Under My Skin | Meet The People Hacking Into Their Bodies To Change The Way They Feel

Liviu Babitz has a device built into his chest that vibrates whenever he faces north

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz’ North Sense implant.

“Each time you’re facing north, it gives a short vibration. So now I know north is the way my living room faces the garden, and the direction my boy goes into his school. Last week I gave a talk and standing on the stage I knew north was to my left. The whole connection between places in my brain happens in a different way now; it starts to embed into your memories…”

Liviu Babitz has been wearing the North Sense, a small silicone device, with tiny titanium bars embedded under his skin, since the start of 2017. It sits high in the centre of his chest and when he first showed it to me on Skype, I thought it looked like a robot bug from the future gorging on his flesh. Yet I’m fascinated by its premise and more generally the idea of humans adding an extra sense to a repertoire most of us have spent our whole lives imagining was fixed.

“The whole connection between places in my brain happens in a different way now; it starts to embed into your memories”

Sense hacking with a view to helping us experience the world anew is the central motivation of Cyborg Nest, a company founded by Babitz and his partner Scott Cohen. The North Sense was their first product, costing $425 each; it sold out at the end of last year. Babitz feels it’s such a part of him now that “thinking of not having the North Sense anymore is terrifying…like waking up in the morning and not seeing the colour green.”

He believes: “We’re standing on the edge of a really new era. There is so much around us that we cannot perceive with the senses we were born with. In the room where you are now there are endless colours, sounds and other stuff like the electromagnetic field of the planet, that we as humans are not equipped to sense.”

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz with the ‘North Sense’ implant built into his chest.

It’s hard to separate our own understanding of reality from what we see, smell, hear, feel and taste. But other species provide a useful insight into how differently we could experience life on this planet. Pit viper snakes can see in infrared, for example, while jumping spiders see four primary colours not three, elephants can pick up vibrations from other elephants 10 miles away and vampire bats can smell exactly where a vein is. And like Babitz with his North Sense, both honey bees and roundworms are attuned to the earth’s magnetic field.

“We miss 95 per cent of what’s happening around us,” says Professor Kevin Warwick, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Coventry University and Cybernetics expert. In 1998, he had a silicon chip transponder inserted into his forearm, which then allowed him to turn on lights and open doors in a synced-up office. He playfully dubbed himself the world’s first ‘cyborg’. Four years later, he used electrodes to connect his brain and nervous system to the internet so he could communicate with his wife, who was also hooked up to what he called ‘Braingate’, in an office on the other side of the Atlantic. When she closed her hand Warwick’s brain received a pulse.

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Screenshot: Ghost In The Shell (2017), starring Scarlett Johansson.

Warwick believes tweaking or augmenting our senses fundamentally addresses what it means to be human: “When you look at western philosophy going back to Descartes and Kant they were looking at mind/body duality: ‘I think therefore I am’. And this research is very much stirring all that up: ‘What is I? When you have a bit of tech in your nervous system or brain even: ‘What does it mean to be I?’”

Despite Warwick’s pioneering research, which was significant enough to be discussed at the White House as part of a council on BioEthics, a lot of the forward momentum in cybernetic implants and sensory hacking hasn’t been driven by the scientific community, the medical profession or even big corporations. The real advances instead have come from DIY cyberpunk self-experimenters who very much exist on the fringes of science and even society.

“What does it mean to be I?”

Often known as grinders, they’re driven by curiosity and in some cases aesthetics, to test hardware implants on their own bodies having researched and connected with similarly-minded people online in forums such as biohack.me. They include Neil Harbisson, who was born with a rare type of colour-blindness that meant he could only see in grey. Since 2004, he’s had an antenna implanted into his skull enabling him to ‘hear’ in colour. Along with the colours we can see, Harbisson can also see infrared and ultraviolets, and he defines himself as a ‘cyborg artist’. His friend and fellow artist Moon Ribas implanted a seismic sensor so she could feel earthquake vibrations. Others modify their hearing so they can hear sounds from computers or wifi, including Frank Swain who made the Phantom Terrains tool to help people map London according to wi-fi noise, while others use AI to enhance their eyesight.

The North Sense is attached to the body through a barbell-design; it’s deliberately made that way so it can be easily fitted by a body-piercer. Doctors are reluctant to fit this kind of cybernetic tech, so tattooists and body-piercers have filled the gap, albeit without anaesthetics, when it comes to helping people out with DIY body modification. It’s convenient as there’s a big overlap between people with tattoos and piercings wanting sensory implants. Or perhaps the fact tattoo artists and piercers can fit the tech is the reason for the overlap. Most likely it’s both.

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Pictured: Professor Kevin Warwick, Cybernetics expert.

