Too Young to Climb for Some of Us

I want to congratulate Jordan Romero, age 13, for becoming the youngest person to reach the top of Mount Everest in May.  It takes a lot of skill and perseverance as well as a little good luck to get there.  What he did is extraordinary, regardless whether anyone ever beats his record.

Earlier this week, however, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association made an announcement that says probably no one will ever beat Jordan’s record.  Permits for climbing in the Tibetan Himalayas will now require climbers to be at least 16 years old.  This is an attempt to prevent a race to be the youngest to reach Everest and save the most foolish of us from ourselves.

Mountaineering – and the same may be said of backpacking too – is the greatest test of our knowledge of nature and risk assessment skills.  It is also a measure of our foolishness.  Any of us may participate in these sports, but our knowledge about the activity and our ability to assess risk will determine whether we should proceed.  Clearly, Jordan Romero had the, knowledge, skills and fortune needed, not to mention support of a good team.

Should government limit who is permitted to climb?    I think not, but I do feel an age limit of something a little lower than 16 is preferred.  I recall when I was 12 and I could not pack what I rightly needed to go camping.  I did better when I was fourteen, and with the right parental support, we should be able to tie in and head up.  At sixteen I did my first long over night backpacking trip with a friend the same age.  We assumed the risk our parents trusted us.

Our own judgment matures better by knowing there is nothing there to catch us, un-belayed and on our own.  For example, would Jordan, at age 13, have climbed solo like Reinhold Messner?  If he did assume the risk of that undertaking he most likely would have turned around well before the summit pyramid, if he did not run into trouble first.  However, I do think Jordan could climb independently, but not without doing a lot more climbing – and he will be a man when he is ready.

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