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Backpacker Magazine – September 2009

Higher Education: Should 13-Year-Old Jordan Romero Climb Everest?

Romero climbed Denali at 11 and has bagged five of the Seven Summits. He hopes to climb Everest in 2010, but is mountain climbing good for a growing kid?

by: Berne Broudy, Photos by Kevin Zacher

13-year-old Jordan Romero (center) with two friends.
13-year-old Jordan Romero (center) with two friends.
Jordan, 11, on top of Aconcagua.
Jordan, 11, on top of Aconcagua.
Ice axes and an Everest poster adorn Jordan's bedroom.
Ice axes and an Everest poster adorn Jordan's bedroom.
A dirt road becomes a luge course.
A dirt road becomes a luge course.
Jordan, 10, on Russia's Mt. Elbrus.
Jordan, 10, on Russia's Mt. Elbrus.
Jordan spies on his dad at home in Big Bear, CA.
Jordan spies on his dad at home in Big Bear, CA.

Indeed, I find Jordan's parents to be extremely engaged, thoughtful, and protective. They're not pimping Jordan to the media. (It took BACKPACKER six months to get an interview, then I had to join a 4:30 a.m. snowshoe training as part of the deal.) And when Jordan starts talking about his climbs, his eyes light up as he recalls the most memorable moments–both good and bad–and one thing becomes abundantly clear: This is his quest.

"What altitude are we at?" asks Karen. Jordan checks his altimeter and responds: "18,700 feet."

"Let's shoot for 18,800 before the next rest," Karen proposes. Jordan nods.

"When we first started," Karen tells me in Big Bear, "we'd tie his boots and zip his coat. Now he puts on his own harness and keeps track of his gear. He's always carried a pack, except on summit day. On Denali, he pulled a sled with 40 pounds of gear. He is a member of our team, not just a passenger."

On every climb, Jordan has jobs that keep him engaged and vigilant. He monitors elevation and sets alarms for weather and wakeup. He's learning knots and navigation and weather forecasting. And he's cultivating qualities that any parent would hope to instill in his adolescent: responsibility, focus, goal setting, planning, and teamwork.

Later, in camp, he uses the Lake Louise Consensus test to quiz other mountaineers about their altitude sickness symptoms. He surveys his own team, as well as climbers he has just met, checking off their answers about headaches, stomachaches, and appetite loss on his chart. At 11, he's learning to negotiate real-world complexities that confound many adults.

"Figuring out how to wade through the head noise, what's right and wrong, what's truth and bullshit, is part of the climb," says Paul. "Whether in my job or in adventure racing, I constantly manage little bitty calculated risks." With Team Sole, Paul and Karen placed third at the 2008 Adventure Racing World Championships, and have competed in demanding events worldwide. They understand the value of true self-sufficiency in the wild.

So it's no surprise that team Romero chooses to break trail from Camp Nido to Berlin Camp, the last stop before summit day. Eighteen inches of fresh snow cover the route, and climbers from Britain, Poland, and Italy hunker down in tents amid the silent drifts–waiting for someone else to lead. The Romeros set out alone through gray air heavy with snow. Wind slashes their bodies as they ascend–Paul in the lead, Karen in back, Jordan in the middle.

As they plod on, Paul and Karen feed Jordan with the rhythmic regularity of an IV drip: a Werthers candy here, string cheese, water. But after several hours, Karen notices that Jordan is slowing down and breathing hard. She calls to him, and he looks back with tears streaming down his face.

The trio stops abruptly. Paul sits cross-legged in the snow and draws Jordan into his lap. Jordan erupts in a flood of emotion. He's no longer sure why he wants to climb Aconcagua; he's sad about his grandma, who died the previous summer; he's tired. Everything on his mind bubbles to the surface–he's bonking. Paul holds him and hugs him and tells him it's okay, cry, use the memory of your grandma to help you. After 10 minutes of sobbing, Jordan takes a drink, eats some M&Ms, and says he's ready to move on. They lean into the storm for another hour and a half, finally dragging themselves, exhausted, into high camp.

"It's hard to strike a balance at this age," says Jordan's cross-country running coach, Tracy Tokunaga. "None of his peers really understands what Jordan is doing. In fact, many adults don't either. But I've only heard support for Jordan from both teachers and students." Other teachers at Big Bear describe Jordan as humble, composed, and compassionate. He only talks about his climbs if he's asked.

That balancing act is getting trickier, now that Jordan's climbs are getting bigger and more expensive. In January, he received a Polartec Challenge Grant, which helped fund this summer's trip to Indonesia's 16,023-foot Carstenz Pyramid. In June, he launched a new fundraiser called 7 Summits of Big Bear Youth Challenge, aimed at getting local kids to climb local peaks. But it'll take more than small-town fundraisers and T-shirt sales to pay the price tag for Everest and Vinson. As the cost and risks increase, the pressure that sometimes makes Jordan wish to "just be a normal kid"–as he says to me more than once–also mounts.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Steve
Feb 20, 2014

He sure is somthing different

Star Star Star Star Star
alex
Feb 20, 2014

Great job you really took my breath away!!!!!! <3

Star Star Star Star Star
Alexandria
Feb 20, 2014

i think he did and awesome and i think alot of things could go wrong but i just think i loved the way he set his mind to something really encouraged others to do what they set their minds to.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Star Star Star Star Star
Annika
Feb 20, 2014

i know that you guys may not like what Jordans parents let him do but he set his mind oto what he whanted and he went for it and i know it was the wrong thing to do by letting a 13 year old bot do this but it was kind of herofic and he really encourage me to do set my mind to something and never let it go!!!!!! <3

Star
Kharmon
Feb 20, 2014

Star Star Star Star Star
Eric
Feb 20, 2014

That boy is amazing I wish he was my son.
He would have his friend with him all the time.