I ask Professor Warwick why sensory enhancement hasn’t been embraced by the scientific community? “The academic world is very conservative. I’ve got a number of research students that have investigated implanting magnets in their fingers, to try and extend the sensory range but trying to get a paper published… it just doesn’t fit anywhere in the journals. It is like a subculture in the way it’s turned out, it’s certainly not academic mainstream.”

The cynic in me asks if that’s because there is no funding from big pharmaceutical companies? “That’s not cynical at all, that is an aspect of it…I’ve ended up being this strange addition to the subculture. The movers and the shakers seem happy to take me on board, I’m an ok guy and I have my role to play but I’m a little bit different when I see the guys and what they’re implanting I think: ‘What they hell are you doing there!?’”

“The North Sense could be great for explorers

Later that day, I’m reminded of Warwick’s words when I come across firefly tattoos on biohack.me. They sit under the skin glowing from decaying tritium gas. But Warwick is broadly supportive of the DIY ethos of it all. “Good for them,” he says. “We learn a lot from them and the materials they use and when it goes wrong, what they did wrong, things like that. There’s a mutual respect.” It’s worth noting many see Warwick as the godfather of the movement.

What can go wrong? “Sometimes the body can reject the implant, if you’ve not sterilised it enough, and that is difficult to do. But there are a lot of materials the body doesn’t mind, silicone is one, depending on the size, also iridium, platinum, and gold, the body accepts those materials.”

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Screenshot: Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

Dr Ian Harrison is one of Professor Warwick’s former students; he still has two magnets implanted in his fingers, “my left middle finger and pointer”. For his undergraduate degree he’d wanted to link his brain up to a computer like Professor Warwick but they couldn’t get it past the ethics committee so he settled on the magnets instead.

Why magnets? “For ‘magnetic vision’. I didn’t coin the term it was on the internet, but I went for it for that reason. And for my thesis [which was published in 2015] I asked people why they got their magnets and the top answer (60 per cent of respondents) was ‘magnetic vision’, second was ‘interest and fun’, then ‘transhumanism’. I thought it was really cool that people were wanting these implants so they could feel these magnetic fields.”

“Implanting magnets in the skin started off in the 90s, it was an art form, a magic show”

Harrison’s magnets were fitted in 2009, though he had one replaced in 2011. He says: “Implanting magnets in the skin started off in the 90s, it was an art form, a magic show, taken up by the bio-hacking community. When I did my research it was new to academia but not the world.”

I ask if they still work now? “The older one is weaker in comparison to the other, as over time the magnetic field does drop off, but I can still use them for what I was doing before.”

Which is? “As sensory extensions. The touch sense, as we know it is a contact sense you have to be in contact with the object in order to perceive it. But if you embed magnets under the skin you can then use magnetic induction and have the magnets move with the exterior magnetic fields so you no longer have to be in contact with the object.”

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Pictured: Kevin Warwick, part man part sci-fi character.

“If I’m in a kitchen and a microwave is on I can hear it and see it but I can also feel it, like a vibration. Same with laptops…it’s become part of my life, my day to day. I was at a bar one night and I felt something, so I ran my finger along the bar and realised I could feel where the motor of the bar pump was. I once did some work near some power lines and I could damn well feel them! The current going through a power line induces a magnetic field around it, that was quite interesting.” Many electricians have magnetic implants for that reason.

I ask if he’d be allowed an MRI scan? “I’d be allowed to have an MRI but I wouldn’t want to, the pain would be quite intense, because of the presence of such a strong magnetic field.”

I ask Harrison how he feels about the DIY self-experimentation side of things: “I’m very much thrilled and very much scared. It’s really cool that people are pushing the boundaries of science and perception by going ahead and doing these things themselves, but if it goes wrong then the perception of the science could be completely shot. I’m not trying to put people off but just do your homework, do a bit of research, and make sure what you’re doing is safe.”

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Pictured: Liviu Babitz has been wearing his implant since the beginning of 2017.

There are also some pretty gruesome pictures online of infections caused by implants and Harrison tells me some horror stories including a person who decided to wrap their magnet in a mouldable glue which was “definitely not designed to be put in the human body”, and another person who had to get their magnet removed as it got slammed in a door. Another friend broke the coating of his magnet and exposed his body to neodymium, which could be harmful to the liver, if it reached it. “If you puncture your skin or accidentally cut yourself are you going to damage the electronics and then expose things? There are a number of questions you need to walk through in your own head before you do it.”

Harrison tells me he’ll probably get the older magnet taken out soon as it’s not really serving a purpose and “it’s been in there for eight years so I just want to make sure it’s fine”.

Devices under your skin may feel more a part of you, but at least you can upgrade tech worn outside of your body easily, so you won’t risk having a hand or body full of out-dated hardware or “abandonware” as Harrison puts it.

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A vision of our high-tech future? Photo via Franck Veschi.

