Tyler Armstrong reaches new heights climbing the seven summits by age 12.
Mount Whitney — the highest peak in the contiguous United States and Tyler’s first big climb on July 26, 2001 at age seven — is a 22-mile hike up 14,000 feet, and Tyler did it in one day. Not even a fit adult can just wake up and decide to climb like that. Tyler’s father, Kevin, a 9-to-5 guy, told his son that if he were serious, he’d need to get in shape.
“I came home from work the day after Tyler had seen the movie,” remembers Kevin, “and he asked if we could go jogging. We went around our neighborhood for about half a mile before Tyler stopped and I thought, ‘OK, so we’re done with that.’”
Kevin came home the next day, and Tyler was standing at the door, ready to go jogging. They went a little further that day, and a little further the next. “We kept going like that,” says Kevin, “little by little. We did a small hike to start, and built it up from there. At some point, I realized that he was proving himself to me every step of the way. That’s how we operate now: If he doesn’t prove it to me, I won’t let him do it.”
Many who have interviewed Tyler assume that his parents have pressured him in some way — like some “stage parent” syndrome. But this seems different. This seems like a kid — pre-perspective — finding something he likes and going after it.
“I act really mature on the mountains,” Tyler assures me. “My dad knows that, and I prove it so that he’ll let me do this. He has to go on every climb with me. My mom would kill him if he didn’t.”
So that Tyler’s mom, another 9-to-5-er, doesn’t kill anyone and no one else gets killed in the process, they’ve recruited a team of professionals — doctors, personal trainers, climbers — many of whom have donated their time and expertise graciously because, well, when you look at Tyler you just kind of want to help him see his dream come true too. And there are rules to achieve this dream. They’re simple, but they must be upheld if he’s to keep on climbing. Tyler must always operate within the safety standards prepared by his professionals, he must pay attention to them and always listen to them, he must eat and drink the proper amount while climbing and must always adhere to his workout regimes prior to the climbs.
“Your body is pretty much eating itself when you’re that high up and using that much energy,” Tyler explains. “If I don’t drink all my water, I’m not allowed to hike anymore.”
Adds Kevin: “The professionals have given us time deadlines where Tyler knows he’ll have to turn around if he doesn’t make a certain height by a certain time. Also, he’s had to learn to push beyond his limit.”
Normally, children will say they are tired before their body is actually tired. Adults can train their brain to push past that limit, and so Tyler had to do the same. “Kids don’t realize they have second winds,” says Kevin. “He’s had to go through classes to learn these things.”
Last December on Aconcagua — the South American component of the Seven Summits (the highest peak on each continent) — Tyler and his team of about seven (including his dad) had to cross over a sheath of melting snow and ice with a few thousand feet drop below. Tyler, who claims that he’s never scared of climbing or heights, admits to it being “a little scary the first time.”
“The first time?” I ask.
“We had to cross that same spot four times,” he expertly relays to me. “It’s called processing. It helps your body get used to the altitude and it gets weight off your back by moving gear up. It makes the climb a bit easier.
There are other kid climbers out there — ones that Tyler is breaking the records of. And as far as Kevin knows, all of them use hypoxic chambers, a tent they sleep in that helps regulate their bodies to the altitude as they ascend.
“It’s basically tricking your body,” says Kevin skeptically. “My personal belief is that if [Tyler’s] own body won’t let him do it, I won’t let him do it. [Luckily], he doesn’t have altitude issues [thus far], which a lot of climbers suffer from.”
Tyler does run into issues when the winds pick up, though. On Aconcagua they were meant to summit on Christmas Day, but had to speed up their climb due to high wind warnings and ended up summiting on Christmas Eve instead. Tyler might be slightly tall for his age group, but he still only weighs 80 pounds (less when he was summiting). He can’t hold himself up against high winds like a burlier adult may be able to, so his team used a pulse oximeter, checked for any signs of altitude problems (headache, stomach, eating, etc.) and saw no sign of oxygen issues, concluding that they keep on climbing in order to make their goal.
Recently, Tyler climbed Mount Whitney again — the North American component of the Seven Summits — opting for a technically harder mountaineer’s hike. At only 300 feet from the top they had to turn around. Tyler hadn’t made his assigned cutoff time that keeps him within his safety guidelines.
“It was depressing,” says Tyler, “but I had to turn around. I’ll try it again though.”
Turning around is part of what keeps Tyler on his mission to complete all Seven Summits in the next couple of years. “If I don’t make it down” [i.e. die], he says very deliberately, “then I can’t keep on climbing.”
As of now, they are scheduled to climb Mount McKinley in May, and Everest the following year. But it all comes down to sponsorships, as Everest is not a cheap mountain to climb, and most outdoors and adventure companies are hesitant to sponsor a minor due to liability.
“I can crank [McKinley] out in a day,” he says, seemingly convincing any prospective doubters. “And I’ll hit Everest by 12 [making him the youngest person ever to summit the highest peak in the world by over a year]. After that, there’s nothing else. I’ll just have to go lower I guess.
For more information on Tyler and his climbs, as well as charitable organizations he’s a part of, please visit www.topwithtyler.com
About the author: Valentina I. Valentini is a freelance journalist and producer based in Los Angeles. She contributes to Variety, IndieWire.com, Vultur