Because it's there (and Dad made me) -

Because it’s there (and Dad made me)

COLBY COSH on Jordan Romero, the 13-year-old on his way to climb Everest


Jordan RomeroAt what point can we consider actively cheering against child adventurers with glory-hog Type-A parents? As you read this, 13-year-old Jordan Romero is en route to Hong Kong; from there he will push on to Nepal with his father Paul in an effort to become the youngest person to reach the summit of Everest. Jordan, who has reached six of the “Seven Summits”, says he is “as stoked as can be” about the expedition. What do you suppose Jordan will make of the ubiquitous corpses, ever growing in number, scattered around the upper reaches of the mountain like discarded dolls? If he survives, will he be posting to his website about how nifty a sight that was?

According to journalist Jon Krakauer, Everest kills about 1 in every 33 climbers who dare the approaches to its peak. In recent years it has become a commercialized, watered-down challenge characterized by semi-permanent technical cheats; it’s the scene of undignified races to the top by people with various classes of debility or identity-group memberships, and a means for rich nuisances to acquire extreme-tourism cred. But none of this has reduced the risk all that much, because no other environment on earth can prepare climbers for decision-making at such extreme altitudes. The presence of large numbers of sponsored cripples and hapless plutocrats has created new queueing and crowding problems, as the 1996 disaster near the peak demonstrated. Climbers are now getting injured by falling onto each other. Guides (of varying quality and dedication) are ultimately responsible for the lives of all less-experienced climbers on Everest, and sometimes both perish. Needless to say, the whole sordid enterprise is only made possible by the Sherpas. The mountain has become an amphitheatre for humanity at its worst, not its best.

A well-trained adolescent should be able to climb Everest. Jordan is responsible, organized, and intelligent; he has passed every health test put before him in reaching the first six of his summits. But even a sympathetic journalist made to wait six months for access to the family found some evidence of strong paternal pressure on Jordan. It’s simply impossible to believe he is climbing Everest entirely for his own reasons, whatever those could conceivably be—not with a $150,000 cash investment complicating the tough decisions. (Sometimes, Everest demands the master poker player’s willingness to fold his cards; many climbers have died, as some did in 1996, by starting for the summit too late in the day, or in poor conditions, and essentially opting for a one-way trip to the top.)

The ugly truth is only made more obvious by Jordan’s constant protestations that the whole project was and is his idea. He tells a canned story about seeing the Seven Summits on a poster and being inspired; we’re supposed to believe, I guess, that it’s a complete coincidence (and what a felicitous one!) that his father is an expert in high-altitude medicine, helicopter rescues, and mountaineering. No sir, no pressure from Dad here. The real horror is that if Jordan summits and returns alive, he will have set a benchmark that some other kid (i.e., parent) will try to break, and then someone else, and then someone else after that, as the idea percolates downward to the Lloyd Dubroffs and Richard Heenes of the world. And by “the world” I mean “almost certainly the United States”.

Let’s give Paul Romero a break and ignore the total lack of scientific evidence concerning the effects of prolonged oxygen deprivation on the developing brain of a child. Even setting that triviality aside, most fathers would be reluctant to let their child perform an activity that involved a ~3% risk of death. No, let’s put this another way: most fathers would try to attack you if you suggested it seriously. But Paul Romero “simply refuses to impose limitations that could restrict Jordan from realizing his full potential.” (Nothing helps a youngster realize his potential like becoming a worldwide celebrity before his voice changes, right? God forbid he should sit at home learning calculus.) And Jordan’s divorced mother appears to have been convinced to dismiss her own wholly rational fears for her child as nothing but “the mom thing.” Aren’t you glad you didn’t have parents like this?


Because it’s there (and Dad made me)

  1. Clearly Darwinism is both a more complex and robust process than I had thought.

  2. "Aren't you glad you didn't have parents like this?" … wow, yes I am, and I had to argue for a whole year to be signed up for non-checking house league hockey by the age of 9!

  3. Cripple?

    • I thought that was a bit weird as well. Outside of South Park, I don't know if I've heard or seen anyone refereed to as a "cripple" in public in something like ten years.

  4. Who will be the first baby delivered on top of Everest?

  5. While agreeing this is over the top in terms of foolish risk, I wonder if these parents are more or less the logical outcome of a society that's too fixated on tangible achievement for their kids.

