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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?

Jordan Romero was not born with a silver ice axe in hand. Neither of his parents were extraordinarily wealthy or climbed seriously (they did backpack and camp with him starting when he was just a few months old). What Jordan really loved, like many 9-year-old boys, were reptiles. He filled terrariums with gopher snakes, rosy boas, bearded dragons, horny toads, and a host of other cold-blooded creatures. He liked to rattle off the details of their physiology, dietary habits, natural habitat, and social behaviors. He filled journals with scientific facts and figures. He dressed like Steve Irwin and tracked The Crocodile Hunter’s progress around the globe. He approached his hobby with such zeal that his dad called him “little Rain Man.”

Then one day in 2005, when Jordan was 9 years old, he saw a mural of the Seven Summits painted by fifth graders at his elementary school–and proclaimed his plan to climb them all. Immediately.

“I don’t remember exactly what captivated me about that mural. But it made me want to do research, to learn more,” says Jordan when I visit him at his home in Big Bear, California. “It was exotic, and for some reason I was fascinated by the elevation of each peak nested inside the others, getting higher and higher.” So he climbed into his dad’s car after school and announced his decision. “Dad’s mouth was kind of hanging open when I told him. I was an outdoor kid and played soccer and baseball, but at that point, I wasn’t that much of a hiker.”

Most parents would have brushed off Jordan’s request–That’s nice, honey, Everest will still be there when you grow up–but not Paul. “I know it’s hard to believe, but after a moment of shock and surprise, we just took it in stride,” says Jordan’s sinewy 39-year-old dad. He explains that he simply refuses to impose limitations that could restrict Jordan from realizing his full potential. “My parental philosophy has been to set the stage for Jordan to develop into the man he wants to be, and to foster his growth physically, mentally, and spiritually. We gave him the big vision of the world through travel; he developed his own passion for nature; and climbing mountains is the place where those two interests met. It’s been magical ever since.”

That’s not to say Paul was blind to the challenges of the Seven Summits. But instead of treating Jordan like a kid, he explained the hardships of mountain climbing to him. “We tried to scare the shit out of him,” recalls Paul. “We laid out the pain, suffering, and danger–plus the training, the fundraising, the planning, learning, and sacrifice–as well as the rewards. And Jordan said he wanted to go for it.”

Jordan approached the project with the same intensity he brought to reptiles. He researched each summit’s climbing history and geographic and geological details. He memorized names, heights, and the stories of mountaineers who’d made noteworthy climbs.

“I wanted to be super-prepared, to know everything I could about where we were going,” recalls Jordan. “I trained for a whole year. I remember the first hike in the woods behind our house. I had a pack on, and I was gasping for air.”

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