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Pepe Lepew On May - 29 - 2010

Second Step on Everest's Northeast Ridge

I don’t know how to feel about this story — or about the 16-year-old girl sailing solo around the world.
Actually, what this 13-year-old did was quite amazing. He not only climbed Everest — a mountain that kills nearly 10 percent of the people who attempt to summit it — he climbed it up the Northeast Ridge through Tibet, which is considerably more difficult than the classic Southeast Ridge route through Nepal. The Northeast Ridge is incredibly dangerous.

Why did he climb the Northeast Ridge? Because Nepal refuses to give climbing permits to anyone under the age of 16. So, they went up a much more treacherous and dangerous route through Tibet, the route that killed George Mallory and Sandy Irvine in 1924. This is a route that has the terrifying “Second Step,” a 50-foot 90-degree vertical wall of rock and ice at 28,000 feet.

That a 13-year-old kid managed that? Amazing. Simply amazing. Unbelievable.

Unfortunately, it also doesn’t quite feel right …

A 13-year-old doing something that dangerous …. Or a 16-year-old girl sailing solo around the world.
Look, I’m the first to admit I have absolutely no idea of the dynamics of this kid’s family, but something gives me a bad vibe about the whole situation. I’m trying to be fair. I could be wrong, but my skunk sense is tingling pretty loudly on this one. I mean there is a reason Nepal refuses to give out permits to climbers under the age of 16. Were these parents just looking to live off the fame of their kid? How about the parents of the 16-year-old Aussie girl? Are these just out-of-control stage parents? Who knows?

At least one mountaineering medical specialist said this borders on child abuse. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it certainly smacks of child exploitation. Look at these paragraphs from an article published in Australia:

Next on Romero’s agenda are publicity stops in Hong Kong, London and New York. He says he has lots of meetings planned for potential business deals.
“I think Jordan’s very marketable,” says Drew Simmons, owner of Pale Morning Media, a public relations agency that advises outdoor recreation businesses. Romero, he says, is an attractive, popular teenager with a huge potential to cash in on his adventures. He’s young. He’s fresh. As far as the outdoor industry’s concerned, he’s really hit the nail on the head with this active youth message that his ostensible goal is to convince other kids to get off the couch and set their own goals.”

Boy, does that quote ever leave a bad taste…

Marketing. Talk shows. Endorsements. A book deal.

Next, an 11-year-old making the attempt on Everest. Then a 10-year-old perhaps. Will a 13-year-old now be sailing around the world? We got marketing deals in the works. Phil Knight is on the line. There’s money to be made.

I talked to a mountaineer who insisted — he was adamant — that this kid had to have literally been carried up and down the mountain by Sherpas. I mean we are talking the Northeast Ridge, which wasn’t climbed until 1960. I agree. I wasn’t there of course, but this is an extremely technical route that bests the greatest mountaineers in the world. This kid had to be literally dragged up and down by the Sherpas. I admire his courage, if nothing else.

The dad, who is a professional adventurer, said his kid wanted to climb Everest. I couldn’t help but agree with one commentator who responded, “well, a lot of 13-year-olds would like to drive the family car and hang out in a bar, would you let them do it?” I don’t think that’s an unfair analogy. My bad feeling is that the dad wanted the kid to climb Everest as much if not more than the kid.

Here’s the problem I have. I know a fair amount about mountain-climbing and I know how incredibly dangerous Everest is, especially that treacherous Northeast Ridge. There is so much you CANNOT control in a place like Everest, which is why it is such a dangerous place, why nearly 10 percent of the people who attempt it die. You cannot control the weather, you cannot control avalanches, you cannot control altitude sickness, and you cannot control HAPE or HACE. Remember, falls aren’t what kills most people on Everest — it’s avalanches, weather and HACE. Before I come off like a total prick, think about the world reaction if that kid succumbed to HACE or an avalanche at 28,000 feet. It would have been shock and horror, and “oh, how could those parents do such a thing.” To a certain degree, there is some dumb luck in that kind of extreme mountaineering. It was an accomplishment, an amazing accomplishment. But an accomplishment that carried incredible risk.

