Taras Genet is like any other 12-year-old, except that he climbs mountains. Big ones.
Last week, Taras became the youngest person to reach the summit of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak. Only about half the estimated 1,000 climbers who attempt the climb each season reach the top.The soft-spoken, slightly built eighth-grader became something of a folk hero after descending the mountain with six team members, all adults, last weekend.
"Why's everybody saying that - my head's getting bigger?" Taras asked this week during an interview in Anchorage as he gulped hot cocoa and gobbled French toast.
A waitress, overhearing talk of Taras' climb, approached the table.
"Hey, dude! All right!" she said. "I read about you. I said, `Stud!' "
Climbing McKinley has been a long-held goal for the boy who sports hot pink sunglasses and likes to ride dirt bikes when he isn't scaling mountains.
The snow-covered peak is in plain view of the home Taras shares with his mother, Kathy Sullivan, and younger brother, Adrian, in the tiny village of Talkeetna. In the summer, climbers from around the world meet in Talkeetna on their way up or down the mountain.
"All my life I've been thinking about it," Taras said.
Taras' father, famed Alaska mountaineering guide Ray Genet, died climbing Mount Everest in 1979. Taras, then a toddler, was with his mother at an Everest base camp when his father died.
What would Genet think of his son's feat? "He'd be happy," Taras said.
Taras and his team encountered a few problems during their climb.
Five feet of snow fell during the expedition's first week, and they were snowbound in tents for five days at 16,000 feet. Taras read a book about climbing the Matterhorn.
"We had food fights in the tent and used baby powder for food," said Jose Bouza, assistant team leader and one of Taras' tent mates. Taras also lost a filling from a tooth. But a dentist climbing with another group cemented it back in.
After hiking and skiing for 17 days, the team reached the summit on June 21.
"I felt really like I was accomplishing something. I felt really good. Every day we went higher and higher and got closer to the summit," Taras said.