Arthur Muir had already made history by summiting Mount Everest earlier this month, but it wasn't until he made it back down safely on Sunday that his achievement of becoming the oldest American to reach the top of the famed mountain finally sunk in.
The 75-year-old grandfather of six from Chicago, who only took up mountaineering seven years ago, beat the previous record held by American Bill Burke, who was 72 in 2014 when he climbed Mount Everest for the second time.
"I was just overwhelmed with the emotion," Muir said on TODAY Tuesday. "To be quite honest I thought about my family, I thought about my grandchildren, one of whom was born while I was on this expedition, and I started crying. It was just kind of this emotional outlet, but it was a wonderful, satisfied, fulfilled need, this achievement."
The retired attorney made a previous attempt in 2019, but had to turn back after he injured his ankle falling off a ladder during the climb. This time he was part of an expedition of nine climbers, including four Americans, and 20 sherpas who all reached the summit on the same day.
"It was the adventure of a lifetime," he said.
Mount Everest was closed to climbers last year due to the pandemic, so this was Muir's first shot at it since the 2019 expedition. He took particular pride in reaching the top considering there have been difficult weather conditions this year and many expeditions have had to turn back after COVID-19 outbreaks.
Muir has had a lifelong fascination with climbing since his father gave him a book about the Himalayas when he was a child. That infatuation only grew when Barry Bishop, who was part of the first American team to summit Mount Everest in 1963, visited Muir's high school during his senior year in 1964.
Muir finally took up climbing when a friend got him into it seven years ago.
"So it's been this very deliberate progression where I've taken on bigger and bigger mountains and finally got to Mount Everest and tried to see what the mountain would give me at my age," he said. "Nobody was really sure. By the time I got to the top I was so focused on getting there that I didn't really absorb what was happening until I got all the way back down to our last camp, Camp Four.
"So it's only now that this is soaking in. It's been a wonderful experience, but I'm as surprised as anybody, let me tell you."
The quest has become such a part of his family's life that he even has a grandson named Everest, who was born during Muir's first attempt in 2019.
The oldest person to summit Mount Everest is Japanese mountaineer Yuichiro Miura, who was 80 when he achieved the feat in 2013.
"So I was aware of it, but it wasn't my main focus," Muir said about making American history. "I was actually very concerned about making sure that I had the reserve energy, I had the ability to actually get down safely."
Muir's triumphant moment at the summit was mixed with exhaustion.
"I was just surprised when I actually got there, but I was too tired to stand up," he said. "My summit picture, I am sitting down."
He also wasn't the only record-breaker on the mountain this month, as Tsang Yin-Hung, 45, a former teacher from Hong Kong, became the first woman to reach the summit in under 26 hours, breaking the old record by more than 13 hours.