A 13-year-old California boy plans to try to climb Mount Everest in a quest to reach the summits of the highest peaks on all seven continents.
If Jordan Romero succeeds, he’ll become the youngest person to conquer the world’s highest mountain.
Jordan will attempt the ascent to 29,035 feet with his father and his father’s girlfriend, both experienced outdoors people who have helped train the teenager for top-level mountaineering.
When Jordan was only 9, a school mural of the seven summits inspired his ambitious goal.
“I told my dad about it and he didn’t say no. He just explained the difficulties and what I’d have to do. We started training right away,” said Jordan, who was scheduled to depart for Nepal Monday night.
At age 10, he became the youngest American to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. He’s steadily checked off four of the tallest peaks since then, including Alaska’s Mount McKinley, which many climbers consider to be a more technical climb than Everest.
Despite his penchant for tall mountains and thin air, friends and family describe Jordan as unusually grounded for a 13-year-old. He said he understands the risks of climbing Everest, which kills climbers almost every year.
“Mountain climbing requires a lot of mental training and making smart decisions. It’s a metaphor for life,” he said, sounding wiser than his years.
The teenager’s planned Everest ascent is making the mountaineering community think hard about how young is too young to climb such a dangerous mountain.
Jordan’s father, Paul Romero, said he wants nothing more than to make his son’s dreams come true.
“It’s his quest and we’re just along for the ride,” said Romero, a helicopter paramedic who lives in the San Bernardino Mountains ski town of Big Bear Lake. “We may or may not reach the summit this time. It might be a dress rehearsal.”
Romero and girlfriend Karen Lundgren are adventure racers, competing in weeklong endurance races that combine biking, climbing, paddling and climbing through wilderness areas around the world.
Jordan’s mother, Leigh Anne Drake, said she supports her son but she also sees her ex-husband’s influence in the project.
“He went to his dad’s for a weekend and came back with a new goal,” to be the youngest to reach the top of Everest, she said. “If you’re going to do it, you have to foot the bill. But if you set a record, you can get sponsorship.”
The trio’s Everest expedition is costing $150,000. Jordan, his father and Lundgren will be making the ascent with three sherpas.
Temperatures at the summit can plunge to 100 degrees below zero and hurricane-force winds blow much of the year. Atmospheric pressure at the peak is about a third that of sea-level, which can lead to breathing difficulties, mental sluggishness and other serious medical problems. Climbers usually use bottled oxygen.
The extreme cold, lack of oxygen, falls, exhaustion and avalanches have killed hundreds of climbers. Many of their bodies remain beside the trail.
Guides who have experience with Everest say Jordan will probably be safe, as long as he and his team pay close attention to how their bodies are reacting to the high altitude and low oxygen conditions near the peak.
“After doing five of those peaks – I’ve done them, it’s hard – that means he’s a tough kid,” said Jason Edwards, a guide with the Seattle-based International Mountain Guides. The outfitter has a minimum age limit of 18 for Everest expeditions because of liability issues.
But Gordon Janow, a guide with Alpine Ascents International, also based in Seattle, said there’s not a lot of research on the short- and long-term effects of high altitude on children, whose brains and bodies are still developing.
“We’re in a day and age where parents are pushing kids to extremes so much. It’s very hard to disentangle the parent from the kid these days,” he said. “But with mountaineering, the kid can’t just go through the motions. They have to do a lot of physical training and really want it.”
Janow has turned down 14-year-olds who wanted to climb Kilimanjaro without their parents.
“Jordan’s probably a better bet than some 68-year-old guy who’s only done two mountains,” he said. “These days it’s moving so fast, it’s a 10-year-old sailing around the world this year and an 8-year-old the next. What’s reasonable anymore?”
During the frenzy of packing, Jordan’s mother said she is bracing herself for two long months when the only news of her son will come from a blinking dot that represents his GPS device on a topographical map of Everest.
“I’m on a roller coaster,” Drake said as her voice cracked with emotion. “From the second he leaves my arms until he’s back, it’s like I can’t breathe and I can’t cry. But at the same time, I’m so overjoyed that’s he’s getting the chance to do and see all of these amazing things.”
She said her son is taking two months of homework to Nepal so he can keep up with school.
The current record holder for the youngest to climb the peak is Temba Tsheri of Nepal who was 16 and lost five fingers during his ascent due to frostbite.