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Everest climber, 13, gets a leg up from ailing pal

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 worl
/ Source: TODAY contributor

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.

Hazardous trek

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.’ ”