Sunday May 23, 2010

BEIJING - The youngest climber to reach the peak of Mount Everest hugged his tearful companions and told them he loved them. Then 13-year-old Jordan Romero took the satellite phone and called his mom.

"He says, 'Mom, I'm calling you from the top of the world,' " a giddy Leigh Anne Drake told The Associated Press from California, where she had been watching her son's progress minute by minute on a GPS tracker online.

"There were lots of tears and 'I love you! I love you!' " Drake said. "I just told him to get his butt back home."

With Saturday's success on the world's highest mountain, at 29,035 feet above sea level, Jordan is just one climb from his quest to reach the highest peaks on all seven continents.

The teenager with a mop of long curly hair - who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa when he was 9 years old - says he was inspired by a painting in his school hallway of the seven continents' highest summits.

" Every step I take is finally toward the biggest goal of my life, to stand on top of the world," Jordan said earlier on his blog.

Before him, the youngest climber to scale Everest had been Temba Tsheri of Nepal, who reached the peak at age 16.

Several climbers took advantage of Saturday's clear weather to reach the summit, Mountaineering Department official Tilak Pandey said. May is the most popular month for Everest climbs because of more favorable weather.

Jordan had never climbed above 26,240 feet, but his team climbed quickly along the final ridge to arrive at the peak hours ahead of schedule.

"The first thing, they all hugged each other and said, 'I love you, I can't believe we're finally here' and started crying," said Rob Bailey, the team's spokesman, by phone from the United States.

"I don't think it ever dawned on them to say, 'Oh my gosh, Jordan, you're the youngest to get up here,' " Bailey said. "It's never been about setting a record, besting anybody else."

Jordan, from the San Bernardino Mountains ski town of Big Bear, California, was climbing Everest with his father, his father's girlfriend and three Sherpa guides.

Helicopter paramedic Paul Romero and his girlfriend have trained Jordan for top-level mountaineering. Romero and Karen Lundgren are adventure racers, competing in weeklong endurance races that combine biking, climbing, paddling and climbing through wilderness areas.

Before the group set out for Nepal, Paul Romero said he wanted nothing more than to make his son's dreams come true, even as the quest raised questions over how young is too young to scale Everest, a mountain where harsh conditions have caused scores of climbers' deaths.

The group, dubbed "Team Jordan" on the teen's blog, approached the peak along the technically more difficult, less-traveled northern route from the base camp on the Chinese side.

Unlike neighboring Nepal, the other approach to Everest, China has no age limit for climbers. Jordan registered with Chinese officials in April, said Zhang Mingxing, secretary general of China Tibet Mountaineering Association.

At the summit, Jordan left behind his lucky rabbit's foot and planted some seeds that a Buddhist monk at a local monastery had given him for luck on his journey, Bailey said. Then he took the satellite phone and called his mom.