Jordan Romero on Everest

May 26, 2010 at 4:52 am Leave a comment

When Californian Jordan Romero reached the summit of Everest on the 22nd May he become the youngest person to do so: whether he should have been climbing the mountain in the first place has led to widespread debate.

Romero is the 10th person to establish the record as the youngest summiteer. Hillary, of course, started the ball rolling when he was 33 years and 313 days old. Over the next 20 years younger summiteers whittled down statistics, until in May 1973 Shambu Tamang reached the top aged 17 years and 179 days, a record that would stand until 2001.

In that year Pema Chiring reached the summit on the 22nd May aged 17 years and 156 days. However, his record lasted less than 24 hours, as on the 23rd Temba Shiri was only 16 years and 17 days old when he stood on top.

Significantly, Nepal bans attempts on Everest for those under 16, so in May 2003 Mingkipa Sherpa, with her older sister Lhakpa who had already summited the mountain, travelled to Tibet for a successful climb via the North Col

Whilst Mingkipa’s exact age is not known, it is certain she was between 15 and 16 at the time of her ascent.

Romero too had to climb from the unrestricted Tibetan side, a rather harder proposition than tackling the original route via the South Col from Nepal. Previously, he’d also had to negotiate a special permit from Argentinean authorities to climb Aconcagua. Permission to climb South America’s highest mountain is not normally granted to anyone under 14.

So how safe is it to climb high mountains at such a young age; 13 years and 314 days in the case Romero on the 22nd May, when he topped out on Everest.

Jordan Romero’s specific quest is to be the youngest to climb the Seven Summits. He climbed his first, Kilimanjaro, in July 2006 and now has only to summit Antarctica’s Vinson to complete the set.

Understandably, there has been much talk of recklessness, and irresponsibility on the part of his guardians. His father, Paul Romero, and stepmother, Karen Lundgren, are both mountaineers and accompanied Jordan on Everest. Lundgren is a personal trainer, while Paul Romero is a paramedic, who has been trained in high altitude medicine and rescue.

“So he”ll know that his child shouldn’t be there”, said the BMC’s Medical Advisor, Dave Hillebrandt, quoted in a Guardian newspaper report. And the fact that Ramero seems to have safely climbed and descended Everest certainly does not mean that Hillebrandt is wrong.

British medic Hugh Montgomery confirms that anecdotally younger climbers are less able to cope with altitude, but when pushed to comment on whether high altitude climbing is harmful to 13-year olds stated, “no one really knows”.

The UIAA guidelines for taking children to high altitude note, ‘the particular risks of exposure of children to high altitude have not been thoroughly studied and much of the advice must necessarily be extrapolated from adult data with due considerations of the influence of growth and development. So far as is known, children are not under more restrictions to acute exposure to altitude than adults’.

The well-known Chamonix-based doctor, Jean-Pierre Herry, from Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme (ENSA: the French National Ski and Mountaineering School) sides with Hillebrandt but goes further, stating his belief that it is not advisable for children under the age of 16 to ascend Mont Blanc.

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