8-year-old mountain climber at top of the world
Boy has scaled Himalayas, Alps
By JAKE ELLISON
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
BOTHELL -- At the first hint of a willing ear, Aidan Gold leapt with stocking feet onto his parents' couch, pointed to photos of mountains hanging on the white wall and began the tale of his adventures as a high-alpine mountaineer.
His accounts of reaching high peaks in the shadow of Mount Everest, traversing glaciers and rotten-rock cliffs with 6,000-foot exposures and the details in which he recounts them are incongruous with his 8-year-old voice and 4-foot, 60-pound stature.
"This glacier here is higher than Mount Rainier, even though there are plants," he said pointing to a dark line in a photo taken from the top of Island Peak in the Himalayas. "The top of this is way higher than that."
On Nov. 10, Aidan climbed 20,300-foot Island Peak with his father and several guides. His father, Warren Gold, said members of the Nepal Mountaineering Association say Aidan is likely the youngest person to climb the mountain.
It was the high point of the Bothell family's four-month climbing and hiking adventure that ranged from Switzerland to Katmandu.
In addition to Island Peak, Aidan and his dad reached the peak of 10,400-foot Haustock and 13,400-foot Monch in the Alps, 17,200-foot Awi Peak near Everest, and the whole family, including 5-year-old Janick, made it to the 17,700-foot Everest base camp.
Warren Gold is an associate professor of ecology and environmental science at the University of Washington-Bothell campus. He had taken Aidan, his wife, Julia, and Janick on a sabbatical that mixed business with pleasure.
the Himalayas. At left is climbing Sherpa Namgye Sherpa. Aidan's father, Warren Gold, took the picture.
Gold said he wanted to give his sons an appreciation of a world less touched by humans.
"A mix of wonder and adventure, that's what you get in the mountains," he said.
Gold said that in addition to sightseeing and climbing, he continued his high-altitude ecology research.
Aidan said he likes to climb because of the challenge and the view from the tops of mountains.
The toughest stretch for him over the past four months, he said, was a 45-degree face of rock and ice on Haustock.
"It's the worse 3,000 feet I've ever done," he said.
That climb also had his mother worried. She could see the two most of the way to the peak, but they were still gone 10 hours with just one adult. Normally they like to make sure two adults are present.
"If something happened to the adult, you don't know how he'd respond," Julia Gold said. "So, I was very worried."
For the rest of the climbs, the family hired guides to accompany Gold and Aidan when they aspired to high peaks.
"I got cold two times in Nepal. No times in Switzerland," Aidan added.
"Boy, a morning at 17,000 feet is cold," he said.
But Aidan is uniquely undaunted by the rigors and monotony of climbing for hours at a time. He has an uncanny focus, his parents said.
Part of that focus is because of Asperger's Syndrome. He was diagnosed with the type of autism when he was 3 years old.
People with that trait tend to share an intensity of focus on specific goals or processes, and they typically don't do so well in social settings.
Nevertheless, Aidan is an accomplished storyteller and has also written stories and read them to audiences, even winning a story slam last winter at the Paramount Theatre.
He also has a passion for extremely complicated origami -- building moose, bald eagles and many other things.
The family's Christmas tree is laden with origami, some created by folding paper after looking at diagrams in a book. Others are Aidan's original designs.
That focused intensity and his love of adventure make him an avid climber, and he has many more peaks in mind.
"There are dangers with all of this," Warren Gold acknowledged.
But he said, "I really think the most dangerous thing we did the whole trip was crossing the street in Katmandu."
In fact, the worst injury sustained on the whole trip happened when the bus they were riding in Katmandu slammed on the brakes and Janick smashed his nose.