Why the Debate Over Whether a 12-Year-Old Should Climb Everest Chaps My Ass



For several months now, my newsfeed has been abuzz with a particularly interesting story.

For those of you who aren’t up on your current Everest controversies (and there are many), in September of 2015 Outside Magazine ran an article in their Raising Rippers column (a column I totes love and admire) titled “Should an 11-Year-Old Be Allowed to Climb Everest?” detailing the aspirations of now 12-year-old Tyler Armstrong to become the youngest person to ever summit the tallest mountain in the world.

Since Tyler’s big announcement, mountaineers, the Chinese government, the outdoor community (along with many arm-chair enthusiasts who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about and have never set foot in the mountains…any mountains…literally no mountains ever) have weighed in. Even the controversial but still iconic Jon Krakauer offered Tyler advice about the climb which essentially added up to “My experience was traumatizing, therefore yours might be too, so think twice. Do it for the right reasons.”  

Now, as an avid outdoorswoman, someone who has loads of experience with children of all ages (I’m a teacher by trade), and someone who has spent considerable time at modest altitudes (nothing higher than 14,000ish feet), I feel that I have a relatively decent grasp of what potentially awaits Tyler should he be allowed to move forward with his plan this year: Life-threatening conditions, gruelingly temperatures, sheer vertical rock that looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, and other threats such as frostbite, HACE/HAPE.

That being said, I am consistently amazed at our desire (even in the outdoor community) to limit and sanitize the human experience, particularly for women and children. Therefore, here’s why the outdoor community (and the arm-chair onlookers) can feel free to shut it with the nay-saying:

This decision is between this child, his parents, his guides, and his Sherpas, along with the Chinese government who would be issuing him the permit to climb (Which they have currently denied). No one else gets a say. Got that. No one. Not Jon Krakauer. Not Outside Magazine. Not Mrs. Betty Lo-Hoo down in NoAlititudesville who is APPALLED  at the thought of a child taking on such a dangerous feat.

Here’s the thing. I see a lot of feigned “concern” in the outdoor community and in our American culture. The mountaineering community showed its “concern” for Arlene Blum, the first woman to ever lead an all-female crew up Denali in 1970  and Annapurna in 1978 . They said women were too fragile to climb mountains, couldn’t handle the pressure and that their periods might cause issues (Yep, I’m not kidding. The Mountaineering community of the 70s totally played the Period Card).

But, in the end, Arlene Blum kicked ass and proved the outdoor community (not to mention, the entire world) wrong. I say this kid should have the chance to do the same. And, as was the case with Blum, I wonder if some in the outdoor community really care whether or not Tyler Armstrong lives or dies on Everest, or whether they are simply more concerned with maintaining a shred of Everest’s elite status for themselves (not that there’s much left at this point after years of selling the summit to the highest bidders).

To Tyler Armstrong, I say do your thing, kid! Listen to those who love you and who have been in the mountains with you. If you die doing something beautiful and something that fills your soul with joy, well, then you’ve accomplished more than most. If you experience trauma—well, welcome to the club. The human experience is full of various traumas. In fact, overcoming trauma and danger often helps us to grow. Grow on!

To the outdoor community I, humbly, say—Chill. Breathe. Live and let live. There are far bigger controversies and issues facing us (and Everest) than one small kid trying to realize a big dream.

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