We're so excited to share the story of John T. Hoggard High School sophomore River Savante, who hopes to become the youngest woman ever to summit Mount Everest next spring.
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When you’ve stood near the top of the world at age 15, where do you go from there?
For Hoggard sophomore River Savante, the answer is up.
In October, River trekked to the Mount Everest base camp in Nepal, a 12-day journey that ended nearly 18,000 feet above sea level.
Her goal is to summit the world’s tallest mountain next April when she’s 16; if successful, she will be the youngest woman on record to reach that peak.
River has been raised to be a global adventurer by her mom, Crystal Blue, a cultural anthropologist who leads adventure tours around the world and has always brought River along for the ride.
By age nine, when most kids are content climbing playground equipment, she had already completed a 10-day trek to Annapurna base camp in Nepal.
“Everest was my biggest trek so far,” she said recently in the Hoggard courtyard, wearing a puffer vest and looking like she had just come down the mountain. ”I didn’t really train. I should have,” she laughed, “but I didn’t.”
On this excursion Crystal wasn’t able to attend, so River acted as a guide alongside her godmother for travelers from Scotland, England, Norway and the U.S. who had signed on for the trip through her mom’s company.
It was a rocky start when the flight that would have taken them to their starting point was canceled because of a monsoon, so the group had to hike for three extra days from Kathmandu just to get to where they would have begun.
The trip took them on a well-worn trail through small sherpa villages with extraordinary views of alpine forests, cascading waterfalls, and glacial rivers. As the trek progressed the landscape became increasingly rugged and remote, with the trail ascending steeply through rocky terrain and crossing high-altitude passes. Eventually, they reached the base camp itself, where the massive mountain rose up before them, its snow-capped peak towering above the surrounding landscape.
“It’s a physical challenge for sure, but it’s definitely more of an emotional journey,” River said. “The Himalayas is where everyone changes.”
Type A travelers who at the beginning of the trip needed to double-check every detail of the itinerary, by the end were in a state of zen, she said.
The doubts she had about herself — that she should have worked out more, that she wouldn’t be able to keep up — dissipated into the thin mountain air.
“You can’t think ahead, you can’t think about the past, you have to be right there,” she said. “If you get distracted you could fall off a mountain or into a crevasse, but also it is just the most magical and spiritual experience I’ve ever had in my life. You’re a little human being on this mountain, just focusing on where to step next, and it’s so freeing. It’s just you and the mountain, and that’s all that matters in that moment.”
As soon as she could after base camp, she called her mom to tell her she had made it. Crystal burst into tears.
“You made it to the top of the world without me, at age 15,” she said. “Literally nothing on the planet could make me feel more proud than I do right now.”
Back in Wilmington, Crystal was seeing photos on Facebook of River’s classmates at Hoggard getting ready for Homecoming while River was on her expedition in Nepal.
“River has been raised for this since age five,” she said later. “She is so strong. She is so grateful. She is so powerful. Foregoing comforts and luxuries for basics and realities. Foregoing her cozy queen princess bed with pink sheets for mom’s -30 degree blue North Face sleeping bag, to sleep at -20 degrees, on a raised plank board. Foregoing dance heels for Keen boots. Foregoing dance moves for climbing steep rocky inclines. Foregoing a shiny dress for a north face puffer.”
River said she’s not immune to teenage insecurities, but the experience fundamentally changed her and how she viewed what she was capable of.
“Like so many people, I used to be critical of my body. After doing that I was like, ‘These legs got me to Everest Base Camp.’ I felt so much more love for myself, my body, my mind, my spirit,” she said. “I felt light. I felt like I was floating when we ended the trip.”
On the flight back to Kathmandu she leaned her forehead against the plane window and saw all the trails she had traversed on her journey, little veins etched into the landscape. Base camp would be her first milestone, she decided then.
Next year she’ll reach the summit.
She plans to shift to New Hanover County Schools’ online program and relocate to Nepal for mountaineering training on crevices and glaciers, summiting several other Himalayan mountains before tackling Everest in April.
The idea of breaking a world record is exciting, she admits, but what motivates her is doing it for herself.
After all, in the end, it’s just her and the mountain.
“I’ll be doing it to prove to myself that I can push my body and push my mind and achieve that goal and do it,” she said. “It’s the raw thought of doing it for myself and proving to myself that I am stronger than I think.”