His academic work no longer involves sense hacking research. He says: “I had to come out of this area because it was very much on the fringe of science. Whether it was even considered science or not was a debate. I did consider it science as we were doing research that added to the knowledge base and was repeatable in multiple locations so I consider it science. But it was very much on the edge and there’s no funding in it.”

The lack of funding may be due to perceived risk but then the medical world implants many devices safely into the body, from pacemakers to artificial hips. It could also be connected to how useful these gadgets are perceived to be.

“I have some experience with psychedelic drugs and it’s a very different place”

The North Sense could be great for explorers, like an inbuilt compass, I suggest to Babitz, but he replies: “It’s important to understand the difference between a tool and a sense. A tool is something you take out of your pocket when you need it, then when you’re done you put it back in your pocket or wherever it came from and you don’t use it until the next time. A sense is something that is already part of you. You don’t leave your ears off when you’ve finished listening to music. We deliberately made a decision not to be a company that comes to solve a problem that someone has.”

I ask what kind of people their customers are? “We can’t find any thread between the people who bought the North Sense. One day it’s a lawyer, then someone who works in a shop, then someone from the tech industry, then someone from the body modification industry. It’s been very eclectic but the bigger picture is at the end of the day everybody will be interested in having those things.”

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Pictured: Professor Kevin Warwick, playing with his gadgets.

Does Babitz see a parallel between expanding our senses through tech and altering our senses through drugs?

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard the comparison…I have some experience with psychedelic drugs and it’s a very different place…the only place where you can compare it is maybe the connection to something you haven’t been connected to before. And the curiosity maybe.”

Given how he was using an implant to open doors in 1998 is Warwick surprised we don’t all get into our houses via implants? “Yes I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely and I can’t see why it hasn’t been done for say passports as it’s not fakeable.”

“You don’t leave your ears off when you’ve finished listening to music”

Though he also thinks it’s amazing how many people have implants now “well into the thousands”. And though magnets are still popular, there is a big growth in more practical less sensory-based implants. Ryan Chandler has four rfid implants, which have a range of uses from unlocking his office door to starting his motorbike, all were implanted by the same woman who did his six piercings. Where as Patrick Kramer, the CEO of bio-hacking supply site Digiwell has no tattoos or piercings but he and his wife both open their doors with rfid implants. “We have two little kids, we’re very normal people.”

Kramer believes practical, safe implants will see the biggest growth in the future. To which Babitz would say: “It changes maybe your wallet or your bag but it doesn’t change your sense of north. Having a new sense has a direct impact on you as a person.”

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Pictured: Rachael, an artificially created replicant, in the sci-fi classic Blade Runner (1982).

But beyond satiating the curiosity of the individual with the implants why does that actually matter? “Everything we have ever created we created because we had senses,” says Babitz.

Harrison agrees: “Newton perceived the falling of an apple and postulated gravity. What could happen if we had an extra sense, how much further could we push?”

But he thinks the real leaps forward will come from vision though not magnets. “Everyone likes the visual sense and being able to put a contact lens, without invasive surgery, and perceive infrared and UV. I can’t see us being too far away from that. And if UV and infrared were being perceived across the globe that could spark interest in other senses and sensory enhancement of them and who knows what will happen then?” It will certainly be exciting to see, albeit in a spectrum we can’t begin to conceive right now.

Read more of this month’s Remote Issue here. 

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Most Dangerous Mountain In The World | Top 5

Statistically speaking, what is the deadliest mountain for climbers?

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Pictured: Snow at Annapurna base camp. Photo via Getty Images.

It goes without saying that climbing big mountains can be dangerous, and that some mountains are considerably more dangerous to climb than others. But what is the most dangerous mountain in the world? You might be forgiven for thinking that because Everest is the highest mountain in the world, it’s also the deadliest. However, in terms of the percentage rates of people who die attempting to summit it Everest is actually comparatively safe when you put it next to some of the other mountains on this list. Which is not to say that the world’s highest mountain isn’t without its dangers, as anyone who’s read up on the gruesome subject of dead bodies on Everest will tell you.

Anyway, based on death-to-summit ratios here are the five deadliest mountains on the planet.

1) Annapurna

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Pictured: Morning view of Annapurna from its south face base camp. Photo via Getty Images.

At 8,091 metres high, Annapurna might only be the 10th highest mountain in the world but when judged purely on fatality risk the massif’s main peak has, over the years, established itself as the planet’s most dangerous mountain.

As of 2012, Annapurna I Main (the mountain’s official title) had seen 191 summit ascents and 61 climbing fatalities. This puts Annapurna’s fatality-to-summit ratio at an astonishing 32%, meaning that for every three climbers trying to make it up and down the mountain one will die attempting it.  The south face ascent is particularly notorious, and is considered by many to be the most difficult climb in the world.

