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She's feeling on top of the world

A Long Beach honors student, 18, becomes one of the youngest to summit Mt. Everest.

May 19, 2007|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

From Earth's tallest point, the message was understandably breathless.

"We made it to the top!" Samantha Larson told her mother via satellite phone Thursday after reaching the summit of Mt. Everest. "Now all we have to do is make it back down."

Larson, 18, of Long Beach, became one of the youngest people to scale the 29,035-foot peak, reaching the summit with a group that included her father, David Larson, 51, an anesthesiologist at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

The honors graduate of Long Beach Polytechnic High School put off her start as a freshman at Stanford by a year to scale some of the world's highest mountains.

She began posting reports on her Everest trek last month at www.samanthalarson.blogspot.com, continuing her blogging until she was more than halfway up the mountain. Her mother, Sarah Hanson, and brother, Ted, added Samantha's triumphant comments.

"She's just amazing," Hanson said Friday from New York, where she moved last year, adding that Samantha has "a kind of stamina and persistence that just seems to be part of her nature, and it has been since she was little.

"I'm going to feel a lot better when I hear they are safe and sound back at base camp. The last I heard, they were still making their way down."

Hanson last talked to her daughter early Thursday, which was about midday in Nepal.

"It was hard to hear her with the heavy breathing and the big time delay" of the satellite telephone, Hanson said. "She sounded good. She said she was tired. Then she said, 'They're going down now, so I better go, Mom.' They have a limited amount of oxygen to get up and down the mountain."

By Friday night, the teen and her group were taking advantage of favorable weather and pushing to reach a camp lower on the mountain.

"They are being carried by euphoria ... and oxygen," said Janet Moore, Samantha's stepmother. Moore said she spoke to the climbers early Friday morning and everyone was in excellent health and high spirits.

The teen's achievement is historic, to be sure, though international mountaineering records do not always agree.

The Nepalese government announced Friday that she had become the youngest foreigner, male or female, to reach Everest's summit.

But according to 7summits.com, known as an authority on such statistics, a 17-year-old boy from France crested Everest in 1990, making him the youngest foreigner on record to do so. A sherpa girl from Nepal made it at age 15.

Larson is believed to be the youngest person in the world to have climbed all of the "seven summits," the highest peak on each of the continents.

The seven include Kosciusko in Australia, though some mountaineers say Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia should supplant it on the list.

Just to make sure, the Larsons plan to summit Carstensz Pyramid in August, said Moore.

But first, father and daughter must get down from Everest. Moore said they expected to reach base camp by today, Katmandu by Monday, and, after a brief rest, return to Los Angeles on Wednesday via Bangkok.

Since graduating last June -- Poly classmates voted her "most likely to travel the world" -- with a 4.43 grade-point average, Samantha had trained for the Everest climb, splitting her time between her parents in Long Beach and New York while delaying college.

"You can do your freshman year anytime," said Cacey Ashley, a classmate on the Poly dance team who has known the young climber for seven years and who played with her in the districtwide concert band. "How many people can do what Samantha's doing?"

In 2002 at age 13, she became the youngest person to climb the highest peak in South America, Argentina's 22,841-foot Aconcagua. A year earlier she climbed Africa's highest, Kilimanjaro.

On Aconcagua, she practiced her eighth-grade algebra at 16,000 feet.

She won the science fair for the state's third-largest district by chronicling the effect of altitude on heart rates, using a medical monitor to test fellow climbers.

She also lugged her oboe on the trek and played the instrument in the snowy conditions so as to be ready for a band concert upon her return to Long Beach.

"This is a pretty big event.... Poly was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as being the best athletic high school in America," said Shawn Ashley, Poly principal and the father of Cacey.

"And even with all of those athletes, I think Samantha's accomplishments rank as high as any of those."

It was her father's idea to attempt their first summit. When he invited his whole family to join him as he endeavored to climb a mountain, his middle-schooler was the only one to say yes.

David Larson could not be reached this week while he and Samantha made their way down the mountain, but he told The Times in 2002 that he decided to attempt a summit because it would force him to get fit.

He was ready when father and daughter "finally started our summit push yesterday, making our way from base camp to camp two," Samantha wrote Sunday. "We don't have Internet access up here, but we were able to relay this information to our correspondents in New York via satellite phone. We're taking a rest day today, and plan to press on tomorrow. If all goes well, we should summit on the 17th."

Tom Sjogren, one of the founders of explorersweb.com, an extreme-adventure news portal based in New York, said that as far as he knows, Samantha is the youngest to crest the seven summits. But with the high number of climbers, statistics are hard to verify.

"We had a couple of hundred summits on Everest just in the last couple of days" and 500 summits last year, Sjogren said. "And if you look at the other summits" around the world, "it's thousands and thousands of people," he said.

"Not to take away from her achievement," he added. "It's cool that she did it."

nancy.wride@latimes.com

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