PHOTO SUBMITTED / Miranda (from left), Kirk and Saylor pose by the monument put there by the U.S. Department of the Interior, marking the apex of Mount Whitney in California at 14,505 feet.
PHOTO SUBMITTED / Miranda (from left), Kirk and Saylor pose by the monument put there by the U.S. Department of the Interior, marking the apex of Mount Whitney in California at 14,505 feet.

Getting Vertical: Mississippi girl conquers highest mountain in contiguous U.S.

Published 2:00am Saturday, January 18, 2014

Coming of age ordeals are common in cultures around the world. They prepare young teens psychologically for their transition into adulthood. But, such practices are not so common here in the American south – unless you count being painted on the face with first deer’s blood. And, the ordeals are not typically for girls either – though Mississippi girls in the 21st century are showing everyone they can get the same stripes as the boys with just as much ease.

Saylor Paige Smith of Brookhaven is one such fearless Mississippi girl who showed she wasn’t scared of getting vertical in the wild west of California for her “13-year-old challenge” when she climbed Mount Whitney, the highest elevation in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet.

“I admit, it did make me feel really special,” the Brookhaven teenager said. “Most Mississippi kids never get to see mountains like this. But, it was an incredible amount of work getting up there. Then when you see that incredible view. It was worth it, and I knew none of my friends at school had seen anything like this. And, I liked the adrenaline of being that high up.”

When Saylor was about to turn 13, she was asked by her parents, Kirk and Miranda Smith, what she wanted to do as her “13-year-old challenge.”

Their 11-year old son Haddon, “Haddie,” said he will go through an ordeal, too, but hasn’t decided what his will be yet. Kirk and Miranda explained that this challenge was to serve as Saylor’s initiation into the adult world – a coming of age ordeal that would help Saylor put life in perspective and transition into being a young adult.

“The point of the challenge was for it to be a kind of coming of age experience,” Kirk Smith said. “There was the element of danger, a person could certainly get killed on a trip like that, but we did quite a bit of training with the kids before we went on the Whitney trip. Saylor had to learn how to plan and be responsible for her own safety and know what to carry in her back pack.”

The family made several local jaunts to nearby hiking trails in Mount Zion and Clear Springs in Franklin County to get used to carrying back packs that could weigh up to 70 pounds. They taught Saylor how to climb the vertical mountain walls in “The Chimney Tops” of the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

Miranda said she and Kirk had climbed mountains several times together and had always wanted to take the kids and share the experiences they say are good training in personal perseverance and confidence.

“Beyond that,” she said, “these beautiful places inspire a sense of awe and wonder about the world.”

Kirk and Miranda have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Whitney in California and Mount Rainier in Washington State. They say their next mountain to climb – which will be as a family – is Mount Shasta at the southern end of the Cascade Range in California.

This climb up Whitney included Haddie and an uncle who stayed at a camp at 12,000 feet, while Saylor and her parents made the rest of the trip. Saylor said she stayed vertical during most of the last leg of the trip.

“That last day was the hardest,” she said. “It was a really long day.”

Saylor described how the trek gave her confidence in her own abilities.

“I was so exhausted when we got to the top that I couldn’t really take in the glory of the moment,” she said, “but that night, after we had gotten back to Outpost Camp, I realized what an amazing accomplishment it was for me, considering I’ve never even climbed a mountain before that.

“I realized that I could do so much more than I ever realized, and it gave me a lot of confidence. I also realized I hadn’t used my phone in almost a week – That’s a record for me! – But it was the most amazing feeling when I realized what I did.

“It’s so great because you are just focused on your climb and everything you need in the world is on your back,” she said.

“And, we are Christians,” Saylor said. “That’s pretty important to us, and when you’re up there, you look around and see how beautiful it is, it really brings you closer to God and to the wonder of his creation.”