Everybody wants their young teenager to have a hobby, something to keep him out of trouble and off the couch, something healthy and outdoorsy.
You know, like climbing Mount Everest.
“This is something I’ve been looking at ever since I was a little kid,” 13-year-old Jordan Romero reported to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira via Skype from inside a tent pitched 20,000 feet up the north face of the world’s highest mountain.
Jordan didn’t need a note from his mom and dad to be there. In fact, with him was his father, Paul Romero, and Paul’s girlfriend, Karen Lundgren, as well as an unusual good-luck charm from a young friend.
An assault on Everest is no Sunday hike. Jordan and team have assembled a group of sponsors and raised $150,000 to finance an expedition that could last two months.
No one as young as Jordan has ever attempted to climb Everest. The record holder for youngest climber is Temba Tsheri of Nepal, who reached the summit at the age of 16. Tsheri lost five fingers to frostbite. And climbing Everest is dangerous at any age: About one in every 11 people to try dies on the mountain. Most of their bodies are still there.
Atmospheric pressure up there is one-third of what it is at sea level, and almost all climbers carry oxygen bottles at the highest altitudes. Winds can reach hurricane force, and temperatures can drop to minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Paul is well aware of the risks, as is Jordan. Both have said that they will not risk their lives to make the summit; if conditions dictate, they’ll turn back and try another time. “There’s never been a case where a child’s been at the height of Mount Everest,” Paul Romero acknowledged to Vieira.
Not kid stuff?
Some critics have said that children’s respiratory systems are not as developed as adults’ and that a 13-year-old, no matter how fit, is at more risk on Everest than a grown-up.
“Those are things I’ve had sleepless nights about,” Paul said. “Those are also things I’ve researched night and day. I’ve researched every bit of published information that’s ever been done on children and altitude, and there’s nothing negative about children and altitude. Those are just naysayers. Those are just people who think that 13-year-olds shouldn’t be in the mountains.”
And although just a kid, Jordan is a big kid, already 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds.
“For Jordan, our life has always been outdoors: skiing and hiking and biking and an outdoor lifestyle,” Jordan’s mother, Leigh Anne Drake, told NBC News in California. “So climbing a mountain doesn't seem as shocking to our family as it maybe would for another.”
Objective: Seven summits
Besides, Jordan set this goal for himself when he was 9, which for him is a third of a lifetime ago. He was in the fourth grade and saw a mural in his school showing the “seven summits” — the tallest mountain on each continent. Right there, he decided.
“I was 9 years old when I first set out to climb the seven summits,” Jordan said. “My dad picked me up from school, and I said, ‘Dad, you know what? I want to climb the seven summits,’ and he just said, ‘Yes.’ ”
Video: Teen sailor breaks solo around-the-world record First to fall was the 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa. At just 10 years of age, Jordan was the youngest to reach the top. Since then, he’s conquered Mount Elbrus in Europe, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount McKinley in Alaska and Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia/Oceania. The tallest of those, at nearly 23,000 feet, is Aconcagua, while McKinley, or Denali, at 20,320 feet, is considered to be a more technically difficult climb than Everest.
Before launching their assault on the summit of Everest, the trio and their Sherpa guides will spend as much as a month at the camp, acclimating their bodies to the demands of the altitude and the extreme weather conditions.
The altitude is old hat for the trio. Jordan has already been above 19,000 feet three times in his young life, the first time nearly four years ago on Kilimanjaro. Since then, he has also conquered the tallest peaks in Europe, North and South America, Australia and Indonesia.
If Jordan makes it to the top of Everest, he’ll have one more mountain to climb to complete his quest: Antarctica’s Vinson Massif, which is 16,050 feet high. He has said he intends to become the youngest to climb all seven.
John Collinson, 17, of Utah, holds the current record for being the youngest person to climb all seven. What’s more, he did it in one calendar year, finishing with Vinson Massif on Jan. 19 of this year.
Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, in 1953 became the first humans to stand atop the 29,035-foot peak of Everest. When asked why he climbed it, Hillary famously answered, “Because it’s there.”
Video: Undies, socks, charms: Superstitious Olympians Vieira asked Jordan why he’s following in Hillary’s footsteps.
“I’m just climbing Mount Everest basically for the experience,” he said. “It’s the highest mountain in the world.”
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Bubbling with the confidence of a 13-year-old backed by the experience of someone three times that age, Jordan said he understands the risks.
“Altitude is definitely a big difficulty,” he said “I can feel it already.”
Vieira asked if Jordan has planned a celebration for the summit.
“I just want to celebrate and just pull out the sponsor flags, summit flags, and give some dedications to some people. Show some of my good-luck charms up there. Just celebrate,” he said.
What sort of good-luck charms?
“I got a bunch of things,” he said before asking Lundgren if he could mention one of them. With her OK, he went on: “My friend who’s only 8 years old who’s battling a brain tumor gave me a good-luck charm of his own. Those were kangaroo testicles — from Australia.”
“Leave them there,” Vieira suggested.
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