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Youngest person to top Everest draws attention to teen adventurers

Jordan Romero, 13, has climbed to the top of the highest peaks on six of the seven continents, beginning at age 9. He still faces the dangerous task of returning to base camp.

May 23, 2010|By Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times

A 13-year-old from Big Bear Lake became the youngest person to scale Mt. Everest, gaining renown for the feat while renewing controversy over a trend of young record-breaking adventurers.

Jordan Romero called his mother, Leigh Anne Drake, 37, from a satellite phone when he reached the peak Saturday along with his father, stepmother and a team of three guides, Drake said.

"I'm calling from the top of the world," he told her.

The record was previously held by Ming Kipa of Nepal, who was 15 when she made the climb in 2003 with her brother and sister.

Jordan decided in the fourth grade that he wanted to climb the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents, said Drake. His mother and father are avid fans of the outdoors who took their son biking and hiking at an early age, but neither had experience with mountaineering until Jordan made his decision, she said.

"We said, 'All right, let's start training.' I don't think he'd ever hiked more than a couple of miles," Drake said.

Drake and a friend took Jordan for a six-mile hike near their home. He whined and cried the entire time, she recalled, but when they got down, he wanted to keep training.

"I decided we were going to follow Jordan's lead," Drake said. "If he wants to try it, we're going to support it."

Jordan climbed the first peak on the list — Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — when he was 9. He since has climbed Mt. Kosciusko in Australia, Mt. Elbrus in Russia, Mt. Aconcagua in Argentina and Mt. McKinley in Alaska.

The eighth grader enrolled in independent study this semester to pursue the Everest climb, his mother said. He took algebra books and writing journals with him.

Brent Bishop, 43, who has climbed to the top of Mt. Everest twice and whose father was on the first American team to reach the summit in 1963, said he was amazed by Jordan's accomplishment but wary for other young climbers.

"I'm quite impressed with Jordan's focus and preparation and his mental fortitude," he said. "The issue is, is it safe for a 13-year-old to be climbing Mt. Everest?"

The main danger for a young person isn't the climbing, but the altitude, Bishop said.

"The planning and the weather cooperated to make this trip work out," he said. But "the danger is for someone who is 13 and they get caught up high in bad weather and they run out of bottled oxygen. That's where you might see issues with cerebral impairment."

Jordan's group still has to make the trek down the mountain, a dangerous route that every year claims lives. After that, to complete his goal he has to climb one more mountain: Vinson Massif in Antarctica.

paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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