Star Star Star Star Star
Eric
Feb 20, 2014

How are they going to let a 13 year old climb mount everest.some thing wrong with their parents!!!!!!!

Star Star Star Star Star
Eric
Feb 20, 2014

How are they going to let a 13 year old climb mount everest.some thing wrong with their parents!!!!!!!

Star Star Star Star Star
Eric
Feb 20, 2014

How are they going to let a 13 year old climb mount everest.some thing wrong with their parents!!!!!!!

Star Star Star Star Star
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Gary
Feb 26, 2013

Sure he can do it ! So long as he is essentially Guided and fed along with an M.D. on the "Expedition". And... the weather and Mountain conditions are faultless ! Obviously he can't have the years of High Mountain experience one should have to even think about for even some of the "Lower" Himalayan peaks. A 13 yr. old doesn't have the psychological or physical maturity to be on an 8K Meter Peak to do anything SAFELY ! As far as the comment about "Dick Bass", also think about Beck Weathers, M.D. !
.

Ben
Jan 14, 2012

I'm curious as to how Jordan has been able to miss so much school.

EDward
Oct 18, 2011

hey ye guys

Adam Still
Sep 28, 2010

I read a comment by his father which noted he doesn't pay attention to the critics. It is obviously another way to not face the irresponsible choice he made towards his son. The planet is filled with an unspeakable amount of adventures that 7 lifetimes will not fill. Was taking his son on a definite roulette wheel outcome override those? Canyons, caves, the wild fields of Northern regions, Antarctica, the sea floor, ballooning Africa, kayaking miles of coast, sand dunes of the Gobi,etc, whatever.

Was such a strong risk that necessary so fast? I regret my offering the thought, but his son is what dreams are made of, but Paul's are what nightmares are brought forth from. He deserved to lose his son, and live through the greed of his decision.

For Jordan, thank the air we breath for his safe return. Mounatineer, adventure racer and high altitude medical specialist?? Can you tuck your son under your arm and fly from the death dealing situation like Superman? Your accomplishments don't mean anything compared to your job to be an outcome balancing parent.

You are lucky you made it and can gloat. You would have gone down in history as the worst parent on the globe if the scenario turned out like it has for so many more worthy and skilled than you.

Bizarre
Sep 28, 2010

Taking a chance on his son losing his life to uncontrollable conditions is what was shameful. The kid is rock solid, but even the best will not endure the worst the mountain may offer. It's like taking your child up in a plane that may become unable to control and crash, or may not. This based on a plane of that nature, which Everest is. It's not all skill that brings you home up there. A grand majority is luck.

I think it was awesome, but it was a specifically SELFISH parental risk. He could have done Everest as he grew and had a chance to see a bit more in this world. I guess the idea that "my son would be the first" was just a little to good to pass up. Hey what the F, roll the dice, I either lose him or I'm, oops, we're famous....

Bizarre
Sep 28, 2010

Taking a chance on his son losing his life to uncontrollable conditions is what was shameful. The kid is rock solid, but even the best will not endure the worst the mountain may offer. It's like taking your child up in a plane that may become unable to control and crash, or may not. This based on a plane of that nature, which Everest is. It's not all skill that brings you home up there. A grand majority is luck.

I think it was awesome, but it was a specifically SELFISH parental risk. He could have done Everest as he grew and had a chance to see a bit more in this world. I guess the idea that "my son would be the first" was just a little to good to pass up. Hey what the F, roll the dice, I either lose him or I'm, oops, we're famous....

Bizarre
Sep 28, 2010

Taking a chance on his son losing his life to uncontrollable conditions is what was shameful. The kid is rock solid, but even the best will not endure the worst the mountain may offer. It's like taking your child up in a plane that may become unable to control and crash, or may not. This based on a plane of that nature, which Everest is. It's not all skill that brings you home up there. A grand majority is luck.

I think it was awesome, but it was a specifically SELFISH parental risk. He could have done Everest as he grew and had a chance to see a bit more in this world. I guess the idea that "my son would be the first" was just a little to good to pass up. Hey what the F, roll the dice, I either lose him or I'm, oops, we're famous....

Gwen
Jun 19, 2010

I was lucky enough to read an advanced review copy of Jordan Romero's book, THE BOY WHO CONQUERED EVEREST, which comes out this month.
It's a surprisingly sweet story for younger kids. No boasting or bragging; just a nice story with lots of photos from Jordan's climbing journeys. And yes, it IS inspiring!

Sierra
May 27, 2010

also..how many 13 years olds have the will and attention and WANT to go through classes and training..he has guts

Sierra
May 27, 2010

let him do what he wants and loves..shit.i mean if i was his parents id b thrilled..i mean how many thirteen year olds do YOU know who can do that..slim to none..

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