Update from Paul Romero, father of 13-year-old Jordan Romero…
A last minute postponement of the planned climbing trip to Indonesia (Summit #6) and we found ourselves instead at the Summer Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City then direct from the show to Washington state, home of one of North America’s prominent mountains, Mt. Rainier. Civil unrest in Indonesia near Carstensz Pyramid has temporarily halted all climbing in the area.
At 14,400ft., Jordan yells over the howling wind “3 down, 47 to go!” Jordan’s referring to his next mission to high-point the U.S. (standing on the highest point in each of the 50 states).
Jordan’s standing on top of Rainier, the massive free-standing mountain that commands tremendous respect and has claimed the lives of many who tried to reach it’s peak. So, though Jordan still sees it as training for the 7 Summits, he’s now bagged three of the U.S. High-Points; Washington’s Rainier, California’s Mt. Whitney and Alaska’s Mt. McKinley.
It was a gorgeous drive into the national park in our stealth black rental Dodge Charger, latte in the cup holder, windows down and the radio playing all the right 70’s sing along tunes that even Jordan’s knows. Check-in, permits, pack the backpacks and the mission is underway. The team set off from White River, the eastern flank of the Mt. Rainier National Park. It’s a fairytale start with flowing creeks and waterfalls of glacier water, wildflowers in full bloom, white puffy clouds and high spirits. The sun was just right. Things just clicked getting this trip started.
We’d been anxious to get some climbing in. Other than some local training hikes, Jordan had not been on the serious end of a rope since our winter ascent up the Mountaineer’s route of Mt. Whitney, one cold, snowy winter day in February. He’s been using his time wisely, diversifying his skills and life experiences with mountain bike racing, stand up paddling, kayak racing, multisport racing and back country skiing just to name a few.
A 5 hour approach to the high camp was a fair bit of work, our packs were busting at the seams with gear, food and water. Rainier has a fierce reputation and we came ready for anything. We start at 4400’ and climb 5000’ just to arrive at the camp. Our strategy is to bed down at sunset, sleep for a few solid hours and ‘pop up’ at midnight for the expected 7 hour summit push. Setting up the camp was a great test of teamwork and patience. Thunderstorms made their expected visit, and gusting wind made set up entertaining…for anyone watching. Karen leads the effort, Jordan holds down a corner and duck squats to hide from the ripping wind. Our shorts no longer warm enough, we crawl into our sleeping bags, thaw out our appendages, eat and set alarms for 1 a.m. Paul’s plan – midnight start; Jordan’s vote 6 a.m. start – – the compromise 1 a.m.
Sleep turns into only a bit of relaxation as 60 mph winds pound our tent and blow so hard the roof of the tent bows down to our faces. ALARMS!! gear on, and secure the tent so it’s there when we return.
Once outside the tent, we see dozens of lights climbing the face – climbers that were a little more eager and who now have at least a 1000’-2000’ jump on us. Like it or not the competitive nature in all of us surfaces and we feel like we need to catch up. It doesn’t take long and we’re making new friends and having chit chat in the darkness. In the past, Jordan was always greeted with astonishment at ‘the kid’ on the mountain. His recent growth spurt and with the typical mountain gear on, he looks like the average 5’7” ‘guy’ on the mountain. No special idle chat about his age or background. He was 12 years old 1 week ago, but at a glance those days appear years ago.
Jordan like any 13 year old would prefer to stay in bed and “sleep-in”. This morning he shows his maturity and ability to be a rock solid teammate. It’s up, packed and into the blaring wind we go.
Nearly 6000’ stand between Jordan and the summit of Mt. Rainier. Conditions- not optimum, the warmth has created tremendous melting and crevasses are prevalent. Jordan has plenty of respect for the situation, but our recent mishap at Everest just a few months ago drives home the point that every single crevasse deserves full respect and has the potential to end life. The focus is good, and the uphill movement is brisk and consistent. We’re roped together, walking onto the glacier in the dim, narrow glow of our headlamps. The scenery won‘t change till the sun brings us new energy and a view of where we’ve been and where we’re going.
The altimeter spins like a slot machine, we chomp away at the vertical feet, dodging crevasses, meeting and passing teams and thoroughly enjoying the predawn peace. Then, the dreaded visitors. The guys nobody likes – – the sleep monsters. It’s the twilight just before the sun officially pops up when we find these guys. Jordan occasionally comes to a crawl and I see him 40’ uphill of me shaking his head…trying to avoid nodding off. It‘s hard. Jordan says, “Dad, I’m super sleepy”. Paul’s not exactly ready for a round of Jepoardy and doesn’t have any brillant advice other than ‘just push on’. He turns to Karen. “What do you do in these situations?” To which Karen responds… “count to 50 steps, then start over and do it again”. Neither of our pearls of advice offer much comfort. It’s one of those things you gotta figure out what works for you and wait for the sun. We push on.
The route is twisty and turny and offers plenty of variety. Some dicey snow bridges, some exposed traverses and a few steep 50 degree faces… and always the crevasses – just enough to keep things interesting. The off/on thunderstorms, wind and dark clouds finally give way to an unbelievable blue bird morning. As glorious as it gets.
We approach 13,500, around 1000’ left to the summit. Like a spill gate opening, the weather hits the mountain with amazing force. We’ve heard about the rapid changing weather of Rainier but from this high up, you can see anything coming for miles. Now we know what they mean. It just happens, just appears. In minutes we are in the middle of pea soup thick weather, 30-50 mph winds and the temps are dropping. The summit is close, nothing treacherous between us as the summit except some additional vertical feet of climbing.
Suddenly we’re on the summit. We can barely talk over the roar of the wind. Jordan’s chattering about the remaining U.S. highpoints before we even have a chance to take in the current accomplishment. “Three down and only 47 to go!” he hollars over the wind.
Tags: Jordan Romero