The call could come any day now. When it does, Tyler Armstrong hopes to be one step closer to doing something he has dreamed about for years: climbing Mount Everest, Earth’s highest peak.
Tyler is 12. If he makes it to the top, he will be the youngest person to scale the most famous mountain in Asia, if not the world.
Records are nothing new to Tyler. Mountain climbing is in this California sixth-grader’s blood. He has been doing it for half his life.
Tyler told KidsPost how he got started: “I was watching a nature hiking documentary when I was 6, and I asked my dad if I could start climbing. He thought it was a joke.”
But his father, who was not a mountain climber, allowed Tyler to pursue his interest. The boy quickly proved how serious he was by eating more healthfully and by jogging. Before long, he was regularly running 4 1/2 miles around a nearby lake and training with experienced climbers.
He scaled California’s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the United States outside Alaska, when he was 7; Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, when he was 8; Mount Aconcagua, the highest in South America, when he was 9; and Russia’s Mount Elbrus, usually considered the highest in Europe, when he was 11. (Along the way, he received donations and sponsors to help pay for the trips.)
He was the youngest or second-youngest to reach the summit on three of those four adventures. He aims to reach all “seven summits,” the top of the highest mountain on each continent. As part of that goal, Tyler is raising money to help cure a rare disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It affects mostly boys, leaving them unable to walk.
A new challenge
The six-week trek on snow-covered Everest will be Tyler’s toughest challenge. At the mountain’s summit (29,028 feet, give or take a little — scientists can’t agree), the oxygen level is one-third what it is at sea level. And winds can rage in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Tyler will be accompanied by his dad, two of his trainers, another veteran climber and local people called Sherpas (SHUR-puhs), who carry the gear for the trip. The group aims to reach the summit in mid-May, when the snow level is lowest. But first there is the question of getting permission for Tyler to go.
Everest straddles the border between Nepal (on the south side) and the Tibet region of China (on the north). Both sides require climbing permits, and both have minimum age requirements. The Tibet side, the route that Tyler plans to take, prohibits climbers younger than 18, so he needs special permission. That’s the call he and his father are waiting for.
If Tyler conquers Everest, he will break the record of fellow Californian Jordan Romero, who did it in 2010 at age 13.
More and more, it seems, kids are tackling thrill-seeking challenges that were once off-limits until adulthood. Some examples:
●At age 9, Braden Dubois became the world’s youngest stock car driver when he raced older kids at his parents’ Michigan speedway in 2012.
●In 2009, Tiger Brewer of London, England, flew at 100 miles an hour while standing on the wing of his grandfather’s plane. Tiger was 8 and said he would have “wing-walked” even younger but had to wait until he was tall enough to fit into the plane’s harness.
Are they ready?
Not everyone applauds the youth trend. Guinness World Records, which publishes lists of factual or freaky human achievements and events in nature, discourages people younger than 16 from dangerous attempts to set a record. A few sports groups have similar age limits.
Some doctors and others worry that pushy parents and the popularity of extreme sports are driving kids to be daredevils.
“Kids aren’t mentally ready for these activities,” said Vani Sabesan, a professor and surgeon in Michigan who specializes in bone and muscle injuries. “They tend to underestimate risk.” Without proper training, she told the New York Times, “a lot of kids [are] thinking maybe they can do what . . . professional athletes can do.”
Thomas Kuepper, a professor and specialist in sports medicine in Germany, said young mountain climbers face a higher risk of hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature brought on by extreme cold. And, he said, doctors don’t know enough about how to treat kids who get severe high-altitude sickness, or fluid in the lungs or on the brain. Tyler’s Everest goal is “utter nonsense,” Kuepper told a German website.
The climb is dangerous, even for adults, many of whom have died in the process.
Tyler and his dad have heard the critics but are confident he’s up to the challenge.
“It’s obviously a very dangerous sport,” said Kevin Armstrong, Tyler’s dad. “If he didn’t have the ability and mental maturity, we wouldn’t let him do it. But the professionals are telling us he’s got the ability.”
“There’s definitely a lot of naysayers,” Tyler agreed. “But they don’t know me. People have different strengths. The [critics] don’t base their objections on skill, just my age.”
So if he gets the go-ahead, does he think he can make it all the way up Everest? “I can’t say for 100 percent sure,” Tyler said, “but we’ll try our best.”