For record-setting mountain climber Johnny Strange, the adventure is just beginning.Photographs by Misha Gravenor
MOST KIDS FLINCH at the thought of doing schoolwork over the summer. But for Johnny Strange, last summers workload was all worth it. Im always going to have another summer, but Ill probably only get one opportunity to climb Everest, says the teen, who turns 18 this month.
Just as school let out, around the time most almost-but-not-quite-adults were full force into a what are you going to do with your summer? war of independence with their parents, Strange (yep, thats his real name) was standing atop 29,029-foot Mount Everest. The jaunt made him the youngest Westerner to achieve the feat, and it was the next-to-last step he had to complete in order to join an elite list: those who have scaled the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. By that point, Strange had already decided that his name wouldnt just be on the list, it would get an asterisk next to it to signify that hes the youngest ever to complete the task.
Post-Everest, Strange and his dad, lawyer Brian Strange, returned to Malibu, California, for just a week before they flew to Australia and ticked Mount Kosciuszko off the to-do list. Then, it was official: Strange had taken the title of youngest person ever to complete whats known as the seven-summits challenge from Samantha Larson, who completed the task in 2007, when she was 18.
While Strange would be justified in celebrating his accomplishment with some cocky teen talk, he swings wildly in the other direction. When asked how he feels about joining the list, his response is a simple, Im good. Just excited to have completed the goal.
THERES A CERTAIN amount of machismo that goes along with a big climb. After all, most people who have the time and money to do such a thing have had to work exceptionally hard just to get there. So imagine the slight-to-severe ego deflation that occurred when the adults who had signed on to climb Antarcticas Vinson Massif found themselves sharing a tent with a 12-year-old pip-squeak. There were plenty of climbers who took exception to the young upstart, says Vern Tejas, the Alpine Ascents International high-altitude mountain guide on Stranges first Seven Summits climb, in 2004. Tejas, whod had his own early-on adventures, didnt immediately put him behind the eight ball because he was young. In Strange, he saw a kid who could hold conversations with test pilots for jet airlines and lawyers and other folks that were in the same tent.
I was pretty impressed, says Tejas, who has conquered the seven summits eight times. He didnt seem like he was a kid in many ways. He seemed very mature.