As the youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro, seven-year-old Ashleen Mandrick may have earned a break but during the summer holidays she just carried on climbing, this time up the Alps. Last month the British schoolgirl ascended 14,440 feet to the Colle del Parrot on Monte Rosa, located on Italy’s border with Switzerland, becoming what is thought to be the youngest person to climb the Alps’ second-highest mountain.
She was joined on the adventure by her brother Nicolas, 12, and her mother Victoria, 46, a doctor. Their original plans to reach Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus, were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Dr Mandrick, who lives with the children in Brighton, said that the ascent was particularly challenging because of the rocky terrain and hidden crevasses. Ashleen added: “It was really amazing. I loved the crevasses. They were so deep I couldn’t even see the bottom. I hoped we didn’t fall into one, it would have been difficult to get out. I loved the whole adventure. The view was amazing, especially Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn in the sunset.” Ashleen and her brother had full climbing gear, including crampons, ice axes, harnesses, ropes and helmets.
Unlike with Kilimanjaro, which she climbed last year, there are no official records regarding climbers for Monte Rosa. However, the climbers and Alpine guides said that Ashleen was the youngest person to scale it.
Dr Mandrick said: “All the climbers and Alpine guides we met on the glacier said that they had never ever seen such young children up there and wanted to know how Ashleen managed to get through the steep rocky parts and ladders in the rock walls, and how she managed to walk on the glacier with the crampons.
“It was a last-minute idea while on holiday in Venice so it was without any specific preparation for the climb. The children did a day of skiing and snowboarding in the Matterhorn glacier area and the following day they took on the challenge. They met many experienced mountaineers and guides on the way who were all amazed to see such young children at such high altitude on Monte Rosa and all congratulated them.
“Ashleen and Nicolas are going back to school this week but are full of ambitious and challenging climbing plans for the future. Ashleen’s dream is to climb the Matterhorn one day and to complete the Seven Summits Challenge, while Nicolas would love to climb Mont Blanc next summer.”
“I loved the crevasses. They were so deep I couldn’t even see the bottom. I hoped we didn’t fall into one, it would have been difficult to get out.”
In addition to being the youngest person to scale 19,340 feet Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania unaided, Ashleen is also the youngest Briton to finish the grueling Everest Base Camp trek, having completed it last December.
The youngest person to have scaled Everest is Jordan Remero, from California, who was just 13 when he reached the summit in 2010. He accomplished the feat with his father and three Sherpa guides. He said that he had intended to do schoolwork during the ascent but had found it all but impossible at the advance base camp, which is at 18,370 feet.
At one point the two Americans and their guides were engulfed in an avalanche that killed a fellow climber and dragged them down the mountainside. After the climb Jordan said that the thing he was most looking forward to was a hot shower.
Betsy Smith, dressed in a tweed jacket and jodhpurs, has the air of an accomplished horsewoman happier in the saddle than on her feet. This has been true of her since before she could walk. Now two, she was first “plonked on a pony” by her mother Georgia Hibberd as a baby and is now the youngest member of her local pony club. Mrs Hibberd said that her daughter had wanted to ride ever since seeing her brother, Arley, six, riding at a club camp. “Even though she was only one, she sat in her buggy kicking her legs and crying that she couldn’t go on a pony,” Mrs Hibberd said. Betsy and Arley are a regular sight on the roads near their home in Calne, Wiltshire.
Mrs Hibberd, a teacher and artist, acknowledged that some parents might be wary of their children standing on a saddle but she liked her children to understand risks and be out in the open air. “We bought our first pony when Arley was 12 months old,” she said. “I had always ridden and really wanted to give my children the opportunity too. He has always liked the horses, but when Betsy came along, she was desperate to get on board.”
She said that both children had received knocks but always wished to return to the saddle. “I will turn around and find her standing up on her pony’s back, she’ll want to ride backwards, and always want to go faster or do what Arley is doing. She has no fear. Arley has started competing in hunter trials, and he’s starting to jump, and Betsy is desperate to be big enough to go with him.”
She said that she had received encouragement after posting a video on social media that showed Betsy singing the nursery rhyme “Wind the Bobbin Up.”“She was so relaxed and happy, it went mad with likes and comments.”
Both children are members of their local pony club, where they and their ponies, Barney and Honey, compete against other children. “The ponies seem a little big for the children now but there is plenty of room for them to grow into them. They are already lifelong friends so it’s nice they will be able to grow up with them. They are young but they still have to do chores. They have miniature wheelbarrows and have to come and poo pick the fields with me. They both really enjoy it though, and they will spend hours grooming and cuddling their ponies.” Her son introduced Barney to his classmates this year when they had a lesson on Zoom.
“Betsy will just want to run up and cuddle any horse she sees — it’s actually quite hard stopping her. But they are both learning so much, and are really quite knowledgeable about horses and how to care for them now, that I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sophie Dalrymple, joint district commissioner of the Tedworth Hunt pony club, said: “We’re thrilled to have Betsy as part of our team. We’ve always had a lot of young members but none quite so young as her.”