13-year-old American climbs Everest, calls his mom
BEIJING (AP) – The youngest climber to reach the peak of Mount Everest hugged his tearful companions and told them he loved them. Then 13-year-old Jordan Romero took the satellite phone and called his mom.
“He says, ‘Mom, I’m calling you from the top of the world,”‘ a giddy Leigh Anne Drake told The Associated Press from California, where she had been watching her son’s progress minute by minute on a GPS tracker online.
“There were lots of tears and ‘I love you! I love you!”‘ Drake said. “I just told him to get his butt back home.”
With Saturday’s success on the world’s highest mountain, at 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level, Jordan is just one climb from his quest to reach the highest peaks on all seven continents.
The teenager with a mop of long curly hair – who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa when he was 9 years old – says he was inspired by a painting in his school hallway of the seven continents’ highest summits.
“Every step I take is finally toward the biggest goal of my life, to stand on top of the world,” Jordan said earlier on his blog.
Before him, the youngest climber to scale Everest had been Temba Tsheri of Nepal, who reached the peak at age 16.
Also Saturday, officials said a Nepalese Sherpa who lives in Salt Lake City broke his own world record by climbing Everest for the 20th time. Apa, who goes by one name, went up to collect garbage, a growing environmental problem on the mountain.
Several climbers took advantage of Saturday’s clear weather to reach the summit, Mountaineering Department official Tilak Pandey said. May is the most popular month for Everest climbs because of more favorable weather.
Jordan had never climbed above 8,000 meters (26,240 feet), but his team climbed quickly along the final ridge to arrive at the peak hours ahead of schedule.
“The first thing, they all hugged each other and said, ‘I love you, I can’t believe we’re finally here’ and started crying,” said Rob Bailey, the team’s spokesman, by phone from the United States.
“I don’t think it ever dawned on them to say, ‘Oh my gosh, Jordan, you’re the youngest to get up here,”‘ Bailey said. “It’s never been about setting a record, besting anybody else.”
Jordan, from the San Bernardino Mountains ski town of Big Bear, California, was climbing Everest with his father, his father’s girlfriend and three Sherpa guides.
Helicopter paramedic Paul Romero and his girlfriend have trained Jordan for top-level mountaineering. Romero and Karen Lundgren are adventure racers, competing in weeklong endurance races that combine biking, climbing, paddling and climbing through wilderness areas.
Before the group set out for Nepal in April, Paul Romero said he wanted nothing more than to make his son’s dreams come true, even as the quest raised questions over how young is too young to scale Everest, a mountain where harsh conditions have caused scores of climbers’ deaths.
“It’s my dream we are following to the highest points on every continent,” Jordan says on his blog. “I know it’s a big goal and lucky for me my family is supporting me every step of the way.”
Jason Edwards, a guide with the Seattle-based International Mountain Guides, said the outfitter has a minimum age limit of 18 for Everest expeditions because of liability issues. Still, he applauds the 13-year-old’s feat.
“When a unique person with that spirit comes along, we have to encourage it,” Edwards said. “I’m excited he made it.”
The group, dubbed “Team Jordan” on the teen’s blog, approached the peak along the technically more difficult, less-traveled northern route from the base camp on the Chinese side.
Unlike neighboring Nepal, the other approach to Everest, China has no age limit for climbers. Jordan registered with Chinese officials in April, said Zhang Mingxing, secretary general of China Tibet Mountaineering Association.
No interview with Jordan would be possible until he returns to advance base camp, which could take a couple of days, Bailey said.
Climbers stay overnight at three or four camps before the summit, depending on their route and pace. Jordan’s team spent nearly five weeks on the mountain acclimatizing and preparing for Saturday’s predawn final climb.
Jordan carried a number of good luck charms, including a pair of kangaroo testicles given to him by a friend who has cancer.
“That’s the one that probably meant the most,” Bailey said.
At the summit, Jordan left behind his lucky rabbit’s foot and planted some seeds that a Buddhist monk at a local monastery had given him for luck on his journey, Bailey said. Then he took the satellite phone and called his mom.
“He’s such a good boy and he calls his mom every day,” Drake said, laughing, just minutes later.
Drake said her son, an eighth grader, took two months of homework with him to keep up in school.
Family friend Sharon Gytri, of Big Bear, called Jordan a “hardworking and down-to-earth” kid. Like the 13-year-old’s mother, Gytri was tracking the dot that represented his GPS device on an online map.
“We were watching the little dot until it went pow and turned green, right on the summit. And everyone cheered,” she said.
Gytri said Big Bear is a close-knit community where people, many of them outdoors enthusiasts, “keep an eye on each other. “
Another resident, Katherine Blanc, is putting together a photo essay-style storybook about Jordan, beginning with him looking at the school mural of the world’s peaks.
“It’s a fascinating, sometimes harrowing, and very exciting story,” she said. “He’s trying to inspire kids to put down video games and go outside and set goals, big ones. He wants to inspire others.”
Jordan continues the recent trend of young global adventurers. Earlier this month, 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted. Thousands lined Sydney Harbor to cheer as she cruised past the finish line in her pink yacht.
A Dutch court late last year blocked an even younger sailor, 14-year-old sailor Laura Dekker, from pursuing a similar round-the-world voyage, ordering her to prepare more and wait at least until this year before starting.
And in January, 17-year-old Johnny Collinson of Utah became the youngest person to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents.
Just one mountain remains in Jordan’s own quest to climb those peaks, the Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
Jordan’s team leaves for Antarctica in December, Bailey said.
“A piece of cake,” his mother said.