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71-year-old determined to scale Everest

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CHICAGO — Night after night, Al Hanna trudges up and down a pimple of a hill as he prepares to scale the tallest mountain on Earth.

Hanna is closing in on his 72nd birthday — and another attempt at setting the record to become the oldest person to climb Mount Everest.

He is more than seven years older than Sherman Bull of Connecticut was when he set the record at age 64 last year.

"Everybody says, 'What's wrong with golf?' " says Hanna.

"I've got three lawyers, and they all threaten to have me committed," he jokes. "My wife, she just rolls her eyes."

But Hanna is always out on the hill, with a 60-pound pack of weights strapped to his 5-foot-4, 140-pound frame.

Five days a week, for three hours a day between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., he makes his slow march. He climbs to the top of the hill in Chicago's Lincoln Park as many as 50 times a day.

Those who know both mountain climbing and Hanna are impressed.

"I don't know if there is another person who does that kind of day-in-and-day-out rigorous training that isn't a professional mountaineer," said Gordon Janow, of Alpine Ascents International, a Seattle-based guide service.

Vernon Tejas, an Anchorage-based climbing guide who has climbed with Hanna and will scale Everest with him in May, agrees. "I have never had a climber so consistent and who pushes himself so hard as this man," said Tejas.

Hanna took up climbing when he was 58, he said, "because I felt stale." That led to a goal to climb to the top of the highest peak on every continent. Except for Mount Everest, he's made it up every one.

Hanna has tried and failed to scale Everest three times. But each time he got higher. On his last climb, in 2000, he got to within 300 feet of the 29,035-foot summit in Nepal before turning around.

"I think we could have made it," said Tejas, who made the climb with Hanna. "He said he thought he could make it but wasn't sure he could make it back down."

While training, Hanna said he sometimes shares the hill during summer months with what he calls the "night crazies," people who view the area as kind of an open-air saloon.

They talk to him and escort him up and down the hill a few times, but for the most part they don't bother him. "Because I look so strange with this big pack, I think they're more afraid of me than I am of them," he said.

There also is the occasional visit from curious, flashlight-wielding police officers.

Despite his relentless pursuit of the peak, Hanna said he will quit after his next attempt.

"I'm tired of getting up at 1 in the morning to climb the hill with the night people," he said.

Another reason is the cost. Between the plane tickets, hotel rooms, meals and other expenses, the cost of just getting to and from Mount Everest runs into the thousands of dollars. And the ascent itself, said Tejas, comes with a price tag of about $65,000.

Hanna, who owns a mortgage banking company in Chicago, said there also is the cost incurred in leaving his job for two months to climb a mountain.

Hanna's schedule gives him just enough time to work, climb the hill and do countless sit-ups and push-ups. He sleeps four hours before his daily hikes and another two when he gets home. "I'm sleep starved," he said.

"I've got to be a normal person in my last years of life."