“This puts Annapurna’s fatality-to-summit ratio at an astonishing 32%”

Despite being the first of the 8,000 metre peaks to be summited, in 1950 by Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal, Annapurna is to this day the least-climbed of all the mountains over 8,000 metres high. Everest, which is almost 800 metres higher than Annapurna at 8,848m, has been summited over 6,000 times whereas Annapurna has been climbed less than 200 times. A perfect illustration, we think, of the sheer difficulty and danger involved with climbing it.

In October 2014, at least 43 people were killed when snowstorms and avalanches hit Annapurna and the surrounding area. This is on record as being the worst trekking disaster in Nepal’s history.

2) K2

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Pictured: K2, the world’s second highest and second most dangerous mountain in the world. Photo via Getty Images.

With about one in four climbers dying in their attempts to summit it, it’s fair to say that K2 has earned its nickname the “Savage Mountain.” The second highest mountain in the world, and the mountain with the second highest death-to-summit ratio, K2 is literally right up there whichever way you look at it.

“The second highest mountain in the world, and the mountain with the second highest death-to-summit ratio”

Despite not quite hitting the same physical heights as Everest, anyone who knows anything about mountain climbing, will tell you that K2 is far more difficult to summit. Over the course of a single year, Everest, for example, might see more than 500 climbers reach the summit. Whereas K2, due to its more challenging and extremely technical nature, might go many years without anyone making a successful ascent of it. It is thought of as the “mountaineer’s mountain.”

In August of 2008, K2 saw its worst ever mountaineering accident – with 11 climbers dying, and another three suffering serious injuries. The series of deaths, that occurred over a Friday ascent and Saturday descent, were the result of a climber’s fall, subsequent attempts to rescue him, and four separate incidents involving large blocks of glacier ice breaking off.

 

3) Nanga Parbat

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Pictured: Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. Photo via Getty Images.

At 8,126 metres, Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world. It is a notoriously difficult and dangerous mountain to climb and, thanks to its 22% fatality rate, is known in climbing circles as “Killer Mountain” and “Man Eater.”

Considered, alongside K2 (also on this list), to be one of the planet’s most technically difficult mountains; Nanga Parbat is home to the 4,600 metre high Rupal Face – the largest and most intimidating rock wall on Earth. Needless to say, deadly features of this size require huge quantities of courage, dedication, and mountaineering skill to overcome.

The Nanga Parbat Disaster of 1934, which claimed the lives of 10 climbers, was at the time it happened the worst mountaineering tragedy in history. Willy Merkl led the well financed expedition, one that was fully supported by Germany’s newly instated Nazi government.

“the worst mountaineering tragedy in history.”

Mountaineer Alfred Drexel perished early doors, with matters only getting worse for the party from that point on. When a severe storm kicked in, the climbers attempted a desperate retreat down to safety but six Sherpas and three Germans, including Merkl himself, would never make it back alive – dying from exhaustion, exposure, and altitude sickness. Last man standing, Ang Tsering spent seven days battling through the storm and was the only one who lived to tell the tale.

In Joe Simpson’s book ‘Dark Shadows Falling’, it is said that the 1934 Nanga Parbat Disaster: “for protracted agony, has no parallel in climbing annals.”

Austrian climber Hermann Buhl became the first man to summit Nanga Parbat, in July 1953. At the time of his expedition, the mountain had already claimed 31 lives. Buhl, who’d ascended by himself under the influence of pervitin (a drug based on the stimulant methamphetamine used by soldiers in World War II), lost a crampon on the way down and had to sleep upright in a bivouac while holding onto a small handhold. In the history of 8,000m first ascents, Buhl is the only person to have done one solo.

4) Kangchenjunga

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Pictured: The first light of sunrise hits Kangchenjunga. Photo via Getty Images.

Kangchenjunga’s summit is a whole 8,586 metres above sea level. It is the world’s third highest mountain. Located along the border that separates India and Nepal, the mountain is infamous for its frequent avalanches, extremely cold weather, and highly unpredictable weather patterns. As deadly as it is difficult, this is not a hill to be taken lightly.

“Their bodies have never been found.”

The Kangchenjunga fatality-to-summit ratio is about 20%; meaning that for every five climbers who make the summit one, on average, will die. Interestingly, whereas most mountains appear to be getting safer due to improvements in climbing gear recent statistics appear to suggest that this particular mountain is becoming increasingly dangerous to climb.

Back in May 2013, five climbers including Hungary’s most accomplished mountaineer Zsolt Erőss (a man who summited 10 of the 14 peaks over 8,000 metres) reached the top of Kangchenjunga but disappeared during the descent. Their bodies have never been found.

5) Dhaulagiri

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Pictured: Dhaulagiri at Sunrise from Poonhill, Nepal. Photo via Getty Images.

