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Youngest American woman to climb Everest, 18, says being away from family was ‘hardest part’

The teen told TODAY that it was "really tough" being away from everyone she knew for 26 days.
/ Source: TODAY

Lucy Westlake doesn’t need to wait until she graduates high school to soar to new heights.

On Thursday, Westlake, 18, became the youngest American woman to scale Mount Everest’s summit at more than 29,000 feet, which is roughly the equivalent of 18 Empire State Buildings. She accomplished the feat less than two weeks before she graduates high school.

The teenager from Illinois, who’s been climbing since she was 7, is also the youngest woman to reach the highest point in all 50 states and has her eye on finishing the so-called Explorer’s Grand Slam, which involves climbing the highest mountain on all seven continents, as well as go to the North and South Poles.

Westlake is set to compete as a cross-country runner on the University of Southern California’s track and field when she enrolls in the fall. For the moment, though, she is reveling in her latest feat atop Mount Everest.

“It was absolutely incredible,” she told TODAY Friday morning. “Being at the top, I just couldn’t imagine that I was at the top of the world. I looked down and there’s nothing higher, but still ... I thought I was going to cry at the top.”

Westlake made the journey atop Mount Everest with Sherpas and a team, going without help from her family. She says not having her parents behind her presented a challenge for everyone.

“They have a lot of trust in me. They do. And our trust has grown over time. My mom, I honestly think she was more nervous about like the smaller mountains when I was like seven or eight than she is now just because that trust has really grown,” she said.

“But one of the hardest parts, maybe the hardest part for me, was not having my dad there, just being completely alone. And I love my Sherpa. He was amazing. He was like my stand-in dad, but it’s really tough being away from everyone and anyone I knew for 26 days.”

Westlake, who hopes to raise awareness for water issues around the world through her climbing and encourage other women to get outdoors, says she’s motivated by seeing how much she can endure.

“It’s really just like pushing my limits. I just want to see how far my body and mind can go,” she said.

“And I hope to inspire others to do the same because that’s how you figure out who you are. That’s how you discover yourself and discover more about the world is just seeing how far that your body and mind can go and so far, I mean, I made it to the top of Everest, so I think I’m doing pretty well so far.”