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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?

Not all observers react to Jordan’s quest with Judge Galera’s enthusiasm. Like the bureaucrats who imposed the age restriction on Aconcagua climbers, some critics suggest that kids shouldn’t be climbing mountains. Anonymous online commenters have accused Paul of everything from child abuse to using Jordan to secure sponsorship money. Jerome Brodlie, a child psychologist and chairman of the Department of Psychology at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut, states unequivocally, “This sounds like a ridiculous idea, obviously created by an overachievement-oriented parent. No 10-year-old can put into perspective the concept of climbing the world’s highest mountains.”

Brent Bishop, a two-time Everest climber whose own father summitted in 1963, says, “I have a 13-year-old son who is an exceptional athlete. I took him to the Khumbu region–but we turned around before basecamp [17,600 feet]. Not because he couldn’t hack it, but because I don’t believe it’s right to put that stress on his body. In early puberty, a child’s brain is still forming, not to mention the rest of his body.”

“They [critics] have dragged us over the coals,” says Paul. “Some of the criticism is completely ill-informed; some of it you laugh about. I’ve taken it to heart, and have done some serious soul-searching. I’m a dad, I’m human. But when I think about what Jordan wants to do with life and that all this is molding him to be a super-amazing young man, it inspires me. In the end, we feel rock-solid about what we’re doing. As long as Jordan keeps his vision going, we’re along for the ride 100 percent. We always have the option to turn around. And along the way, being safe is our priority.”

And really, why shouldn’t kids climb mountains? Better that they stay home and join the nearly 20 percent of American youth who risk premature death because of obesity? Plus, there are intangible benefits. Emma Burrous, a clinical psychologist at the University of Vermont, says, “As long as the needs of the whole child are being attended to, projects that fuel and support his emerging sense of self and sense of competence can be extremely valuable to his growth and development.”

Nevertheless, skeptical adults–more than blizzards or steep ice–could thwart Jordan’s attempt to complete the Seven Summits. When team Romero arrives at the gateway of Aconcagua Provincial Park to pick up Jordan’s permit, as the court directed, the ranger says flatly, “Ah, yes, we’ve been waiting for you. We’re not awarding you a permit. We are not subject to the courts, and we will not permit anyone under 14 years of age to climb the mountain.”

Paul attempts to negotiate, unsuccessfully, then calls Argumedo, the lawyer. But even he can’t sway the head ranger. Eventually, the local park-service chief arrives, and he and Argumedo disappear behind closed doors, with the lawyer toting the manila folder. The boss thumbs deliberately through all 150 pages. Finally he calls Jordan in, shakes his hand, and grants the permit.

Paul, Karen, and Jordan load their gear in a van for the five-hour ride into the park, eventually emerging in a dusty parking lot flanked by yellow rock walls. The canyon forms a natural gate, and here all climbers must present their permits before continuing to the trailhead. Inevitably, almost comically (if they hadn’t spent so much money to get here), the ranger looks at Jordan, at his permit, back at Jordan, and says, “We heard you were coming. You are too young to proceed. This permit is not valid.”

Again, Paul calls the lawyer, who calls the park service in Mendoza. Another heated conversation ensues. The result: Jordan cannot proceed until a park-sanctioned doctor examines him. The doctor will not arrive for another three hours.
The Romeros had planned to rendezvous with the rest of their nine-person team–including The North Face athlete and videographer John Griber, who’d been hired to shoot Jordan’s ascent–at basecamp that night, but they can only sit stoically on their backpacks and wait. The doctor arrives at 6 p.m. He taps Jordan on the back, takes his pulse, asks him to cough, insists he check in with the rangers along the way, and waves them on.

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