Jordan Romero, 13, began his march upward today from a north-side camp at 21,500 feet, and hopes it'll take just a couple of days to attain the 29,035-foot summit and complete his controversial bid to become the youngest person to attain mountaineering's ultimate single pinnacle.
"When I get to the top I expect to feel happy and proud: 'Wow, I am standing on the top of the world!' " he exclaimed via email, before shoving off with his father, Paul, and Paul's girlfriend. "I am sure that me and my dad and Karen are going to cry when we finally get to the summit. I have dreamed of this moment since I was 9 years old."
The eighth-grader from Big Bear Lake, Calif., and his companions are two summits shy of bagging the Seven Summits, or the highest peak on each continent.
If they achieve the top of Everest and return safely down the mountain--nothing is taken for granted where Everest is concerned--it will be especially significant for Romero. Among other youngsters with claims of scaling Everest are Nepalese climbers Ming Kipa, when she was 15, and Temba Tsheri, when he was 16 (after losing five fingers from frostbite during his first attempt).
(Utah's Johnny Collinson became the youngest Westerner to reach the 29,035-foot summit of Everest, at 17, last May.)
In a recent story in the English newspaper Guardian, David Hillebrandt, the medical adviser for the British Mountaineering Council, said Romero's expedition is "verging on child abuse."
Hillebrandt lamented, "In the old days, Everest was scaled only by people with years of experience, who could tie a knot with their eyes shut in a blizzard and had a good record of peaks they had retreated from and survived. Nowadays, people are effectively being winched up using ropes that Sherpas have put in for them. It will all be done for him. He's a token passenger."
Romero cannot help hailing from a modern era of fixed ropes and the service of well-paid guides. Of his critics the boy stated: "I don't have anything to say to them [but] I hope to say something by standing at the summit."
Legendary mountaineer Ed Viesturs, who has made the top of Everest seven times, declined discuss what age he believes is appropriate but said anyone tackling any major peak ought to do so out of passion for climbing, not merely for the sake of setting records.
Said Romero: "I am climbing because I love the mountains and love climbing. I want to inspire other kids to set BIG goals and be healthy. I want to be an example for them."
Doug Stoup, a renowned polar adventurer and mountaineer, has met Romero and implied he's more qualified than some older climbers currently on Everest's slopes.
"Jordan has put in a lot of ice work and trained to be not only physically but mentally prepared for each of those past events," said Stoup, who lives in the Lake Tahoe area in Northern California. "So I think, yeah, that a 13-year-old does deserve a chance.
"What happens is that you have a lot of people my age, 40-something people, trying to climb Everest and they've never climbed anything else, and they show up and don't even know how to put on crampons."
The Romero group, with three Sherpa guides, made it to Advanced Base Camp, at 21,500 feet, with no major setbacks. But at Camp 1, wind speeds reached 100 mph and the group had trouble keeping the tent secure.
Romero was awed by the sight of the majestic peak and the intense buzz of human energy that accompanies the start of every season. "I've met climbers from China, the U.K., Austria, Belgium, South Africa, Russia and Tibet," he said. "Everyone has been supportive; age has not been a factor other than I have to do homework when I'm here."
Homework has been put aside for the time being. Romero, for the next couple of days, will have a more things to be concerned about, namely survival and conquest.
-- Pete Thomas
Photos of Jordan Romero group on Mt. Everest (top) and Romero before the expedition courtesy of Jordan Romero