It’s funny how timing works. It wasn’t but a few days ago I was writing about “family-friendly” adventures here in Oklahoma when I came across a story from Outside Online about a California teen who is trying to set a new adventure record.
Jordan Romero, 13, is trying to become the youngest person to ever summit Mount Everest. If he succeeds, he’ll also be the youngest person to ever reach the Seven Summits, that is, he’d have climbed all of the seven high points of the world’s continents.
Outside’s expansive article details this kid’s life, his enthusiastic parents and all of the outside speculation on the pros and cons of this effort. It’s safe to say that this is generating a lot of controversy.
If you’re not up for reading the entire article, it comes down to this: Jordan’s supporters note that he is an experienced climber (with ascents of Aconcagua, Denali and Vinson Massif already under his belt, among others), he’s smart and he’s training hard. His parents are experienced adventure racers and have some Himalayan experience, though not much. The eighth-grader appears to be mature beyond his peers.
Critics cite a number of problems. For starters, Jordan and his team are going unguided, though they will get Sherpa support on their summit day. Despite his training, many wonder if he will be physically up to the task of tackling a 29,000-foot peak. And most importantly, they question where a 13-year-old’s brain is developed enough to fully appreciate what’s at stake. The article mentions that adolescents’ brains are not fully developed, especially in terms of reasoning, planning and judgment. Precisely the things you need when facing life-or-death decisions and other abstract ideas that will confront anyone tackling a task like Himalayan mountaineering.
Jordan’s adventure is part of a growing trend today. More teens are diving into adventures of different sorts, especially in the realm of adventure sailing. Some parents are OK with letting their teens hop aboard a boat and try to set solo navigation feats that few experienced sailors would even think about.
I’ve seen Internet discussions about kids hiking alone (or their parents far off and out of sight), and the usual reaction is outrage. An instance where a hiker found a kid wandering on a trail on Pikes Peak had people wondering if calling child welfare might be in order.
But a few others talked about how generations ago, parents were more apt to let kids explore, on their own, or at least with other kids.
I wonder if Jordan’s case is a bit of a pendulum swing of sorts. When I was young, it was nothing for me to take off on my bike alone and be gone for hours with my friends. On camping trips, it wasn’t uncommon for me and a buddy to go wandering off into the woods, sans parents, seeing what there was to see.
Nowadays, kids are rarely beyond sight of their parents, playing in more controlled areas or involved in recreation that is more regulated, like sports leagues, cheer, dance, etc. Many times they are kept busy and active with a partial goal if keeping children’s idle time to a minimum. That, or kids are so fixated on indoor activity (video games, for instance) that they rarely experience or even seek time outside.
(Saying this, I’m not knocking such activities, but sometimes they can be extremely time-consuming compared to what I experienced as a kid.)
I say all this wondering what to make of Jordan Romero’s case. His parents assured Outside Online that this was Jordan’s quest, not theirs (though they are heavily involved, for obvious reasons), that he’s hoping to inspire other kids to get off the couch. And it’s not like they’re sending him off to Tibet on his own. They plan to be there with him every step of the way.
I admire Jordan’s determination, his preparation. And without a doubt, his climbing resume far surpasses mine and just about every climber I know. Physically, this kid may be up to the task and may pull it off. But I wonder if this race to be the youngest (yet another climbing “first” being attempted) is very wise. Does a 13-year-old have the ability to make the individual decisions needed when under the stress of Himalayan mountaineering? Would he be better off trying this when he’s an adult, and just forget the record? Is this sort of goal worth a young person’s life, and could his parents ever forgive themselves if tragedy took their son?
Any time someone endeavors in something as risky as mountaineering, there are questions about why people take those risks. If you’ve never done it, you’ll never really understand. But what’s true is that for an adult, the decision of taking the risk or not is entirely up to the individual.
However, the same cannot be said of an adolescent. The decision cannot be Jordan’s alone because it’s one that he may not be truly able to make. And that may be reason enough for someone to make the decision for him and just say no.
Want to read the Outside Online story? Check this link here: http://outside.away.com/outside/culture/201004/jordan-romero-teenager-extreme-adventure-everest-1.html
Want to read more discussion? Check this thread here: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=24007&p=287928#p287928