    From the generally unquestioned notion that kids ought to be receiving formal education at younger and younger ages (to have us compete with Korea's or whomever's math scores, etc…) to the strong pressures to have one's kid in multiple organized activities, we seem to be turning our kids into an ongoing DYI project (what's the point of having a landscaped back yard that makes the neighbours jealous, if you don't have kids to match?).

    • As kids, we found a lot to do through the common bond of sheer boredom. Imagination was a great teacher and took us anywhere we desired. Mountains, jungles, the wild west – it was all there.
      In today's world, I think video games can limit imagination by filling in all the gaps with sugary brain candy sensation. Why sit in a cardboard box playing voyage to space, when you could play some sort of space simulator computer game? It makes what we did as kids seem prehistoric and dull.

      Once you climb Everest at 13, what's it going to take to keep from being bored?

      • Leaving Everest aside, it's worth noting that when I was a kid it was normal for kids as young as five roam the neighbourhood quite freely, only being called home for meals. Today, that's quite unthinkable.

        Which puts parents and kids into quite a tricky situation. You have schedule every moment of a young child's life to provide supervision. Speaking as a parent of three, it's not as easy as it sounds. And I'm acutely aware of the loss as compared to my own childhood: that world of unsupervised play was indeed rich and magical, as you describe it. But it can be mentally exhausting to be in your kids' presence all the time (kids are cool and all, but it gets tedious) And sometimes TV and video games (which we keep very limited in this house) are an easy way to keep everyone happy and sane.

        • I think you've summed it up nicely. Other than the risk factor (which seems manageable), how is this any different from parents who push their kids into endless athletic competition of other varieties? Answer: it isn't. Both are a manifestation of parents viewing their children as trophies rather than souls.

          • I'm not sure we're defining "manageable risk" in the same way.

            How is this any different from parents who push their kids into endless athletic competition of other varieties? Well, I don't know what sports everyone's kids are in, but I don't know of many other sports that parents are pushing their kids in to that have a 1 in 33 chance of being fatal. Even with all of the driving back and forth, and the many many practices and games, and the big hits and sharp skate blades – I'd be shocked to discover that 1 in 33 people who play hockey end up dying as a result.

          • You'll notice the caveat: "other than the risk factor".

          • Well, I saw the caveat, but my argument is more against your second caveat: "which seems manageable". So, my problem's more with your definition of "manageable" risk.

            Of course, that first "other than the risk factor" caveat is a pretty HUGE caveat!!! LOL

            I suppose I can agree then that, other than the inordinately high risk of death or dismemberment, it does seem hard to differentiate this from pee wee hockey. Also, other than the risk factor, how is this any different from parents who push their kids to jump out of airplanes at 35,000 feet without a parachute?

            Wait. Something went wrong there.


          • A funny guy you are.

            There once was a man named Romer',
            Whose son to climb Ev'rest did dare,
            "That's a high-risk zone,"
            quoth Lord Kitchener's Own,
            "Shouldn't his Dad at least care?"

        • Also, I have to agree re the tight leash. It is increasingly difficult to find ways to let kids play with other kids, on their own and without adult intervention.

          It seems to me that the best method is to have the adults gather for one thing while their kids play freely in a large, loosely supervised venue. The challenge is to make all three factors (adults and kids who get along, an activity the adults meet to share, and a venue kids can play in freely without too much risk) coincide.

          • "It is increasingly difficult to find ways to let kids play with other kids, on their own and without adult intervention".

            LOL. For a second there I thought you were about to argue that this kid's father is cramping his style, and ought to let him climb Everest with his friends, unencumbered by the drag of adult intervention.

          • Yeah, that would be superb. "Hey kids? Go climb Mount Everest for a while. Be back for dinner at 5!"

    • Yes. I'd like to add that free play socializes kids in such a way that they learn that rules have a purpose, and some work, and some don't – when you're playing without adults around, you have to make rules that work for the whole team, not just you, and you all have to obey them, equally, for the game to work and be "fair".

      Kids in structured environments learn to obey someone else's rules "or else". They never fully grasp why those rules are there.

      Should we be shocked when the latter group rebel against the adult mainstream (regulated) culture?

