12-Year-Old Climbs for Conservation

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World's youngest ski patroller? Taylor Justice on the job at Aspen. Photo: Taylor Justice

There are
overachievers, and then there is Taylor Justice. The 12-year-old
skier/climber/straight-A student started shredding double-black diamond chutes
when she was eight. Three years later, she joined the Junior Ski Patrol at
Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain. Earlier this year, she rescued a man who’d
fallen 30 feet into a ravine on Peru’s Inca Trail, fashioned splints for his
broken wrists out of cardboard boxes, and helped him to safety. And later this
month, she’ll climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money and awareness for critically
endangered black rhinos.

It’s
enough to give even the most accomplished adventurer a serious complex.

Taylor,
who’s in seventh grade, lives most of the year in Middleburg, Virginia, a tony, horsey outpost in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But come ski season and summer, she and her family decamp to
Aspen, where Taylor learned to ski when she was two. She was hiking by four and
made her first ascent of Aspen Mountain when she was six. Now she’s plotting
her Kili climb, and eyeballing Colorado’s 14ers, peaks in Chile, and as she says,
“One day Everest!”

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Such great heights: Taylor Justice in Peru. Photo: Taylor Justice

“Taylor
is just a born athlete,” says her mother, Whitney Justice. “She started
climbing as a baby on my back, and picked up skiing instantly. Then one day we
were getting off the chairlift and Taylor saw the ski patrol shack. She said, 'Mom, I want to work there some day.' I told her to march right in
and ask if there was anything she could do to help out. The patrollers took her
under their wing and I lost my ski buddy!"

Late this month, Taylor will join Climb for Conservation, a group of 12 female
climbers, on an ascent of
19,341-foot Kilimanjaro. The group, nicknamed the Green Girls, was founded in
2010 by Ginna Kelly, an Aspen-based environmental lawyer, eco-model, and TV
host. “I saw all my friends travel around the world to hike and ski, and I
thought, Why not climb for a good cause?" explains Kelly. "Why not climb for more than just
a selfish pursuit to conquer the mountain?” The Green Girls are an eclectic bunch, including ice scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center Julienne Stroeve and eco blogger Vanessa Meier, creator of the "Green Girl Next Door." Mariel Hemingway, actor, activist, and granddaughter of Ernest, was on the roster, too, but had to withdraw to work on a film.

Kilimanjaro
is the group’s kick-off climb, and each climber will pay her own way and raise
$10,000 for the cause. Except Taylor. She’s committed to raising $19,341—a
dollar per foot of the mountain’s elevation—to protect the black rhino, which
lives just outside the park. Listed as critically endangered, the
rhino numbers around 4,000 in sub-Saharan Africa, with poaching at a 15-year high. “The elephants have gotten a lot of attention
recently,” says Kelly, “but the rhinos, not so much. We want the world to know
that in 13 years the rhino may be extinct in the wild due to poaching.”

The money
raised by Climb for Conservation will help rebuild fence posts at the Mkomazi
Rhino Sanctuary
and fund Rafiki wa Faru, an
educational initiative for school-aged African children that teaches the importance of wildlife and environmental conservation.
More than 1,000 children from 35 schools have gone through the program. An Outside Television crew will film the climb for an educational documentary.

It’s a great cause, but one can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t
add up to too much for a 12-year-old girl in middle school. No one was more
skeptical at first than Taylor’s own mom. 
Says Whitney: “I do not push Taylor. In fact I
told her doing Kili at 12 and missing school was too much. I said no to the
trip. She begged me until I gave in. When things start piling up for her, I
take her cell phone away. Teenage texting is time consuming!”

As for
Taylor, she seems content to juggle it all. “I’m lucky to have a school principal who
is supportive of my climbing. He has really helped to structure my schoolwork
so I can stay current and do my climbs,” says Taylor. So what does have her
worried? “Altitude. It will be my only enemy.”

To learn
more about Climb for Conservation or to contribute to Taylor’s climb, go to www.climbforconservation.org and www.taylorclimbs.org.

—Katie
Arnold
@raisingrippers

Filed To: Adventure / Athletes / Nature / Climbing
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