While many of his classmates will spend their winter holidays at home with family or maybe at best on the ski slopes around Lake Tahoe, nine-year-old Tyler Armstrong has a higher calling.
The Yorba Linda, California native leaves in a few weeks for Argentina, where he plans to become the youngest person in history to summit the Andean peak of Mt. Aconcagua — the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere.
With impressive climbs up the highest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney, and Africa’s highest summit Mt. Kilimanjaro already under his belt, this miniature mountaineer hopes to add one of South America’s most challenging mountains to his already remarkable resume.
"It takes lots and lots of training," Tyler told ABC News. "I had to do ice-climbing training, so if I fall I can stop myself and not slide down the mountain. We're really working on my abs a lot. All the weight from my backpack and all the stuff that I'm carrying goes where your abs are."
Located near Argentina’s border with Chile, the 22,837 ft Aconcagua is considered one of the classic climbs for serious alpinists to complete and is one of the famed Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the seven continents. The snowy peak sits behind only Mt. Everest and its fellow peaks in the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges in height.
Tyler, along with his father Kevin Armstrong, will arrive in Argentina on Dec. 7 and plan to make their ascent starting on Dec. 17, with their summit push timed for between Dec. 26 and Dec. 29, depending on the weather.
One snafu for the Armstrong family is that the minimum age for climbing the mountain is 14, so Tyler will have to appeal to local courts to approve a special hiking permit to climb the mountain. The current record holder for youngest person to summit Aconcagua is Matthew Moniz of Boulder, Colorado, who was 10 years old when he reached the summit on Dec.16, 2008.
To many seasoned mountaineers, compared to Karakorum peaks like K2 and even Siula Grande in neighboring Peru, Aconcagua is considered an easy mountain, but that doesn’t mean it is a safe climb. High altitude sickness and quick weather changes can cause abandonment of a climb, frostbite and even death, while the final ascent is a nasty steep scree or snow slope of approximately 600 vertical feet.
Even the easiest ascent – the Polish Glacier Traverse Route, which the Amrstrong’s will take – saw five climbers die in January of 2009.
Tyler’s father knows the risks that his young son faces on the ascent, but believes that he has the skill to safely make it up and down the mountain.
"As a father I would never put my son in danger," Armstrong said. "There are dangers to climbing any mountain. He's taken the proper training, and he's proven that he can do it."
Tyler’s climb is not just a personal mission either. He is trying to raise funds and awareness for the organization Cure Duchenne, which is looking for a cure to a form of muscular dystrophy that affects 300,000 boys worldwide.
Right now, Tyler appears totally focused on his goal and making it to the top of the Western Hemisphere.
"The most exciting part is going to be reaching the top and having the world record," he said.