Unit I - Quest for Personal Identity: Who Am I?
What draws people to extreme adventure?
Step 1: Read through the following article. How would you characterize the author’s writing style? Is it positive, negative, or neutral? What details helped you make this evaluation? Write your findings in your notebook, and be prepared to discuss with the class.
May 19, 2010
A 13-Year-Old Takes On Everest, and Sets Off a Debate
By STEFANI JACKENTHAL
For many 13-year-old boys, the journey from childhood to manhood begins with their first job, shaving feathery whiskers or discovering girls. But for Jordan Romero, it is unfolding in an attempt to become the youngest person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. On Saturday he departed base camp with his father, Paul Romero, and Paul’s companion and professional adventure racing teammate, Karen Lundgren.
“This was not my idea; he’s provided the inspiration and motivation to keep it going,” Paul Romero wrote recently in an e-mail message from base camp. “Jordan is taking us on the Seven Summits quest and we are merely facilitating his wishes.”
Jordan’s attempt to climb the highest mountains in all seven continents, and particularly his attempt of Everest during the narrow window of the spring climbing season, has stimulated a rousing dialogue in the climbing community and beyond. How young is too young, and does a 13-year-old have the physical and emotional maturity to take on this extreme altitude endeavor?
And yet, Team Jordan, from Big Bear, Calif., has already climbed five of the Seven Summits over the last three years, starting with Kilimanjaro (19,340) in Africa, Elbrus (18,510) in Europe and Kosciusko (7,310) in Australia. If Jordan, who is 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds, crests Everest (29,035 feet), climbing Vinson Massif (16,067) in Antarctica would complete an achievement accomplished by about 200 people.
“I really have dreamed about standing on top of the world since I was a little kid,” Jordan wrote in an e-mail message before leaving base camp at about 17,000 feet. “I don’t feel like I am rushing. Everest just happens to come now when I am 13 and I don’t think age matters so much.”
Other teenagers have stood atop Everest and completed the Seven Summits. In January, Johnny Collinson, a 17-year-old from Utah, became the youngest person to do so.
Jordan had hoped to reach the summit as early as Friday, but on Tuesday he was waiting out high winds at an advanced base camp, at about 21,300 feet, pushing back his attempt to Sunday.
Erik Weihenmayer has climbed the Seven Summits and in 2001 became the only blind person to reach the top of Everest. He is among those pondering the wisdom of allowing a 13-year-old to attempt such an arduous and dangerous feat.
“My gut reaction was that 13 seems young to have the emotional maturity to decide to be there himself,” Weihenmayer said. “When I went up the mountain, I had people like one of my heroes, Ed Viesturs, saying I was going to slow my team down and kill them and myself, so I won’t be a dream crusher.”
While some in the scientific and climbing communities worry about the effects of severe altitude on children, there is no conclusive evidence that an adolescent is at greater risk of getting acute mountain sickness, a potentially fatal condition that mountaineers can face at high altitude.
“The most decent statement about extreme altitude climbing for a 13-year-old would be we just don’t know what to expect,” said Dr. Mikhail Kazachkov, who specializes in pediatric pulmonology at Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital of Brooklyn.
“However, judging by Jordan’s very adult height and weight and his suggested level of physical endurance and training, we may expect him to do as fine as any adult during the Everest challenge — but emotional stress is completely a different story.”
A study by the National Institute of Mental Health, using magnetic resonance imaging to create three-dimensional images of the brain and map brain development from childhood to adulthood, found that during adolescence the brain undergoes dynamic development in areas affecting self control, decision-making, emotions and risk-taking behaviors.
“Jordan’s a physically strong teenager who’s like an unfinished Ferrari — raw power, without brakes, lights or the ability to maintain equal pressure on the gas pedal,” said Dr. Michael J. Bradley, a psychologist and the author of “When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen: The Why, the How and What to Do Now.” “Most 13-year-olds just don’t have the wiring to make cognitive life-and-death decisions and are not truly able to understand what they’re signing on for.”
Although Jordan is a typical eighth-grader with floppy blond locks who forgets to shower and brush his teeth and loves listening to Cali P and Jay-Z with friends, Lundgren, 45, sees a mature mountaineer.
“Jordan is ready — he’s strong, smart, calm and has a great team surrounding him,” she said.
Lundgren said they had rehearsed making it to the top, as well as turning back.
“Two years ago, or even last year, I wouldn’t bring him to Everest, but now I feel good about his skills, strength and mental abilities,” she said.
Jordan was 11 when he climbed Alaska’s Denali (20,320), considered the world’s coldest mountain. Since then, his preparation for Everest has come with compromises.
“When I am training and know my friends are hanging out, I kind of miss it, but I will have plenty of time for that,” said Jordan, who brought along a rabbit’s foot, a good luck Tibetan prayer necklace, a cross from his grandfather and a pair of kangaroo testicles from his friend Nigel.
“I know the consequences of mistakes, but I never feel in danger because my team is prepared and I try to remember it’s all for fun,” he said.
Bradley, the psychologist and a former soldier, compares young ultra-achieving athletes like Jordan to students at military schools.
“In many ways Jordan acts like a small adult, saying the right things and seeming to have it all together, but he’s still a 13-year-old boy rushing with testosterone to take on challenges,” he said. “Teenagers have thin veneers that can easily crack from stress and lack the resilience of adults to bounce back from trauma.”
So, why take that risk?
Romero, 41, who is a critical care flight paramedic specializing in altitude physiology and care, sees his son’s ambitions not just as an adventure of a lifetime, but as an international education.
“If Team Jordan summits, it would be tremendous; I can’t deny that,” he said. “But he will have visited all seven continents, experienced cultures, languages, politics, food and people.”
The team members have not hired Western guides and instead are relying on their adventure racing expedition experience and three altitude-savvy Sherpas to carry gear, scout the route and set up camp and lines, if necessary.
Jordan has not been above 22,841 feet, which he achieved two years ago when he climbed Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. On Everest, he is taking the technically challenging and less used northeast ridge route. It begins in Tibet rather than the southeast Nepal approach used by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay when they became the first to reach the summit in 1953. The route saves about $6,000 on a climbing permit and Tibet has no Everest-climbing age limit, while the Nepalese government’s age minimum is 16.
The crux of the north side, the so-called Three Steps, beginning at 27,890 feet, is a technically tricky and potentially treacherous rock climb along the steep, exposed northeast ridge. Here, Jordan will use fixed ropes to pull his body up the windy first step, then scale a 10-foot rock slab before climbing the 30-foot Chinese Ladder, a metal ladder set up by a Chinese climbing party in 1975 that is over a 10,000-foot drop.
With crampons clinking rung after rung in the thin air and the summit less than 800 feet away, maintaining focus and control will be critical. And getting down will be trickier.
“I am happy to be doing something big,” Jordan wrote before heading up the mountain. “If I wasn’t sitting here at base camp, I could be sitting in the classroom learning about dangling participles.”
Step 2: Write a brief (1 page) response to the following questions. Be prepared to discuss in class.
What you think of Jordan Romero’s quest? Given what we know about how the adolescent brain and body develop, do you think there should be age limits on extreme physical endeavors like this in general? Why or why not?