There has been a lot of controversy over high altitude mountaineering at a young age with the accomplishment of Jordan Romero, the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest at the age of 13. As a result, many people are asking if children are mature enough for such a committing feat with known significant risks. Of course, the majority of us would never let our children climb Mt. Everest, but many of us will be faced with the decision of when to allow our children to hike fourteeners with or without us.
How early is too early?
As parents know, all children mature at different rates. Many children are exposed to technical climbing in their elementary years while some are not exposed to basic mountaineering until they are in their late teenage years. Parental teaching and exposure to the sport plays a major role into knowledge and maturity of young mountaineers. Thus, I do not believe we can put a concrete age of when a young climber should attempt his/her first fourteener.
Children and teenagers attempting fourteeners should be knowledgeable about proper nutrition, hydration, appropriate start times, weather, overexertion and pacing, equipment and clothing and appropriate turnaround times. Summiting by noon is recommended to avoid the potential for lightening strikes and to avoid wet avalanches that have been known to claim the lives of climbers in the spring months in Colorado. The mountains are unforgiving and a large number of people underestimate the true dangers of the mountains in our backyard.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms and prevention
Although many of us would tend to think that children are more susceptible to AMS, children are not more likely to develop AMS or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). Parents should be aware of AMS and the most common symptoms that may occur in their young climbers:
- Fussiness and irritability
- Refusal to eat
- Lack of energy
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Increased emotions
According to the Institute for Altitude Medicine, the same principles for prevention of AMS in adults apply to children:
- Slow ascent, such as children traveling to Colorado should spend a night in Denver or at an intermediate altitude, to significantly reduce your child’s chance of AMS
- Restricting activity on the first day or two upon arrival at altitude will aide in preventing symptoms
- Ibuprofen or Tylenol will prevent headaches
- Children may also take Diamox to prevent AMS. Pediatric dosing of 3-5mg/kg per day applies for children
The majority of young climbers on fourteeners will not experience AMS or a life-threatening situation, but they should be knowledgeable and prepared in the mountains.