    • great post Sean. not being a parent I guess i had not thought about it much. i more or less had the same kinda free-neighborhood-roaming upbringing you did in the 80s (out town was small enough that the whole thing was pretty much a single neighbourhood and had guessed and kinds that I had (poor potential lil basterds) would more or less enjoy the same. my gf and her siblings and cousins more or less did the same in toronto where roaming included subway rides around town where led by the elder of the pack (a seven year old!). the days of curiosity-driven high-adventure are sadly over i guess.

  6. This is my favourite kind of lIbertarianism. Allow everything, and then mock it without mercy.

    • What are you talking about? Since when did libertarianism imply parents can do whatever they want to their kids?

      • Who'd stop 'em?

  7. This is reckless and irresponsible. The fatality rate I found for an Everest climb is 9.3%. More recent information puts it at 4.4% for 2004. That is a higher fatality rate than if he served a year in combat in Iraq. What company in its right mind would want to be associated with such a feat? As a parent of four, I strongly support a very broad view of parent's rights; however when a parent allows or encourages such a dangerous activity the authorities should step in to protect a minor from irresponsible parents. When adults want to frivolously risk their lives that is one thing, but to allow or encourage a child to take such risk is criminal. You are encouraging this behavior by your sponsorship.
    And for what, fifteen minutes of fame for being the youngest. I hope and pray that someone will have the sense to halt this foolishness. If not, I hope and pray he survives. Perhaps an 11 year old will try to break his record and then perhaps a 9 year old. Doesn't anyone remember Jessica Dubroff's attempt to set the record for the youngest person to fly across the United States in 1996. She unfortunately died in the attempt. Can anyone say it was worth it?
    I have done some very dangerous things in my life, the vast majority in service to my country. Life is full of risk, but to needlessly put a child in harms way is despicable. Would you take a flight if you had a one percent chance of a fatal crash? Would you let your children?
    According to media reports the current record was set in 2001 by a 16-year-old Nepalese boy who lost five fingers to frostbite during his climb.
    What will your company say, God forbid, if this child is seriously injured or killed?
    Instead of just writing about it, I filed a complaint with the Child Protective Services.
    If you feel as I do, contact the San Bernardino County Child Protective Services and report this as neglect at 1-800-827-8724
    I also contact all the sponsors I on his website and chastised them for encouraging this foolhardy behavior.

  8. I thought of Jessica Dubroff the second I saw this story.

  9. And by “the world” I mean “almost certainly the United States”.

    What about that six-year-old (or whatever) Dutch girl who was going to sail solo around the world?

    • 13, now 14.

  10. John makes an interesting point above. Letting your kid climb Everest with you is arguably more dangerous than letting your kid serve a one year combat tour in Iraq.

    • Your comment made me want to hear from a (sports familiar) pediatrician on the wisdom and scientific pros and cons of a 13 year old male doing something like this. Hopefully the parents have investigated the medical flags to watch for, and are solidly agreed that pushing for the ultimate summit doesn't trump turning back immediately if certain negative physiological manifestations are present. If the father is climbing with him, and is suffering from the various ever present altitude problems, how is HE going to be trusted to recognize any warning symptoms in his son?

  11. @Colby: I don't see real "evidence of strong parental pressure" in that Backpacker article. Let's face it, kids who grow up in crack houses are probably more likely to smoke crack, and kids with mountain-climbing, adventure-racing parents are probably just more likely to climb Everest. I'd rather be the latter!

    • Yeah, I agree this doesn't bother me much at all.

    • You make it sound as if it's one or the other – that's foolish. So if I don't let my child climb Everest, they will end up in a crack house? To be honest they are both extreme but actually on the same side of foolhardiness.

      • Oh, they're both varying degrees of crazy, all I'm saying is that I'd prefer the latter. And really, aren't many great feats viewed as "crazy" before they are accomplished?

  12. Jordan Romero = 1
    The rest of societies mediocre children = 0

    (Does anyone know the probability of a child falling into drugs, or the fatality % of such children?)

    • Does anyone know the probability of a child falling into drugs, or the fatality % of such children?

