Lucy Westlake celebrates becoming the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. (Photo courtesy of Lucy Westlake)
It can be hard to believe that Lucy Westlake once feared heights.
At just 18 years old, a Chicago-area mountaineer on Thursday became the youngest American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest – the world’s highest and arguably the most dangerous mountain at 29,032 feet above sea level.
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It’s the latest record set by Westlake, who still plans to go home in time for her high school graduation on May 22.
In a sport that naturally produces fear, she hopes people will often see how her belief in God drives her.
“I really hope to inspire others to climb their own mountains,” she said recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast, shortly before she left to climb. “I hope they see me as someone who has a lot of faith in God, someone who will go for it and really want to push their limits. That’s kind of my motto that I try to live by – that limits are aware.”
“I hope to inspire this in others as well. They may not be able to do it themselves, but through God they can. When they reach the end of what they think is possible, there is a lot more after that.”
Mountaineering is a sport that, in general, involves different methods of climbing a mountain. It can sometimes involve rock climbing or hiking, but for Westlake, it generally involves glacier climbing that requires ropes and a seat belt, along with studded boots. For mountaineers like Westlake, this also includes climbing with all their gear – tents, sleeping bag, food, and anything else they might need for days at a time.
Westlake began mountain climbing at the age of seven when she was living in Louisville, Kentucky. She said that her parents always had a heart of service to God, leading family mission trips to introduce her and her siblings to what service looked like.
It was on one of those mission trips where someone mentioned that the highest mountain in Kentucky, the Big Black Mountain, wasn’t far from where he was and that they should check it out, if nothing more than a sightseeing opportunity. They climbed to its top and from there they were tied and decided to look for other high points in the neighboring countries.
At the age of 12, Westlake became the youngest woman to reach the top of the highest point in each of the lower 48 states. Last year, I turned 50 after reaching the summit of Mount Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest point at 20,310 feet above sea level — a far cry from the humble 4,145-foot summit of all those years ago. in Kentucky.
It was her second attempt at summing up Denali after the first, when she was just 13, and had to be canceled prematurely when another climber was stranded in a separate group and eventually lost his life. He was just a day away from reaching the summit when her guides were called in to assist in an emergency rescue of the stranded climber.
Evidence was exhausted and a storm was approaching, so the remainder of the climb was called off. She said it was disappointing to learn that factors outside her control led to the climb so abruptly. She is now able to see God’s hand in everything, and this experience has played a huge role in shaping her character as a climber now.
“It was really difficult,” she said. “I wondered if I wanted to continue climbing the mountains. Really, in the end, I didn’t get my point. I kept wrestling with this question. I knew God had given me a gift to climb mountains. I knew it, but I didn’t understand why he gave it to me.
“I finally realized after much thought that I don’t need to understand it. I just need to trust him. That’s kind of where I changed my mind and decided that climbing isn’t really for the top. The summit looks great, but you can’t just go up to the top because you’re going to be very disappointed times.” many “.
She said that this experience helped her better understand God’s plan for her life.
“It’s very hard to see in the short term, but you just have to trust him in all aspects,” she said. “Confidence is really living faith and I hope I can inspire that by climbing. It’s a work in progress. Every mountain I climb, I want to climb to the top, but you just have to trust that if these circumstances arise, if God sends the weather, if I have to turn around This is part of his plan and he will make it for the better.”
It also helped her discover her climbing goal.
Due to her age, the first time she attempted to climb to the top of Mount Denali, she had to show proof of climbing a mountain 18,000 feet or higher in order to be approved for the climb. To do this, she and her father settled on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which she said is one of those mountains that are relatively easy to climb at this altitude.
Westlake had been talking for years with a reporter friend in Uganda who alerted her to the clean water crisis in her village. Westlake was able to visit her on a Tanzania trip and experience how some people live firsthand. Here she developed a heart to advocate for clean water initiatives.
She said most of her climbing trips are now related to helping combat the world’s water crisis in some way. She will attend the University of Southern California in the fall, where she will work cross-country while studying public policy and social entrepreneurship. After graduating from college, she hopes to be influential in the global water and sanitation crisis movement to pass policies that will change the lives of these communities.
She also hopes to become the youngest woman to complete the Explorer’s Grand Tournaments, which include climbing high points on all seven continents. You have now completed the fifth.
Westlake said she hopes others will take inspiration from how she allowed God to push her to her limits, both literally on the mountains but also in her faith.
“When I found my limits, that allowed God to really step in and let me get past them and let his light shine through,” Westlake said. “This is something I really enjoy. It is so much more satisfying than getting to the top – getting to the end of the rope and seeing what God can do through you.”
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