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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.

Of course, despite Jordan's low-key approach, an 11-year-old mountaineer is not normal. ABC's Nightline program covered his Denali climb. And on Aconcagua, word quickly spreads that there's a kid in high camp. Other climbers from all over the world pepper him with questions and snap photos.

After the friendly welcome, Paul and Karen tuck Jordan into his sleeping bag and make cocoa and tea. Jordan sets his alarm for the 7 p.m. weather report. When the forecast crackles across the radio, it's not good: The park service recommends that no one attempts to summit the next day. The report calls for deteriorating conditions for about 24 hours, with the weather finally improving on December 30.

Nobody leaves Berlin Camp on the 29th. The climbers stay in their tents and shout through the nylon to neighbors. Griber arrives with two teammates. (He commits to a summit bid with the Romeros, but the others want more time to acclimatize.) The five teams in camp agree to a united effort the next morning.

Jordan's alarm sounds at 4 a.m., but no one has slept in the battering winds. Outside, a gale blows 60 mph and the temperature is -40°F. Another six inches of snow have fallen. Jordan puts on two layers of polypro, two layers of fleece, then wind gear, double socks, glove liners, and a big down jacket. He inhales the steam from a thermos of hot cocoa, trying to blow smoke rings with his breath. With mittens, balaclavas, and goggles in place, the trio emerges from the tent into stormy darkness. Despite the camaraderie the previous night, no other teams appear: The Romeros and Griber are the only ones postholing toward the summit at 5 a.m.

They ascend in near-whiteout conditions, the wind blowing unabated. Occasionally, Jordan has to anchor himself with his ax to stay upright in a sudden gust, and Karen periodically grabs the back of his jacket to keep the 99-pound boy from blowing away.

After six hours, the team sets the next saddle as its goal and a possible turnaround point. At the saddle–which is the junction of the Normal and Polish Glacier Routes–they meet a Swedish team that's retreating, defeated by the weather. The Romeros find a scrap of shelter behind a boulder and evaluate their options; while they rest, spots of blue appear in the gray sky and they decide to continue.

Two hours later, at the edge of a huge bowl, they finally see the summit. More blue spreads through the sky and boosts morale. The peak is still an hour away, but Jordan perks up. He walks with his shoulders back. All the scary scenes from the mountaineering documentaries have slipped away. "We're going to make it," he says. They're not yet at the summit, but Jordan starts planning ahead. "When we do the next one, I want to come down and have a giant plate of spaghetti."

They're only an hour from the summit, but Griber, who had not yet had time to acclimatize, announces he's retreating. They continue on, 10 steps at a time. When a Canadian team overtakes them, the climbers ask Jordan to pose with each of them for a photo, incredulous that they're meeting a kid near the summit of Aconcagua. Two more teams, from the Ukraine and the United States, pass the Romeros just before the final rocky couloir. All of the other teams have climbed the Polish Glacier Route (today only the Romeros will ascend via the Normal Route).

As Jordan's head pops over the summit ridge at 3:15 p.m., he gets a standing ovation, hugs, and high-fives from an international crowd. Later, on 7summits.com, a Canadian climber would write about his ascent that day, "I was working really hard not to get passed by an 11-year-old."

Putting in an epic 16-hour day, Jordan, Paul, and Karen descend to basecamp. Time to start the long journey back to Big Bear. As always after a climb, Jordan knows he can quit. He can "hang out at the teen center and eat more Subway and pizza," as he says he sometimes longs to do.

But not yet. He tells me, confidently, "I want to finish this project. The summits aren't all I think about now–I have school, friends. But I'm almost done, and I don't think there is anything that's going to stop me. Then I just want to be a normal kid for a while."

There's no telling what, exactly, that will mean in Jordan's case. But one thing's certain: He's already a good kid. After Aconcagua he sent a signed summit photo to Judge Galera, as promised.

Berne Broudy wrote a guide to adventure-travel skills in March.



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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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