      That seems entirely irrelevant to this story (unless mountain climbing is how Jordan's parents got him off of drugs) but if it turns out that it's less dangerous to smoke crack than it is to try to climb Everest, should we take a different view of parents who encourage their kids to smoke crack?

      • Devils advocate, good Lord Kitchener's Own?…but allow me to devil things further; you made me think about teens I knew in the day who experimented with drugs because they were a) thrill seeking, or b) looking for an escape from adult pressures. Not that mountain climbing can park anywhere remotely beside putting foreign molecules into a healthy young body.

  13. He'd better hurry up,before the Whitewashed House bombs it.

  14. I wouldn't be surprised if after all the media attention surrounding his successful climb, he seeks even more excitement and ends up in rehab. Kids rarely handle celebrity status well. And celebrity status is what he will have.

  15. Great piece, I'm glad that someone can see the ridiculous nature of this situation. In the US, 13 year-olds aren't allowed to drive cars, drink alcohol, or carry guns, and the reason is that these things are dangerous and take many human lives. In Nepal, 13 year-olds aren't allowed to climb Everest; the reason is the same. Paul Romero (dad) is sneaking up the north (Tibetan) side not only to try and avoid some of the hundreds of corpses and other climbers on the south route, but I suspect also to evade the Nepalese authorities. This kid is going to, at best, be traumatized, and of course faces the very real possibility of meeting a cold and untimely end on that rock. I hope that, given he survives, this child is put into foster care.

  16. While everyone here is entitled to their opinions. There are those of us in Big Bear Lake who know these people personally.

    I have known Jordan since he was 7 and he is an exception child in many ways. He was an expert on reptiles at age 6! He loves skiing and riding bikes. He lusts over exotic cars. He is not being robbed of his childhood. He just has many opportunities and parents that nurture and support his interests whatever they may be. It just so happened that he probably came home to the only household in the world where when he mentioned a desire to climb the Seven Summits, his Dad replied with something like, "Cool, lets get started planning."

    Jordan's story sounds canned because he has to repeat it all the time because everyone asks him the same questions…

    Knowing both his parents well I can assure everyone that they are two of the most loving and caring parents ever.
    Paul and Karen are professional and careful and will only attempt the summit in good conditions.
    Calling CPS is laughable because for 99% of 13 year-olds out there, Jordan's parents would be a huge upgrade.

    The question of "how young is too young?" Is fair and is being debated to no end. Yes, most 13 year-olds should not climb big mountains. Jordan is not most 13 year-olds. Having accomplished so much at such a young age, Jordan's admirers can only imagine what things this exceptional kid with a heart of gold will go on to accomplish later in life! We wish him well….

    The history of humanity is richer because of those who took risks to pursue their dreams, explore their own limits, and conquer challenges "just because they were there".

  17. Everyone is allowed their point of view but its too bad that there are "adults" out there that think its ok to make kids feel bad for being more driven and having loftier goals then they do.

    Parents are in a now win situation with you people. If my daughter wants to play hockey for the womens national team and I help her train for it, I will be a bad father because I "push her too hard". If I don't support her in what she wants to do I'm a bad father because I'm too absent. You should be encouraging parents to support their kids in what ever THEY want to do (the kid!), not what yYOU think they should be doing!

  18. It is amazing to me how many perfect parenting experts have found this site. Only one person who has met this family has responded to this story. How can anyone say what kind of parents this kid has? We have come to believe that if there is no hedge of total protection around our kids then we have failed them someway. Yes there are parents who push their kids too hard towards a goal. Yes there are doped up parents. Neither of these characteristics has been documented in this case. Just because you wouldn't do for your child doesn't mean this family shouldn't do it for theirs. Your assumptions are that this dad is unloving, selfish, narrow-minded, and blind to say the least. You assume they got an itch and ran off to China to walk up the big hill. (cont'd)

  19. (cont'd)Instead of judging them and calling in governmental authorities where you have not investigated yourself or even sought out people who actually know them, why not marvel at the experience. Yes it's dangerous; yes this could end in disaster. Anyone of us could be killed today just crossing the street or sitting in our home. The whole story has not been told. You do not have the entire picture. Wait, get the facts, and see what has really happened before you pass your judgment. Take the passion you have poured into this and look at the area you can affect. There is injustice in all of our communities and your moral barometer is needed closer to home.