try for the summit, but he did climb to Everest's base camp at 17,000 feet.
His hopes to climb Mount Everest evaporated this year when doctors said the replacement was the only option for his ailing right knee. Surgery is planned for mid-May at the University of Kentucky.
If he can make it to the top of Everest next year, Douthitt said, he would be the oldest American to do it.
A Nepalese man who climbed Everest at age 76 is thought to be the oldest person to conquer the mountain. An 82-year-old man died in an attempt last year.
Douthitt acknowledged that the task gets harder as he gets older.
"Since Denali three years ago, I can tell I've lost a little bit; I'm not quite as strong as I was," he said. "You really have to get that mojo back if you're going to do these tall mountains. I have to get that back, and I don't have it right now."