The seventh highest mountain in the world, the top of Dhaulagiri sits 8,167 metres above sea level. It has a fatality-to-summit ratio of about 16%, making it one of the hardest and most dangerous climbs in the mountaineering world.

“In 1969, five American climbers and two Nepalese were killed in an avalanche.”

Despite Dhaulagiri’s first successful summiting occurring in 1960, nobody to this day has been able to summit it via the the south face. Some legendary names, such as Reinhold Messner, have tried and failed to make it up this way; illustrating perfectly just how difficult this approach is. For one of mountain climbing’s greatest, yet to be overcome, challenges… look no further than Dhaulagiri’s south face.

In 1969, five American climbers and two Nepalese were killed in an avalanche. Six years later, in 1975, two Japanese and three Nepalese were killed by an avalanche as they slept at Camp I. These tragic incidents are by no means the only dark days in Dhaulagiri’s history, with the mountain suffering over 70 fatalities down the years.

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Youngest Person To Climb Everest | We Speak To Jordan Romero About Summiting The World’s Highest Mountain When He Was Just 13

When Jordan Romero was nine, he saw a mural. By 15, he’d conquered all of the Seven Summits.

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You remember being 13. Your first ‘cool’ band t-shirt, your mum buying you industrial quantities of Clearasil on a weekly basis, your lunchtime kickabouts behind the sports hall; you remember it all. Those sleepovers that were all about being the best at Playstation, the tentative steps towards being adequate at bass guitar, your first embarrassing attempt at flirtatious interaction with the opposite sex; it’s all so vivid isn’t it? Now picture that adolescent version of yourself standing on the summit of Everest. Can’t do it, can you? The thought of your pubescent-self atop the world’s highest mountain is just too absurd.

Jordan Romero, now 21, was different. At the unbelievably young age of 13 years, 10 months and 10 days, he made it to Everest’s peak and, in doing so, dramatically rewrote the mountaineering record books. The feat of becoming the youngest person ever to climb the legendary mountain, the previous record holder had been a comparatively ancient 15, led to an explosion of media coverage; thrusting Jordan, and his climbing family, under the brightest of spotlights.

“My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round.”

“Getting to the summit of Everest was such a surreal moment, man. I really couldn’t believe it. I was so mind-blown at the fact I was standing on top of it. It was just something that… I guess I had never been so present in the moment,” Jordan tells us via Skype.

Achieving something so impressive at such a young age would, you might think, have led to a unanimously positive reaction from observers. However, in perhaps the most extreme example of that famous old saying ‘you can’t please everyone’, there were critics who spoke out against Jordan and the adults in his life for taking a 13-year old up a mountain that, at the time of his ascent, had already claimed the lives of 217 climbers. Since 2010, this number has increased to 290.

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Screenshot of Jordan Romero’s appearance on an American talk show in 2010 (via CBS | YouTube).

“There was a lot of criticism going on about it. There were a lot of misguided assumptions that we were climbing for the wrong reasons, that we were this super rich family doing this. But, you know, we had to do a lot of crowdsourcing, and fundraising, and financing in order to make it happen. When we said we were from a small town in California, we were being honest. We were just people who wanted to travel, see the world, and experience life,” Jordan says, before adding, “My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round.”

It’s worth stressing at this point that Jordan isn’t just the youngest person in history to climb Everest. He’s also the youngest person in history to conquer all of the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents). Alongside his dad (Paul Romero) and his dad’s then-partner Karen Lundgren, Jordan began ticking them off in July 2006, aged 10, when he made it to the top of Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain. He completed the collection five years later when, aged 15 years, 5 months, and 12 days, he made it to the top of Antarctica’s Vinson Massif.

“In terms of moody teenage strops, I won’t deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head…”

I picture myself climbing big mountains at that age and can easily imagine myself shouting at my parents and storming off to my tent at the slightest provocation. Surely, considering Jordan’s age at the time and the stresses he was under, there must have been some classic ‘Kevin and Perry’ type rages along the way?

“In terms of moody teenage strops, I won’t deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head, but I never wanted to burden anyone else with my emotions. I did my best to focus on the big picture and how lucky I was to travel to these incredible locations,” Jordan says, revealing a maturity level that I, even as a full-grown adult, have yet to reach.

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Picture taken in Moab. Photo: John Dalpiaz.

I was curious to know what, if it wasn’t his parents’ influence, planted the seed of inspiration in Jordan’s mind and led him to tackling the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents before he was old enough to legally buy alcohol or drive a car.

“I don’t know if there was one single moment but this whole thing started when I was nine. I came across a mural of the Seven Summits at my school, and I was just so fascinated by it. There was a chart, and each mountain was labelled with the elevation, the continent this mountain was on, and the name of it. It just totally captured my attention and I guess you could say that was when I was dove into mountaineering head first,” reflects Jordan.

