Youngest Person To Climb Everest | Jordan Romero on Summiting The World's Highest Mountain at 13
When Jordan Romero was nine, he saw a mural. By 15, he'd conquered all of the Seven Summits.
You remember being 13. Your first ‘cool’ band t-shirt, your mum buying you industrial quantities of Clearasil on a weekly basis, your lunchtime kickabouts behind the sports hall; you remember it all. Those sleepovers that were all about being the best at Playstation, the tentative steps towards being adequate at bass guitar, your first embarrassing attempt at flirtatious interaction with the opposite sex; it’s all so vivid isn’t it? Now picture that adolescent version of yourself standing on the summit of Everest. Can’t do it, can you? The thought of your pubescent-self atop the world’s highest mountain is just too absurd.
Jordan Romero, now 21, was different. At the unbelievably young age of 13 years, 10 months and 10 days, he made it to Everest’s peak and, in doing so, dramatically rewrote the mountaineering record books. The feat of becoming the youngest person ever to climb the legendary mountain, the previous record holder had been a comparatively ancient 15, led to an explosion of media coverage; thrusting Jordan, and his climbing family, under the brightest of spotlights.
“My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round."
“Getting to the summit of Everest was such a surreal moment, man. I really couldn’t believe it. I was so mind-blown at the fact I was standing on top of it. It was just something that… I guess I had never been so present in the moment," Jordan tells us via Skype.
Achieving something so impressive at such a young age would, you might think, have led to a unanimously positive reaction from observers. However, in perhaps the most extreme example of that famous old saying ‘you can’t please everyone’, there were critics who spoke out against Jordan and the adults in his life for taking a 13-year old up a mountain that, at the time of his ascent, had already claimed the lives of 217 climbers. Since 2010, this number has increased to 290.
“There was a lot of criticism going on about it. There were a lot of misguided assumptions that we were climbing for the wrong reasons, that we were this super rich family doing this. But, you know, we had to do a lot of crowdsourcing, and fundraising, and financing in order to make it happen. When we said we were from a small town in California, we were being honest. We were just people who wanted to travel, see the world, and experience life," Jordan says, before adding, “My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round."
It’s worth stressing at this point that Jordan isn’t just the youngest person in history to climb Everest. He’s also the youngest person in history to conquer all of the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents). Alongside his dad (Paul Romero) and his dad’s then-partner Karen Lundgren, Jordan began ticking them off in July 2006, aged 10, when he made it to the top of Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain. He completed the collection five years later when, aged 15 years, 5 months, and 12 days, he made it to the top of Antarctica’s Vinson Massif.
"In terms of moody teenage strops, I won't deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head..."
I picture myself climbing big mountains at that age and can easily imagine myself shouting at my parents and storming off to my tent at the slightest provocation. Surely, considering Jordan's age at the time and the stresses he was under, there must have been some classic 'Kevin and Perry' type rages along the way?
"In terms of moody teenage strops, I won't deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head, but I never wanted to burden anyone else with my emotions. I did my best to focus on the big picture and how lucky I was to travel to these incredible locations," Jordan says, revealing a maturity level that I, even as a full-grown adult, have yet to reach.
I was curious to know what, if it wasn’t his parents’ influence, planted the seed of inspiration in Jordan’s mind and led him to tackling the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents before he was old enough to legally buy alcohol or drive a car.
“I don’t know if there was one single moment but this whole thing started when I was nine. I came across a mural of the Seven Summits at my school, and I was just so fascinated by it. There was a chart, and each mountain was labelled with the elevation, the continent this mountain was on, and the name of it. It just totally captured my attention and I guess you could say that was when I was dove into mountaineering head first," reflects Jordan.
You could be forgiven for thinking, without meeting him and considering all that he’s achieved, that Jordan would be a bit full of himself. I can report though that this is definitely not the case. It’s clear, virtually right from the off, that he’s humble enough to acknowledge how important the support of his family has been.
“So, I climbed with my Dad and his long-term girlfriend. They never actually ended up getting married, but we did every single one of them together and I’m so grateful for that every day. To this day, my Dad, Karen, and my biological Mum are still killing it in life. They’re huge inspirations to me," Jordan says.
“After doing the Seven Summits, we had plans to do the adventure grand slam. Trek to the South Pole and the North Pole to see if I could be the youngest person to do that but Karen and my Dad were splitting up, and yeah that was tough to take. Karen was just such an essential backbone to our expeditions and without her nothing was really able to evolve or be followed through on. She was all about the logistics, and the finances, and you know the stuff to actually make it happen. Looking back, I really should have kept that momentum going," Jordan tells me, when I ask him about what came after.
With his Dad now living in Hawaii, where he runs his own business, and Jordan studying Environmental Studies and Economics in Utah, it can seem from the outside looking in that this young record-holder has put the big mountain climbs very much on the backburner. Now a passionate skier, and with university studies to think of, is Jordan itching to get the band back together and summit again with the man who’s been with him since the very beginning? And, if so, would his Dad be up for it?
“Absolutely. He definitely would. I really do miss climbing with him. He was super knowledgeable about stuff. You know, he was really so good at critical decision making. My Dad was a vital component of the team. Being there. Planning stuff. Strategising what to do and when to summit the mountain. Right now, my university schedule is a little more on the priority list but hell man if we had some plane tickets to go to Nepal tomorrow for an expedition, I know I’d do it in a heartbeat and I’m sure he would too," Jordan says.
“Find your Everest in life. Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day..."
Because of Jordan’s area of academic interest, coupled with the fact he’s American, our conversation inevitably drifts towards environmental concerns and the actions of climate change-denying President Donald J. Trump.
“Climate change is something I’ve seen first hand by going all round the world. And going to Mount Kilimanjaro and going to Indonesia, where we’re climbing next to the world’s largest gold and copper mine which is just the worst polluting source. In that area, it’s just absolutely devastating a lot of the local communities and indigenous people so there’s a lot of environmental injustices that I’ve seen first hand.
“With Trump in office, I could only imagine how scary it must be from an outside perspective. Maybe you’ve heard this but it was the U.S, Syria, and Nicaragua that were the three countries that weren’t on the Paris Climate Agreement when it was announced that we were pulling out of it. Then, Syria and Nicaragua became a part of it so now we’re the only country in the world that aren’t on board with it.
“For me, Trump is just too much of liability. Honestly, I wouldn't care if we had a Republican President right now. But the fact that we've got someone who's so incompetent and with such a large ego, and who can outright call bullshit and #FakeNews to whatever he wants. That's an example he's setting to a lot of people and, look, if we're going down that route then we’re all fucked," says Jordan, offering up his own brutally honest take on the current state of politics across the pond.
Ending things on such a bleak note when Jordan’s story is such an uplifting one feels wrong somehow. Weeks later, when putting this piece together, one particularly optimistic response Jordan gives, about midway through our chat, stands out above the rest: “Find your Everest in life," he tells me, “Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day because if you have the right tools, and the right mindset, you can do anything you want to do."
Delivered with Jordan’s sunny Californian accent, it feels like a line straight out of a motivational quotes coffee table book; one that wouldn’t look out of place inside a generic landscape image on your mum’s Facebook feed. Said by anyone else it would feel like too much of a cliche. In the case of Jordan, however, a man who accomplished so much so young and who is insanely modest about it all to boot, I can’t help but warm to its underlying message that age is just a number and that no adventure is impossible - especially if you’ve got a big imagination and a willing family unit to back you up.