There’s a legitimate question of whether family people should even be climbing Everest or worse mountains (And yes, there are a LOT of mountains in the Himalayas and elsewhere that are worse than Everest — K2, Annapurna, Nanga Parbat, etc.). I don’t know if I would do it. I’ve turned back on some hairy ridges where I felt I had passed my experience level, thinking about my family. But, a lot of experienced climbers feel that climbing is all about risk management, and that if they are in control of the risk, it is something they can live with, even if they are family people. Personally, I wouldn’t do it, but I can dig their point of view. When I feel like I reach a point where I am no longer in control of the risk, I turn back. I’ve done it three times in the last two years.

I don’t know if I could apply that same risk management philosophy to a 13-year-old, however.

Near summit, Hyalite Peak, 10,399 feet

I have a Kiddo who likes to come with me. She has gone up to the top of a 9,500-foot mountain with me, a mountain that essentially has a trail to the top. (Still, two people mysteriously died on that mountain two years ago, and I did get caught in a vicious blizzard on that same mountain that same year. Every mountain has a certain level of risk.).

I’m climbing a pair of 10,000-footers this summer. One I think I will take her on. It’s a trail to a saddle a few hundred feet below the summit, then a walk up a manageable slope. I tried to climb it last summer, but the summit was encased in fog and I finally realized I could neither see the summit nor the trail below and that was a bad, spooky feeling, so I turned back, probably 300 or 400 feet from the top. In good weather, I think it’s manageable for a kid, however. The other 10,000-footer is too hairy for her, as much as she says she wants to do it with me, but it’s too many unstable boulders and a Class 3-4 scramble up a 45-degree boulder pile at the summit.

Someone vanished on this mountain last year. For me, it’s a manageable risk. It’s not worth risking her.

Trapper Peak, 10,154 feet, the "chute" to the summit pyramid

I honestly cannot fathom how any parent would make that choice; to force the issue with that risk. I simply can’t.

Categories: News & Politics

28 Responses so far.

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  1. Mightywoof says:

    “16 Year-Old Abby Sunderland Feared Lost At Sea” reported on Huffpo -- is this the 16 year old you mentioned Pepe? Poor girl -- I hope she is found safely.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/10/abby-sunderland-lost-16-y_n_607691.html

  2. AdLib says:

    I read the book and saw the tv movie version of “Into Thin Air” a while back.

    I can’t remember her name right now but one of the “climbers” was an inexperienced dilettante who was literally carried up most of the way by Sherpas.

    So, one need not even be that experienced or physically capable to have “climbed” Everest.

    The demands on climbers at that altitude are severe, even with the lack of oxygen addressed with oxygen canisters, nitrogen does funny things in your body and your brain and your mind is gradually beaten down into very base thinking.

    I do not believe a 13 year old climbed Everest. It is a stunt which was pulled off by his father and no doubt many Sherpas risking their lives to carry this 13 year old along.

    The father is a disgusting piece of work who seems transparent in his premeditation to do this so his son would fraudulently and unethically become a celebrity.

    What does the word “climb” mean? To be a sack of potatoes that another person, who is climbing Everest for two people (and rightly deserves the press instead) carries up?

    And what of a father who risks his son’s life for the fame and money that would come if the stunt is a success?

    As with any of these kids who are one way or another, thrust into situations that children should not be in, look to the parent(s) who are driving/indulging these kids for their own selfish reasons.

    • PepeLepew says:

      Yeah, and the 1996 Everest disaster was on the Southeast Ridge, which is supposedly “easy” compared to the Northeast Ridge.

      I suspect that dilettante you’re thinking of is Sandy Hill Pittman.

      You also make a good point that bottled oxygen will NOT protect you against HAPE or HACE. That has to do with air pressure, not oxygen.

  3. PepeLepew says:

    Just found this great video of a Northeast Ridge summit:


  4. Khirad says:

    Arjun is also fascinated by the achievement of 13-year-old American Jordan Romero, the youngest person in the world to climb the Everest.