You could be forgiven for thinking, without meeting him and considering all that he’s achieved, that Jordan would be a bit full of himself. I can report though that this is definitely not the case. It’s clear, virtually right from the off, that he’s humble enough to acknowledge how important the support of his family has been.

“So, I climbed with my Dad and his long-term girlfriend. They never actually ended up getting married, but we did every single one of them together and I’m so grateful for that every day. To this day, my Dad, Karen, and my biological Mum are still killing it in life. They’re huge inspirations to me,” Jordan says.

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Shot of Jordan and his Dad up on Vinson. Photo: Karen Lundgren.

“After doing the Seven Summits, we had plans to do the adventure grand slam. Trek to the South Pole and the North Pole to see if I could be the youngest person to do that but Karen and my Dad were splitting up, and yeah that was tough to take. Karen was just such an essential backbone to our expeditions and without her nothing was really able to evolve or be followed through on. She was all about the logistics, and the finances, and you know the stuff to actually make it happen. Looking back, I really should have kept that momentum going,” Jordan tells me, when I ask him about what came after.

With his Dad now living in Hawaii, where he runs his own business, and Jordan studying Environmental Studies and Economics in Utah, it can seem from the outside looking in that this young record-holder has put the big mountain climbs very much on the backburner. Now a passionate skier, and with university studies to think of, is Jordan itching to get the band back together and summit again with the man who’s been with him since the very beginning? And, if so, would his Dad be up for it?

“Absolutely. He definitely would. I really do miss climbing with him. He was super knowledgeable about stuff. You know, he was really so good at critical decision making. My Dad was a vital component of the team. Being there. Planning stuff. Strategising what to do and when to summit the mountain. Right now, my university schedule is a little more on the priority list but hell man if we had some plane tickets to go to Nepal tomorrow for an expedition, I know I’d do it in a heartbeat and I’m sure he would too,” Jordan says.

“Find your Everest in life. Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day…”

Because of Jordan’s area of academic interest, coupled with the fact he’s American, our conversation inevitably drifts towards environmental concerns and the actions of climate change-denying President Donald J. Trump.

“Climate change is something I’ve seen first hand by going all round the world. And going to Mount Kilimanjaro and going to Indonesia, where we’re climbing next to the world’s largest gold and copper mine which is just the worst polluting source. In that area, it’s just absolutely devastating a lot of the local communities and indigenous people so there’s a lot of environmental injustices that I’ve seen first hand.

“With Trump in office, I could only imagine how scary it must be from an outside perspective. Maybe you’ve heard this but it was the U.S, Syria, and Nicaragua that were the three countries that weren’t on the Paris Climate Agreement when it was announced that we were pulling out of it. Then, Syria and Nicaragua became a part of it so now we’re the only country in the world that aren’t on board with it.

“For me, Trump is just too much of liability. Honestly, I wouldn’t care if we had a Republican President right now. But the fact that we’ve got someone who’s so incompetent and with such a large ego, and who can outright call bullshit and #FakeNews to whatever he wants. That’s an example he’s setting to a lot of people and, look, if we’re going down that route then we’re all fucked,” says Jordan, offering up his own brutally honest take on the current state of politics across the pond.

mount-everest-highest-mountain-in-the-world

Jordan Romero climbed Mount Everest when he was just 13 years old. Photo via Getty Images.

Ending things on such a bleak note when Jordan’s story is such an uplifting one feels wrong somehow. Weeks later, when putting this piece together, one particularly optimistic response Jordan gives, about midway through our chat, stands out above the rest: “Find your Everest in life,” he tells me, “Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day because if you have the right tools, and the right mindset, you can do anything you want to do.”

Delivered with Jordan’s sunny Californian accent, it feels like a line straight out of a motivational quotes coffee table book; one that wouldn’t look out of place inside a generic landscape image on your mum’s Facebook feed. Said by anyone else it would feel like too much of a cliche. In the case of Jordan, however, a man who accomplished so much so young and who is insanely modest about it all to boot, I can’t help but warm to its underlying message that age is just a number and that no adventure is impossible – especially if you’ve got a big imagination and a willing family unit to back you up.

To read the rest of Mpora’s December ‘Family’ Issue head here

You May Also Like:

Humans of Everest | A Guide To The Sherpa People And Their Mountaineering Exploits

Everest Climbers | 15 Mountaineering Legends Who Conquered The World’s Highest Mountain

The post Youngest Person To Climb Everest | We Speak To Jordan Romero About Summiting The World’s Highest Mountain When He Was Just 13 appeared first on Mpora.

