Young and old make it to the top
Two Washington climbers just set a humbling mountaineering standard. An 82-year-old Richland man broke his own record as the oldest climber...
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Two Washington climbers just set a humbling mountaineering standard.
An 82-year-old Richland man broke his own record as the oldest climber to reach the 14,411-foot Mount Rainier summit while a 7-year-old Bothell boy was trekking back down the other side.
William Painter, 82, and Aidan Gold, 7, signed the guest book at the top of the mountain within hours of each other last weekend.
"When I came into the crater everyone there gave me a standing applause," Aidan said. "Then, I signed my name with three exclamation points."
Roughly 10,000 people attempt the summit every year, and just half make it — a third of those with a trained guide. Only very rarely — once or twice a year — are the climbers under 10 years old or over 70.
The climb was just the latest in a string for Aidan, who has made about 90 summits with his parents since he tackled Mount Si near North Bend at age 3.
The youngest person to reach the Mount Rainier summit was a 4-year-old boy, who climbed the peak with his family in seven days in 1999. There are no age limits to climb Mount Rainier, but children under 18 need their parents' permission, said Mike Gauthier, the park's climbing supervisor. Gauthier has lived on the mountain for 16 summers and said he rarely sees young climbers with problems on their journey, even though the children are more susceptible to altitude sickness than adults.
"I'm actually much more nervous flying in airplanes or driving on the freeway with him," said Warren Gold, Aidan's father. "But we are still pretty hypersensitive. We have him tightly tethered to us at all times."
They completed the climb over four days.
Aidan was physically capable of reaching the Rainier summit a couple of years ago, said Gold, but he and his wife, Julie, waited until they believed the boy had the "maturity of mind" to focus on the climb. Aidan's ability to concentrate on a task stems from a type of autism called Asperger's Syndrome. He spends blocks of time intensely focused on one subject or activity. He folds origami for up to 10 hours each day and has penned an award-winning short story.
And late next week he is expected to begin a sabbatical from second grade.
The entire family — including Aidan's 4-year-old brother Janick — will travel to the Swiss Alps in August and September, then to the Mount Everest base camp. It will be December before Aidan returns to Woodinville Montessori's Bothell campus.
A professor of environmental science at the University of Washington, Bothell, Gold said he's worked with Aidan's teachers to prepare a fall curriculum. Aidan will keep a journal and study his advanced math book while mountaineering.
It was Painter's fourth trip up Rainier. He reached the summit at 7 a.m. Monday, beating the record he set last year at 81. A part of Painter in still on the mountain. A strong wind blew his old army hat covered in climbing memorabilia into a giant glacial crack on his descent. Painter has been wearing the hat ever since he started climbing in 1998. On each climb, he collected something from friends on the trail — a Buddha symbol, an Argentine pendant, earrings — and stuck it to the hat's brim. "The mountain demands sacrifice, the most extreme is a human life," he said. "[My hat] was my sacrifice this time."
Unlike Aidan, who focused on training mentally for the climb, Painter spent his time on physical conditioning.
He has hiked up Badger Mountain, an 800-foot peak in Richland, more than 1,300 times with 40-pound weights strapped to a backpack in anticipation of the 50-pound-pack he would carry up the steep glacial slopes of Rainier. Painter also bicycles about 100 miles a week. His wife of 58 years, Evelyn, rides alongside. But she stays out of his way in the kitchen.
After returning from Rainier to his Richland home, Painter finished making 46 quarts of apricot nectar and 25 pints of apricot jam, all from a single "loaded" tree in the couple's yard. The garden tomatoes are next to be canned.
"The most important thing is not getting to the summit, but getting down," said Painter.
Lara Bain: 206-464-2112 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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