A dream fulfilled: Checking in on an aspiring mountaineer, 10 years later

Tents dot the second camp on the slopes of Ama Dublam, a 22,349 foot Himalayan peak that Claremont High School graduate Jakob Vanderaa climbed in October. Photo/by Octavio Salazar

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

When the Courier first met Jakob Vanderaa in 2013 he was an aspiring 12-year-old mountaineer who had conquered all of the tallest peaks in Southern California and set his sights on Mount Whitney, which at 14,505 feet, is the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.

“With the completion of a recent backpacking trip, Jakob became one of the youngest climbers to complete southern California’s trio of big peaks — Mt. Baldy, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, which he completed over the holidays,” the Courier’s Beth Jaeger reported in 2013. “Just three years after he began his climbing career, Jakob’s grand total now comes to 103,619 feet of vertical climbing, plus over 135 miles in the dust behind him.”

Jacob Vanderaa is now a 22-year-old college graduate who has indeed achieved his childhood dream of conquering great mountains. The 2019 Claremont High grad most recently summited Ama Dablam a 22,349 foot peak in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal.

“He was doing a lot of hiking and climbing back then, a lot more than your normal 12-year-old,” said Jim Vanderaa, Jakob’s father. “So I thought that after Jakob tackled this big mountain in the fall it would be a fun follow up” story.


2019 Claremont High School graduate Jakob Vanderaa pictured in October with the Himalayan mountain Ama Dublam in the background. He would later summit the 22,349 foot peak. Photo/courtesy of Jakob Vanderaa


Father and son have become partners in adventuring, including an expedition to Peru in August 2022 where they tackled the 18,143 foot Nevado Ishinca and 18,871 foot Nevado Pisco, in the Cordillera Blanco range.

“I was doing these expeditions solo but when my son got to an appropriate age we made our first big trip to Peru,” Jim Vanderaa said.

The pair started out in the town of Huaraz at 10,000 feet and took a jeep up some “terrible roads” to access the trailhead at 12,000 feet. From there they climbed Ishinca and Pisco, which are just a few miles apart.

Their next adventure took place in December 2022 when they climbed the 20,507-foot Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador.

“I had been to Ecuador in 2016 alone and had done some peaks, but I failed on Chimborazo, which was my personal goal to reach 20,000 feet,” Jim Vanderaa said. “So Jakob said, ‘Come on let’s go try it again.’”

They described the ascent as “Alpine climbing,” with some blue ice and numerous crevasses to navigate. It took two days, with the pair camping out on the mountainside the first. The next day they made the summit then descended to the base camp.

“It will be one year next week that we made the 20,000-foot mark,” Jim Vanderaa said. “That is what we wanted to do and thanks to Jakob pushing me, we went and tried it again and it felt good to reach it the second time.”

The journey to Nepal was a graduation present Jakob Vanderaa gave to himself.

Plus, Jim Vanderaa said he had done all of the planning of their shared adventures up to this point and the time had come for Jakob to execute a climb on his own.

Jakob Vanderaa climbed Ama Dablam, which is Nepali for “mother’s necklace,” with the same team who had guided the Peru and Ecuador expeditions. They are experienced alpinists he knows and trusts, and climbing Ama Dablam was a shared goal.

Before tackling Ama Dablam, the foursome climbed the 20,007-foot Lobuche as a warm-up.

The ascent of Ama Dablam took three days with rest days at the beginning and end. The mountain includes technical sections of bouldering and ice climbing; however, it has fixed ropes so it’s easy to stay on the recommended route. Camping on the mountain was challenging and Vanderaa spent the second night sleeping on boulders. He skipped the third camp altogether because the ice shelf on which it’s located recently experienced a partial collapse. Plus, the team felt it was possible to summit from the second camp and return to base camp in a single day.

“It was a nervous time …,” Jim Vanderaa said. “This was a far more technical mountain.”


(L-R) Jakob Vanderaa, Jim Vanderaa, and guide Octavio Salazar on the summit of Peru’s Nevado Ishinca in August 2022. Photo/courtesy of Jakob Vanderaa


Jim Vanderaa said all of their mountaineering has been accomplished without the use of supplemental oxygen, which becomes necessary for most climbers at 26,000 feet. He said there are only 14 peaks in the world that require oxygen.

“I like climbing. It’s just a fun thing to do,” Jakob Vanderaa said when asked why he likes mountaineering. “I would say being outside, challenging myself by trying to get as high as possible, and also the people I meet out there.”

One of his guides from Peru, Octavio Salazar, has become a close friend as a result of the experiences they have shared.

“To add to why we climb, it’s the camaraderie and the simplicity,” Jim Vanderaa said. “It’s just you and your gear, and your team. There is no politics, no inequality, everybody is equal on the mountain, all striving for the same goal.”

“Yeah, for sure I would like to do it,” Jakob Vanderaa said when asked if he will attempt to climb the highest peaks in all the seven continents, which includes Mount Everest, the highest place in the world. “First, I would like to go to 8,000 meters, which hopefully I will do next year. And just try to do interesting mountains. But maybe the seven summits.”

“There is an obstacle to doing the seven summits right now,” his father added. “Because one of them is in Russia, which makes it a little more logistically challenging.”


Mountaineers Jim Vanderaa and his son Jakob Vanderaa at their Upland home. In October the younger Vanderaa summited a 22,349 foot peak in the Himalayan mountains. Courier photo/Steven Felschundneff


Jakob Vanderaa has considered perusing mountain climbing as a career but concedes it’s actually more of a hobby: a very expensive hobby. The down jacket and pants that help him weather sub-zero temperatures costs $1,700, and the specialized climbing boots are $1,300. Fortunately, his job at REI Co-op in Rancho Cucamonga comes with a generous employee discount. And, of course, there’s the price of airfare to get halfway around the world.

“Something I want to add that I am proud of, this is not daddy paying for his son to go to places,” Jim Vanderaa said. “He pays everything on his own from working at In-N-Out and now REI.”

Vanderaa played one year of basketball and three years of baseball at CHS. In July he  earned a bachelor’s degree in financial math and stats from UC Santa Barbara.

“I think he learned more during the month in Nepal than four years at UCSB, as far as personal growth and real world learning,” Jim Vanderaa said.


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