Outdoors: 13 and up
Ryan Summerlin November 17, 2012
ASPEN – Taylor Justice is amassing quite a resume. The self-described mountaineer and conservationist is an accomplished skier who spent 34 days volunteering with the Buttermilk patrol last winter – an impressive feat considering she spends the bulk of the year on her family’s horse farm in Middleburg, Va., about 90 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. Much of her free time is spent thumbing through an emergency medical training manual.
This summer, Taylor climbed 15,230-foot Salkantay Pass in the Peruvian Andes – a trek on which she sprung into action to aid a man gravely injured in a 35-foot fall.
Next week, she will embark on another support effort. Taylor will head to Tanzania, where, with actress Mariel Hemingway and a group of women dubbed the Green Girls, she will scale Mount Kilimanjaro to help raise awareness and funds for land, water and wildlife preservation.
She has launched a website and is committed to raising $19,341 – one dollar for every foot to the top of “The Roof Of Africa” – to aid both Climb for Conservation, a charity created by Aspenite Ginna Kelly, and the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary.
“We’re hiking to raise awareness for climate change,” Taylor explained Wednesday. “The snows on Kilimanjaro are rapidly melting, and soon, in about 15 to 20 years, there may be no glaciers there whatsoever. We’re also raising money to save the African black rhino from going extinct. There’s 50 to 100 of them left in Tanzania because of poaching. There used to be thousands.”
It’s an ambitious and laudable pursuit for anyone, let alone a diminutive Blue Ridge Middle School student.
That’s right: Justice is just 13 years old.
“I’m still blown away with everything she does,” her mother, Whitney, gushed. “As a parent, you try and lay out a buffet for your children, whether it’s violin or horseback riding, and expose them to as many extracurriculars as you can. You just never know what they’re going to be into. It could just as easily have been ballet or gymnastics.
“Taylor has always been aware of other people’s feelings and making sure they’re included. She’s just the absolute opposite of a narcissistic child. Even during the early years, when most are self-focused, she was thinking about other people. It doesn’t surprise me that she wants to be a patroller and a nurse. It takes a basic personality trait and puts it into action.”
Taylor, who has been skiing since the age of 2, first expressed an interest in patrolling when she was 10. The desire was prompted by the loss of Lathrop Strang, who perished in a fall on Mount Sopris in April 2008.
Strang, an avid outdoorsman raised on his parents’ cattle ranch on Missouri Heights, fell after only two turns at the top of the Laundry Chutes on Sopris’ eastern side, slid down a steep couloir and cartwheeled over a cliff, according to an article in The Aspen Times.
He was 46.
“I was basically raised on his farm. His parents are like my grandparents,” Taylor said. “I love it there, and he was one of my best friends. When he died, it really touched me. I wanted to become a patroller to help other people.
“I asked one of the patrollers if I could spend a day with them. They kept inviting me back.”
Added Whitney, “They probably thought she would come one day and never be back, but she’s hooked. … It’s a great path for a young lady but an unusual choice. When I dropped her off for a (recent) refresher course, she’s this young girl amongst a sea of older guys. They’re all safety-oriented and have their heads screwed on right, so I’m comfortable with her hanging out with them. They’re all great mentors and role models.”
Taylor has proven to be a quick study.
That became abundantly clear during June’s trip to Peru. Taylor was hiking along the Salkantay River with a small group when, without warning, one man, a lawyer from Denver, slipped and fell 35 feet into the raging water.
“I was the only one there besides his wife, his best friend and the cooks,” she recalled. “The cooks grabbed him and pulled him out of the water. He fell on his hands – he had a compound fracture and the bone was sticking out on one wrist, the other was dislocated, and he had a gash on his forehead.
“I was freaking out at first. Then, I got into patrol mode and thought, ‘We’ve got to get this done.'”
In fluent Spanish, the precocious youngster instructed others to form a backboard with their hands to carry the man to dry land. She then asked cooks to fold a piece of cardboard into a triangle to use as a splint.
She cleaned off the bone and covered the wound, securing the cardboard with shoelaces. She removed her rain jacket and covered the man.
“There was blood everywhere, and everybody was soaking wet,” Taylor said. “I was just trying to keep him warm.”
Whitney, in a group about 20 minutes behind Taylor’s, reached the scene soon after.
“I saw a bunch of fellow hikers standing kind of sheepishly in the corner, and I asked, ‘Is Taylor OK?'” Whitney said. “They told me, ‘She’s fine. She told us to stay over here.’ … I couldn’t believe it. There on the ground was a 50-year-old man who was wailing – and so was his wife – and there was Taylor being as busy as a bee. She was really calm.
“I know she’s really been paying attention and following the patrollers run after run. She comes home every day with a different story about a broken collarbone or a spinal injury. Every day is a great adventure and a learning experience. I’m proud of her for taking the initiative and having the confidence to jump in there, in a foreign country, and take control of the situation.”
The lawyer was successfully transported to a hospital in Cusco.
News of Taylor’s exploits reached the Roaring Fork Valley.
Ski patrollers recently awarded her with a first-aid kit, and she was invited to take part in the Kilimanjaro expedition.
“I originally said ‘no way,'” her mother conceded. “I told her she couldn’t miss that much school, the mountain was too high and she’s not ready. She wouldn’t accept that as an answer. She begged and begged and begged until I agreed to let her go. Of course, I couldn’t let her fly to the other side of the world by herself. It’s her trip, but I will be going with her.”
The Justices joined the Green Girls for August’s American Renewable Energy Day festivities.
Tuesday, they will head to Africa.
“No one (back home) has really got their heads wrapped around this yet – they still think I’m in Colorado patrolling – but they will soon,” Taylor said. “The experience of climbing a 19,000-foot peak and doing it for a great cause is really awesome. It’s going to be really exciting.”
To follow Taylor’s journey, or to donate, visit www.taylorclimbs.com.
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