  5. escribacat says:

    I would be very interested in knowing if the kid really did need to be carried up and down by the Sherpas. Was his dad with him? I’m pretty torn about this story — mostly because I admit I admire the kid for this achievement. But I also agree with you. If anything had gone wrong, the parents would probably be in jail now. What were they thinking?

    • PepeLepew says:

      The dad was with him.

      I don’t think the Sherpas literally picked him up and carried him on their backs, but I believe he was roped to Sherpas the whole way up and down and that they literally dragged him up and down that Northeast Ridge.

  6. dildenusa says:

    Ok, so I must admit that I’m between 4 and 5 times older than this kid and the tallest mountain I’ve hiked up is 8400 feet. And I can’t even do that anymore. But I didn’t know the mortality rate for Everest is 10%.

    Well, children, especially in the US are put at risk every day by parents who should know better. Parents known as helicopters, because they hover, push their children physically and emotionally to overachieve. The problem is it’s not about the children succeding, it’s about the parent’s hubris and ego.

    • PepeLepew says:

      Actually, to be honest, that figure is slightly misleading. The death rate on Everest used to be around 20 percent, but it’s been dropping steadily over the last 20 years as Everest becomes more and more commercial. A rash of people died on Everest in ’96 and 2006 (15 in ’96 and 11 in 2006), but so many more people are climbing Everest that the death rate still has dropped dramatically.

  7. kesmarn says:

    Thanks for raising this issue, Pepe. I knew so little about Everest that I didn’t realize the extreme danger this child was in on this trek.

    I think there are some parents who take “detachment style parenting” to it’s illogical limit. Like Richard Branson’s mother and dad.

    Branson

    • escribacat says:

      I can’t imagine any parent dumping their 4 year old kid out of the car and telling them to find their way home. I can’t imagine the 4 year old successfully achieving it either.

    • choicelady says:

      But kes -- some of them eat their young.

      I don’t have kids, so I really don’t know. I am quite sure I’d be a helicopter parent not to push them to overachieve but to protect them from -- everything. At the same time, after teaching some GREAT kids in preschool, I also realized I love them but don’t particularly want to be in their company for long stretches. So I was smart enough to know I’d not make a good parent. Why inflict me on someone who had no choice in the matter?

      Since I already flunked parenthood, I don’t think I’m a good judge. But I think the bottom line here is precisely what Pepe wrote -- it’s one thing to know and evaluate your own risk as an adult. It’s quite another to put your Kiddo into a situation he or she cannot yet handle.

      Whatever happened to pacing as a part of growing up? Why rush kids into life threatening situations when you don’t have to? Successful outcomes don’t change that equation.

      I suspect Pepe that you’re right -- it’s about the parents, not about the kids. Even if the kids want to, it doesn’t mean they should. If highly experienced climbers die, then putting an inexperienced climber in the same position is heartless at worst, thoughtless at best.

      Glad it all came out well. Hope they don’t throw him out of a plane next time.

      • kesmarn says:

        😆 c’lady, you have a point! At least we can be grateful that the Romeros didn’t devour (literally) their young ‘un after he (supposedly) accomplished this feat!

        While I totally respect your decision not to have children, I have to say that I think you would have been a wonderful mom, despite your misgivings. The worst parents are the ones who sentimentalize the whole thing before they get into it, and then get really mad when it turns out that the kid wakes up screaming five times a night, throws up on their Armani jacket and doesn’t always smell like baby powder.

        Let’s face it: kids can be really annoying. And you recognize that reality. You also have a loving, nurturing heart.

        So even though you made the legitimate choice not to have kids, there’s no way that you “flunked parenthood”! I would take your words of wisdom on parenthood a thousand times sooner than I would those of the woman who was a pastor’s wife I once knew. She only wanted to be with her three kids on one day a year: Mother’s Day, when she posed for a photo op, was taken out to dinner and then went on her merry way. I don’t even have to tell ya how that one turned out…

  8. Kalima says:

    Why am I finding this story so hard to believe?

