Sky is the limit for young climber

Twelve-year-old Jakob Vanderaa is soaring to new heights, and not as a result of his practice with Claremont Youth Basketball, where the local athlete has been training as a point guard for the last several years. His latest venture has taken him significantly higher than any dunk in CYB history.

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. Just 3 years after he began his climbing career, Jakob’s grand total now comes to 103,619 feet of vertical climb, plus over 135 miles in the dust behind him.

And this budding athlete is just getting started.

Jakob continues to hits the trails, biking and hiking, in preparation for his next big climb. Assuming he is chosen from among the lottery of hopefuls selected next month, Jakob plans to take on Mt. Whitney, the continental United States’ highest summit at 14,505 feet, this summer.

“I just enjoy staying active, and spending time together [with my dad],” Jakob said of his love for the sport.

Climbing began as a joint effort, part of cherished father/son bonding time with dad and CYB coach Jim Vanderaa, who took his son’s natural athleticism—his father’s a climber, his mother a fitness instructor at the Claremont Club—to a whole new level with a family climb to the peak of Mt. Baldy when Jakob turned 8.

“I’m the one that pushed him into it. I figured as soon as he was old enough, I was going to try him,” Mr. Vanderaa said. “It was winter and the mountain was snow-capped and I was a little concerned, but man he went up that thing no problem. He was ready to do more.”

Slippery terrain at Devil’s Peak was no deterrent for the avid hiker following in dad’s footsteps.

“It was really cold, but it wasn’t hard,” Jakob insisted.

That first climb was all it took. Jakob now has a collection of climbs in his repertoire. The list includes climbs up Humphreys Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona at 12,633 feet, a hike from the rim down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, Lembert Dome in Yosemite, Angels Landing in Utah, Mono Pass in the Sierra Nevada, Cathedral Rock in Sedona and a backpacking trip into the remote Needles district of Canyonlands National Park.

Now that Jakob has found his footing, Mr. Vanderaa admits he is the one struggling to keep up with his son. In a recent climb up the Grand Canyon, it was all business as Jakob hardly found the time to take a break in his eagerness to get to the top.

“We hiked out in 4 and a half hours,” Jakob said.

“The ranger guidelines say it takes about 8 to 10 hours. We had in our head it would take that long, but he didn’t stop. He never stops,” Mr. Vanderaa laughed. “We stopped once for water and a quick snack, otherwise it was go all the way. He wanted to do it, and it helped that I was carrying all the equipment in my backpack.”

Taking on the physical challenge of climbing has not always been so effortless. It takes a polished work ethic and when not studying, or admittedly taking a break from his schoolwork for a video game, Jakob regularly makes the climb up Claremont’s Wilderness Loop or other nearby trails to get in needed training, along with engaging in practice with CYB or Little League. He acknowledges it takes a certain amount of learned composure, especially on peaks where the elevation makes the job difficult.

“It’s rough,” Jakob admitted, referencing his climb to the peak of San Gorgonio. “Near the top, you really start to feel it.”

He has no problem in balancing the duties. Jakob has finessed the art of juggling school and activity, reaching a perfect 600 in math 3 years in a row on the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exams, a point his father is proud to point out.

Jakob’s next venture up Mt. Whitney, a strenuous venture that takes even the most skilled hikers 12-18 hours to complete, will take a considerable amount of practice and poise. His, father, who has climbed Whitney twice before, has not forgotten the difficulties of the last 2 miles of that climb.

“I was in good shape when I did those mountains, but when you are that high, those last 2 miles are brutal,” Mr. Vanderaa recalled.

But for the young Claremont athlete, with his eyes set on one day climbing a certain famous peak in the Himalayas, consider it a challenge accepted.

“I like the feeling of making it to the top and seeing what I accomplished,” Jakob said.

—Beth Hartnett


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