Beginner Skills

My Son, the Mountaineer

A young climber rewrites the relationship with his dad.

My son Tyler first told me he wanted to be a mountaineer after watching Walking the Great Divide, a documentary on hiking the Continental Divide Trail. He was 6, and until then acted like any other kid: soccer, swimming, and playing with friends.

Suddenly, there was a new Tyler. He was driven. He’d be waiting for me at the door, day after day, to go running to get ready for the mountains. I told him if he stayed dedicated, I’d take him up Mt. Whitney. The next summer, at 7 years old, Tyler became the youngest person to stand on its 14,505-foot summit (the record has since been broken).

Something had ignited in him. I could barely keep up at first. I came up as a Scout and had climbed and backpacked with my dad, but I rarely took Tyler camping and never even considered mountaineering. What kind of kid wants to freeze in the mountains? As it turns out, mine.

He started leading the effort. I had no prior interest in climbing, but how could I not want to witness my son doing something that brought him so much joy and purpose? I signed us up for courses on avalanche safety and mountaineering. I grew to like getting to the top, but not as much as I liked watching Tyler get there.

We continued to climb and set records: In 2012, we summited Kilimanjaro when Tyler was 8; when he was 9, he became the youngest to summit Argentina’s 22,841-foot Aconcagua; last year, after getting denied a permit for Everest (Tyler was “too young” according to the Chinese and Nepalese governments), we ascended Alaska’s 20,310-foot Denali, Tyler’s fifth of the Seven Summits.

Sometimes it’s scary—for all of us. But my wife Priscilla and I decided we had to let him do his thing. You have to find some passion in life and pursue it. You have to be willing to let kids learn and explore. That’s how they become adults.

–As told to Nick Davidson