    A 13 year old, not even fully developed, hands that don’t have the full strength to grip should he stumble and fall. Split second decisions which could lead to success or failure and death, I just can’t make the connection.

    The parents, especially the father, seems to be like quite a few parents who have for some reason abandoned their own dreams and think that they can relive it through their children. It is wrong and it is harmful to their kids. At 13, just how much experience and practice could this boy have had, the mind boggles at the thought.

    When I think of my own son, and those first few precious weeks of his life before he left us, I know that I would have done anything in the world to protect him, to keep him safe, to let him enjoy being a child. Childhood is brief in what is to be the rest of our adult lives. He would be 25 this year and the parents of this boy make me want to scream out loud.

    • kesmarn says:

      Kalima, I had no idea. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I can hardly imagine how painful it must have been to have your son for only a few weeks. I had two miscarriages and that was difficult enough.

      My son turned 25 this year. Your words have really made me stop and think on this Memorial Day weekend.

      My thoughts are with you, too, this weekend, as you remember.

      • PepeLepew says:

        I’m so sorry for both of your losses. It just reminds me how lucky I am.

        I can barely stand to watch her play soccer …

      • Kalima says:

        Thank you kesmarn. It is never really far from my mind and his birthday wold have been in the beginning of next month, but stories like this and any stories about parents putting their child in danger, seems to bring the memory closer to the surface.

        Thank you for your kind words and thoughts, we go on. Sorry to hear about your own tragic experiences, I know that they leave their mark.

        Happy Memorial Day, I hope that you are able to have a well earned rest.

        • kesmarn says:

          It is hard to understand how what is a priceless treasure to one parent is, apparently, a “toss away” item to another. Some infertile couples would give everything they own to have a child, and others seem to regard them as an unmitigated nuisance. (Not saying these “Everest parents” are necessarily in this category, but they seem extremely “relaxed,” to say the least.)

          • Kalima says:

            Exactly. It annoys the hell out of me when people have no problems conceiving, in fact have many children one after another, only to neglect or abuse them in some way, while others who’s only dream is to hold their own child in their arms, are robbed of this chance. Sometimes life really does not make a whole lot of sense to me.

            I really have little respect for the parents of this boy I’m afraid.

            • kesmarn says:

              They were very, very lucky. I hope they realize that.

            • kesmarn says:

              There’s a part of me that hopes you’re right, Kalima, and that this kid was carried up in a basket, with plenty of extra oxygen!

            • Kalima says:

              I wonder if they will. Can’t believe that the mother would let him do this in the first place.

              I still have my reservations that he actually did this under his own steam, just a “gut feeling” that’s all.

  9. javaz says:

    Remember the story in 1996 about seven-year-old Jessica Dubroff?

    A seven-year-old girl on a quest to become the youngest pilot to fly across America was killed with her father and flight instructor, when her light plane crashed in a storm in Cheyenne, Wyoming, yesterday.

    Jessica Dubroff’s single-engined Cessna aircraft plunged into a residential street a few minutes after take-off on the second day of a 6,500-mile round trip. Her father, Lloyd, who encouraged her to make the flight, was in the back seat. Jessica planned to beat the trans-continental record set by an eight-year-old last year.

    But she only had four months’ experience in the cockpit. The temperature at the high-altitude airport was close to freezing with heavy rain and hail. The aircraft fell steeply from about 400ft, narrowly missing several houses.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/girl-pilot-aged-7-killed-crossing-america-1304367.html

    I find placing your child at risk for fame and fortune to be very disturbing and agree that it is child-abuse by selfish parents.

  10. Mightywoof says:

    I am in total agreement with you on this one. I know nothing about mountains or the climbing of them -- except that the former are big and dangerous and the latter is just plain dangerous!

    I think it’s all about the parents -- they have a child who shows enthusiasm for something and so they encourage their child as every good parent should -- but then they forget the limits and start seeing fame and fortune and movies of the week. Andy Warhol was right about those 15 minutes wasn’t he?


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