On a clear night in May 2010, in subzero temperatures, Jordan Romero, age 13, started his final, 26-hour leg of the steep and dangerous climb up the northeast ridge of Mt Everest. The day before he, along with his father, stepmother and three Sherpa guides, had entered Camp 3 and the “death zone”—these are altitudes higher than 26,246 ft, wherein the body uses up its store of oxygen faster than it can be replenished. This is the zone where oxygen masks are virtually required and where the amount of available oxygen can barely sustain human life. At this elevation, the heart beats faster, sleeping becomes very difficult and digesting food is nearly impossible.
As Jordan described, “From the base camp elevation of 17,000 feet above sea level, everything is working against you and we had another 12,035 feet of climbing to go. You have to read your body and understand food and nutrition to keep yourself together, to keep your body functioning properly. Every morning as a team we would take a shot of Natural Vitality’s sports product Energy 28™, and it really gave us that extra endurance that we needed.”
Jordan’s dad Paul added: “When the human body is exposed to hypoxia (a condition that can occur in oxygen-reduced environments), it struggles to produce required amounts of energy with less available oxygen, and it taxes your immune system and your digestive tract. And although we had trained and acclimated to the high elevations, Energy 28 absolutely nailed it for that added boost of energy and endurance needed to keep going and to keep morale up.”
With 40 pounds of gear on his back, crampons, rope, ice pick, oxygen mask and a boatload of spirit and willpower, Jordan would push on and reach the top of Everest by the morning of May 22, 2010, and set a world record as the youngest person to summit the highest mountain above sea level on Earth.
“To look up at the peak of Everest from base camp and then on a crystal-clear day to be at the top with family, looking down at that same base camp, is the most exhilarating feeling imaginable,” Jordan said.
How can you say “no” to a nine-year-old kid who wants to achieve a star-high goal—a kid who says “I want to climb the tallest mountains on all seven continents, and I want your help”? You can only say “yes,” and that is precisely what Paul Romero said to his son Jordan on that fateful day in 2005.
“The 7 Summits Project,” as it came to be called, began when Jordan ran across a wall mural that was promoting the 7 Summits at his elementary school in Lucerne Valley, CA. Inspired by this mural, Jordan did some research and found that the “7 Summits” are the highest mountains in each of the seven continents and that the pinnacle of mountaineering achievement—as first conceived by businessman and mountaineer Richard Bass in the 1980s—is to conquer each of these mountains. In fact, Bass became the first person to achieve the 7 Summits on April 30, 1985. On that date, he also held the record for being the oldest person to have climbed Mt Everest, with Jordan fittingly now holding the record as the youngest person to have climbed the mountain.
With the inspiration of Richard Bass and the 7 Summits, Jordan enlisted his dad Paul and his stepmom Karen Lundgren to form “Team Jordan” to start training and preparing for the first of seven summits—Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa. A better dream team could not have been assembled, as Paul is an experienced adventure racer and mountaineer and is also a flight medic with professional skills in emergency field medicine as well as high-altitude medicine and rescue. Karen is also an experienced adventure racer and mountaineer, coach, personal trainer and Team Jordan troubleshooter and technology manager.
At the age of 10, with his parents’ support, Jordan reached the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa’s highest peak at 19,340 ft, and became the youngest American to reach the summit and the youngest of any nationality to reach the summit via the steep and difficult Umbwe route.
With this first mountain under their belt, Jordan and team have continued to systematically tackle the remaining peaks except one. At 10 years old, Jordan conquered Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak at 7,310 ft. At 11 years of age it was Mt Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak at 18,510 ft, which made Jordan the world record holder for the youngest person to summit this mountain. At 11 years old, Jordan went after Mt Aconcagua as South America’s highest peak, standing at 22,841 ft, which garnered Jordan another world record as the youngest to summit. Also when Jordan was 11, Team Jordan turned their attention toward Denali (or Mt McKinley or “The High One,” as it is also called), standing as North America’s highest peak at 20,320 ft, for which Jordan tied the world record of youngest to summit.
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At 13 years of age, Jordan scaled the Carstensz Pyramid (or Puncak Jaya as it is also called) in Indonesia, Oceania’s highest peak at 16,024 ft, and thereby achieved another world record for youngest to summit. Note: Because Mount Kosciuszko and Puncak Jaya/Carstensz Pyramid both lay claim to the Australian continent record, one must actually climb both peaks for a total of eight mountains to achieve the 7 Summits challenge.
For the Asian continent, the “Mother Goddess of Earth” or “Holy Mother,” as Everest is called by Tibetans, was next, and on May 22, 2010, Team Jordan achieved two world records: world record #1—the first family to stand together on the summit and world record #2—the youngest climber to summit.
The final peak remaining is in Antarctica and is called Vinson Massif. It is 16,050 ft above sea level and approximately 750 miles from the South Pole. In the winter of 2010, Jordan will head to Antarctica for his final and coldest challenge. At the top of Vinson Massif, Jordan will be the youngest person in the world to have climbed all eight mountains of the 7 Summits challenge.
Along this journey, a simple yet powerful overarching purpose emerged for Jordan. It was an urge to inspire kids to get outdoors and get a taste of what he was experiencing and what he had gained from this ultimate character-building adventure. With this in mind, Jordan created the 7 Summits of Big Bear Youth Challenge. The 7 Summits of Big Bear Youth Challenge is open to all youth ages 9–15. The Youth Challenge is a series of seven hikes led by Jordan in the Big Bear, California, mountains.
For many 13-year-old boys, the transformation from childhood to manhood begins with their first job, shaving for the first time or discovering girls. But for Jordan Romero, it has been an extreme spiritual, mental and physical rite of passage as he has grown into adulthood and has come to understand and appreciate the divergent cultures that he has encountered; the technical survival skills that he has had to master; the knowledge of proper nutrition, food, exercise and fitness; and the sense of wanting to share his experiences and give back in a meaningful way to the community. This has been a character-building education like no other. Thanks to the support of his family and friends and the ultimate gift that his dad gave him when he said “yes” to the dreams and goals and aspirations of his nine-year-old son, Jordan’s achievements and shining example will continue to inspire thousands of kids and adults to follow their dreams for years and decades to come.