Do you share your passion for adventure with your children? Longtime Ultimate Direction Ambassador Thomas Reiss is recently back from summiting Mount Kilimanjaro with his 12-year-old son, Luke. In this interview we ask both father and son how to prepare for and execute a big adventure together. What does training consist of? What are some tips for getting along together through adversity? Read it all here.
Leave a comment if you have additional advice for parents and their kids.
You recently summited Mount Kilimanjaro; what was the genesis of this project?
Thomas: I got into mountains (besides running ultras) with backcountry hiking a few years ago to have another thing to share with my kids (Dylan, 14 and Luke, 12). After several multi-day backcountry trips in California we got more into bigger mountains. Luke is fascinated with the 7 summits, so we thought it would be fun to do one of them and see what we think.
Luke: I always loved running on trails/track and running in general and anything to do with the outdoors and when my dad introduced backpacking to me a few years ago I loved it. I always wanted to accomplish more and so I started to broaden my horizon and in 2017 we went to Mount Everest Base Camp. I loved the diversity of a new country and decided I wanted more and so we decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro as my first of the 7 summits.
What was involved in the preparation; what was the most challenging detail our audience could learn from?
Thomas: We kept up our usual running training. Luke runs about 15-20 miles per week during the season and runs track and cross country at his middle school. The most challenging aspect was coordinating it with our family Christmas plans and school; we already had all the needed immunizations from our Everest Base Camp trip in Nepal earlier in the year.
Luke: For me the most challenging part was to coordinate the trip with my school, I missed one week of school and had a lot of work that I had to make up before and after the trip.
what was it like bringINg someone that young along on a high altitude objective?
Thomas: It was amazing to accomplish this together. He has done many things like this before (like Mount Baker, Everest Base Camp, multi-day backpacking trips in the Sierras) but you never know with high altitude. This was the highest either one of us has been but his oxygen levels where great even better than mine almost every day. We never had less than 88/89% even at base camp at 15,300 feet the night of the summit climb. Adults tend to overthink things; kids don’t really do that.
Luke: This is the highest I have ever been but I am very active and run a lot so I felt I was well prepared fitness wise but with elevation you can never know how you will react.
Were people skeptical that he would be able to accomplish it with you?
Thomas: I don’t think so. Our friends and family have learned by now that if he wants to do it he will. I got a little nervous during the summit attempt since we had way more snow than usual and it was a complete white out with 30 mile winds and temps down in the low teens. But he never doubted us making it to the summit.
Luke: Nobody was skeptical of me making it. Afterwards on the way down our guide told us that our porters were very skeptical of me making it but they were very happy when they found out I did make it.
How is it for you, a dad, to be adventuring with someone less strong or experienced than you in high mountains? Is it frustrating at times?
Thomas: Very seldom is it frustrating. As far as experience level we are roughly the same, of course I am stronger physically, but sometimes I think his naivety helps mentally. On this trip I had plenty of times where I was thinking the weather (rain/hail/snow) sucks and he would be just, “whatever, no big deal, it’s raining.”
Luke: Kids are stronger than people think. I believe that just because someone is older and maybe physically more fit than you that doesn’t mean they want it more, and that is what matters most.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL OTHER PARENTS ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO CHASE BIG GOALS WITH A YOUNG KID?
Thomas: I learned from both of my kids that they are more able to do things than we give them credit. As long as it is safe–and they have the desire to do it–the sky is the limit.
Luke: As a kid climbing these mountains, I believe that it has most to do with you wanting it. A lot of parents push kids too far to do things that they do not want to accomplish.
WHAT IS NEXT?
Thomas: Mount Elbrus. We just started planning our trip for this summer. The cool thing about my son Luke is that he really enjoys the cultural aspect of meeting locals and immersing himself in the local culture. He always makes friends with the guides and porters and stays in touch with some afterwards.
Here is a list of Thomas and Luke’s impressive mountain resume.
- Multi-day trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail (age 9)
- Multi-day trip in Yosemite with summit before sunrise of Half Dome (age 10)
- Multi-day trip in Yosemite with summit of Half Dome (age 11)
- Multi-day trip on the Tahoe Rim Trail (age 11)
- Multi-day trip in the Sierra Nevada High Country with 12k/13k passes
- Mt. Whitney (14,508) summit (age 11)
- 3 week Nepal trek with 2 nights at Mt. Everest Base camp at 17,500 feet; highest point on the trek was about 18k (age 12)
- Multi day trip at Mt. Baker (10,781 feet) in Washington with a 10 hour summit climb, 10 hours in Crampons, rope and ice axe over the Easton Glacier. (age 12)
- Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, (19,341 feet) (age 12)