Youngest Person To Climb Everest | Jordan Romero on Summiting The World’s Highest Mountain at 13

When Jordan Romero was nine, he saw a mural. By 15, he’d conquered all of the Seven Summits.

jordan-romero-youngest-climber-of-everest

You remember being 13. Your first ‘cool’ band t-shirt, your mum buying you industrial quantities of Clearasil on a weekly basis, your lunchtime kickabouts behind the sports hall; you remember it all. Those sleepovers that were all about being the best at Playstation, the tentative steps towards being adequate at bass guitar, your first embarrassing attempt at flirtatious interaction with the opposite sex; it’s all so vivid isn’t it? Now picture that adolescent version of yourself standing on the summit of Everest. Can’t do it, can you? The thought of your pubescent-self atop the world’s highest mountain is just too absurd.

Jordan Romero, now 21, was different. At the unbelievably young age of 13 years, 10 months and 10 days, he made it to Everest’s peak and, in doing so, dramatically rewrote the mountaineering record books. The feat of becoming the youngest person ever to climb the legendary mountain, the previous record holder had been a comparatively ancient 15, led to an explosion of media coverage; thrusting Jordan, and his climbing family, under the brightest of spotlights.

“My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round.”

“Getting to the summit of Everest was such a surreal moment, man. I really couldn’t believe it. I was so mind-blown at the fact I was standing on top of it. It was just something that… I guess I had never been so present in the moment,” Jordan tells us via Skype.

Achieving something so impressive at such a young age would, you might think, have led to a unanimously positive reaction from observers. However, in perhaps the most extreme example of that famous old saying ‘you can’t please everyone’, there were critics who spoke out against Jordan and the adults in his life for taking a 13-year old up a mountain that, at the time of his ascent, had already claimed the lives of 217 climbers. Since 2010, this number has increased to 290.

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Screenshot of Jordan Romero’s appearance on an American talk show in 2010 (via CBS | YouTube).

“There was a lot of criticism going on about it. There were a lot of misguided assumptions that we were climbing for the wrong reasons, that we were this super rich family doing this. But, you know, we had to do a lot of crowdsourcing, and fundraising, and financing in order to make it happen. When we said we were from a small town in California, we were being honest. We were just people who wanted to travel, see the world, and experience life,” Jordan says, before adding, “My parents didn’t drag me up the mountain. If anything, it was the other way round.”

It’s worth stressing at this point that Jordan isn’t just the youngest person in history to climb Everest. He’s also the youngest person in history to conquer all of the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents). Alongside his dad (Paul Romero) and his dad’s then-partner Karen Lundgren, Jordan began ticking them off in July 2006, aged 10, when he made it to the top of Kilimanjaro – Africa’s highest mountain. He completed the collection five years later when, aged 15 years, 5 months, and 12 days, he made it to the top of Antarctica’s Vinson Massif.

“In terms of moody teenage strops, I won’t deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head…”

I picture myself climbing big mountains at that age and can easily imagine myself shouting at my parents and storming off to my tent at the slightest provocation. Surely, considering Jordan’s age at the time and the stresses he was under, there must have been some classic ‘Kevin and Perry’ type rages along the way?

“In terms of moody teenage strops, I won’t deny that I had some really frustrating moments in my head, but I never wanted to burden anyone else with my emotions. I did my best to focus on the big picture and how lucky I was to travel to these incredible locations,” Jordan says, revealing a maturity level that I, even as a full-grown adult, have yet to reach.

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Picture taken in Moab. Photo: John Dalpiaz.

I was curious to know what, if it wasn’t his parents’ influence, planted the seed of inspiration in Jordan’s mind and led him to tackling the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents before he was old enough to legally buy alcohol or drive a car.

“I don’t know if there was one single moment but this whole thing started when I was nine. I came across a mural of the Seven Summits at my school, and I was just so fascinated by it. There was a chart, and each mountain was labelled with the elevation, the continent this mountain was on, and the name of it. It just totally captured my attention and I guess you could say that was when I was dove into mountaineering head first,” reflects Jordan.

You could be forgiven for thinking, without meeting him and considering all that he’s achieved, that Jordan would be a bit full of himself. I can report though that this is definitely not the case. It’s clear, virtually right from the off, that he’s humble enough to acknowledge how important the support of his family has been.

“So, I climbed with my Dad and his long-term girlfriend. They never actually ended up getting married, but we did every single one of them together and I’m so grateful for that every day. To this day, my Dad, Karen, and my biological Mum are still killing it in life. They’re huge inspirations to me,” Jordan says.

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Shot of Jordan and his Dad up on Vinson. Photo: Karen Lundgren.

“After doing the Seven Summits, we had plans to do the adventure grand slam. Trek to the South Pole and the North Pole to see if I could be the youngest person to do that but Karen and my Dad were splitting up, and yeah that was tough to take. Karen was just such an essential backbone to our expeditions and without her nothing was really able to evolve or be followed through on. She was all about the logistics, and the finances, and you know the stuff to actually make it happen. Looking back, I really should have kept that momentum going,” Jordan tells me, when I ask him about what came after.

