La Jollan believed to be youngest to climb Mt. Whitney
At age 5, La Jolla resident and Bird Rock Elementary School kindergartener Fletcher Flynn may be the youngest person to have summited Mount Whitney — the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada, with an elevation of 14,505 feet. He and his father, Justin, completed the climb on Oct. 14.
In August 2016, 6-year-old Anthony Slosar of Rancho Santa Fe was credited with being one of the youngest people to ever scale Mount Whitney. However, there are no records with the ages of those who complete the trail.
The story behind the climb, Fletcher said, goes like this: “I always talked about being famous and I like the mountains and hiking. I always want to push my limits. I told my dad I wanted to do climbs with him. When I was four, we saw a video on my dad’s phone about a boy who climbed Mount Whitney and we got the idea.”
As for possibly breaking the record, “I say it’s good,” he added.
Dad Flynn testified: “From the time Fletcher could walk, he was always pushing himself and testing his own limits. Whether it’s on his bike or climbing trees or being with me and climbing mountains, he always wants to push it further and go a little faster. He began his climbing career up a tree in our yard. Since I enjoy mountain activities, when he expressed an interest, I started taking him with me.”
The trekking twosome began with local mountain trails, eyeing higher summits this summer. They completed the White Mountain trek, which peaks at 14,200 feet, in August.
“When I saw he could do that, I had confidence he could climb Mount Whitney,” Flynn said.
The hike starts at the Whitney Portal base, with an elevation of 8,000 feet. The 6,500-foot ascent includes steep inclines and mellow trails. Overall, Flynn reports, the day went smoothly and the excursion was completed faster than expected.
“In the mountains, I can play all day and I don’t have to go to school,” Flynn said. “What makes me keep going is when I’m close to the top or the bottom, it gets me excited so I march, march, march as much as I can. On Mount Whitney, uphill was the really hard part, but once we were going downhill, I was never stopping. I didn’t ask for breaks, I just walked, walked, walked. The hardest part was when we had to do the switchbacks to get back to the car. It was dark and it felt like we were going in circles.”
His father elaborated, “It’s a total of 22 miles and 13 hours, so the day starts under headlamps and ends under headlamps. The last three miles, it was really dark and smoky from the nearby fires, so there were no stars or moon, and you couldn’t see your progress. It just felt like it was never ending. At that point, he had 20 miles under his legs. That was our one moment of pain and wanting it to end.”
But along the way, they were motivated by other hikers. “We would see people pass us in shock over how young he was,” Flynn said.
Fletcher added, “Someone said ‘you’re my hero’ to me!”
His father chuckled, “I think he really likes the attention, as we all would.”
Once back at sea level, Fletcher was already talking about his next venture — and record to break. While the kindergartener said he wants to start climbing in the snow with ice axes, his father said that might have to wait a few more years.
In the meantime, Flynn said the goal is to hike the California Fourteeners, which are the 12 mountains in the state with at least a 14,000-foot elevation. With the White Mountain and Mount Whitney treks complete, it’s two down and 10 to go.
“If we do it in the next few years, he should be the youngest,” Flynn supposed.
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