With his Dad now living in Hawaii, where he runs his own business, and Jordan studying Environmental Studies and Economics in Utah, it can seem from the outside looking in that this young record-holder has put the big mountain climbs very much on the backburner. Now a passionate skier, and with university studies to think of, is Jordan itching to get the band back together and summit again with the man who’s been with him since the very beginning? And, if so, would his Dad be up for it?

“Absolutely. He definitely would. I really do miss climbing with him. He was super knowledgeable about stuff. You know, he was really so good at critical decision making. My Dad was a vital component of the team. Being there. Planning stuff. Strategising what to do and when to summit the mountain. Right now, my university schedule is a little more on the priority list but hell man if we had some plane tickets to go to Nepal tomorrow for an expedition, I know I’d do it in a heartbeat and I’m sure he would too,” Jordan says.

“Find your Everest in life. Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day…”

Because of Jordan’s area of academic interest, coupled with the fact he’s American, our conversation inevitably drifts towards environmental concerns and the actions of climate change-denying President Donald J. Trump.

“Climate change is something I’ve seen first hand by going all round the world. And going to Mount Kilimanjaro and going to Indonesia, where we’re climbing next to the world’s largest gold and copper mine which is just the worst polluting source. In that area, it’s just absolutely devastating a lot of the local communities and indigenous people so there’s a lot of environmental injustices that I’ve seen first hand.

“With Trump in office, I could only imagine how scary it must be from an outside perspective. Maybe you’ve heard this but it was the U.S, Syria, and Nicaragua that were the three countries that weren’t on the Paris Climate Agreement when it was announced that we were pulling out of it. Then, Syria and Nicaragua became a part of it so now we’re the only country in the world that aren’t on board with it.

“For me, Trump is just too much of liability. Honestly, I wouldn’t care if we had a Republican President right now. But the fact that we’ve got someone who’s so incompetent and with such a large ego, and who can outright call bullshit and #FakeNews to whatever he wants. That’s an example he’s setting to a lot of people and, look, if we’re going down that route then we’re all fucked,” says Jordan, offering up his own brutally honest take on the current state of politics across the pond.

mount-everest-highest-mountain-in-the-world

Jordan Romero climbed Mount Everest when he was just 13 years old. Photo via Getty Images.

Ending things on such a bleak note when Jordan’s story is such an uplifting one feels wrong somehow. Weeks later, when putting this piece together, one particularly optimistic response Jordan gives, about midway through our chat, stands out above the rest: “Find your Everest in life,” he tells me, “Find that passion that gets you out of bed every day because if you have the right tools, and the right mindset, you can do anything you want to do.”

Delivered with Jordan’s sunny Californian accent, it feels like a line straight out of a motivational quotes coffee table book; one that wouldn’t look out of place inside a generic landscape image on your mum’s Facebook feed. Said by anyone else it would feel like too much of a cliche. In the case of Jordan, however, a man who accomplished so much so young and who is insanely modest about it all to boot, I can’t help but warm to its underlying message that age is just a number and that no adventure is impossible – especially if you’ve got a big imagination and a willing family unit to back you up.

To read the rest of Mpora’s December ‘Family’ Issue head here

You May Also Like:

Humans of Everest | A Guide To The Sherpa People And Their Mountaineering Exploits

Everest Climbers | 15 Mountaineering Legends Who Conquered The World’s Highest Mountain

The post Youngest Person To Climb Everest | Jordan Romero on Summiting The World’s Highest Mountain at 13 appeared first on Mpora.

Here’s What Happens When You Put A Tree Log Into A Hydraulic Press

There really is a tree-mendous amount of force on show in this video (sorry, that was awful)

tree-log-vs-hydraulic-press

Screenshot: YouTube (via Hydraulic Press Channel)

As writers for an action sports and adventure website, we tend to spend a lot of time outside. Now, we’re not sure when the last time you went outside was but maybe you remember something called trees. Ah, yes. Trees. Big old wooden things, with leaves, and branches, and birds nesting them in. Trees.

If you’re like us, maybe you’ve looked at a tree before and thought: “I wonder. I wonder what would win in a fight between a tree, and a hydraulic press? I wonder what would win that fight?.” Of course, if you’re looking purely at the hydraulic press’s track record of crushing literally everything – you’d have to back it. But what if? What if the tree could somehow – I’ll stop you there. The hydraulic press annihilates it.

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Here’s What Happens When You Put Mountain Bike Suspension Forks In A Hydraulic Press

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The post Here’s What Happens When You Put A Tree Log Into A Hydraulic Press appeared first on Mpora.