It took a temperature of 34 degrees below zero, but 17-year-old Johnny Collinson finally got cold feet about climbing Mount Everest.
As he thought of all those who turned back while attempting Everest, the Utah teen worried for a fleeting second that his dream to climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents might have ended before it even began.
That was on May 20, when Johnny, who lives at Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon, was in an area known as the Balcony on the South Col Route on his way to the top of the 29,035-foot peak.
"It was super dark and we were stuck behind some people on the ropes. My feet were getting super cold. I felt like they were on the verge of frostbite," said Johnny. "I decided to see if I could make it until the sun came out."
The wait paid off, as Johnny finally made the summit, despite a bottleneck at the Hillary Step, where "people were hanging [on ropes] like Spanish salami and we had to wait."
Johnny said he had dreamed of that day since he was 7. "Coming up to the summit was a culmination of everything I had worked for," said the teen, who returned to Utah on Wednesday after becoming the youngest Westerner to reach the top of Everest. "It was just overwhelming."
But it was no surprise, at least to his family.
Jim and Deb Collinson's first indication came when their son made it to the top of Mount Rainier in Washington at age 4, the youngest to do so.
"He has proved himself to be really comfortable in uncomfortable situations," Deb Collinson said. "He learned at a really young age that it only makes you feel worse when you whine."
High-altitude climber and guide Willie Benegas, a good friend to Collinson, put it this way: "You have to be able to suffer."
A video on the teen's Web site, http://www.johnnycollinson.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.johnnycollinson.com, shows him waking at 5:30 a.m. in Snowbird employee housing where the family lives, loading a backpack with eight gallons of bottled water and jogging to 11,000 feet.
Benegas and his twin brother Damian, who led Johnny up Everest, run Patagonian Brothers Expeditions. They have both worked at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort with Johnny's father, who is assistant director of snow safety, and led other employees on expeditions, including several to Mount Everest.
One of those employees, Dean Cardinale, climbed Everest in 2005 and brought back a rock from the top for Johnny. The rock was quickly turned into a necklace which hasn't left the teenager's neck since. Now, Collinson is providing rocks of his own, one for his older sister, Angel, and one for a good friend.
He plans to collect a rock for himself from the highest points of the world's seven continents and string them together.
He has already knocked off the two highest with Everest and South America's Aconcagua (22,841 feet), which he climbed with Willie Benegas in January. Another part of the dream was to become the youngest person to reach the Seven Summits, but Collinson met another 17-year-old, Johnny Strange of Malibu, Calif, at Everest base camp. He has only has one peak left.
"I got to talk to him a little bit about it. He's three months older, but he will be done at an earlier age than I can probably finish," Collinson said. "But that's OK. I'm not climbing to be the youngest. I want the life experience."
Collinson hasn't given up education. He is working on his high school diploma through an independent study program at Brigham Young University, which he hopes will keep him on course to graduate with his friends at Brighton High School next spring.
The rock collecting is an old habit for Collinson, one that came in handy when his father was trying to compile a list of all the peaks the young man has topped.
"Of all the mountains we have hiked and climbed we never signed a summit register," Jim Collinson said. "But from every mountain, Johnny took a small stone and set it on a shelf at home."
Because Johnny labeled each stone, Jim Collinson was able to make a list of more than 200 Western peaks his son has climbed. Thus far, the Collinsons have paid for Johnny's trips with help from friends and minor sponsorships.
"What an amazing commitment from his parents. Some might consider it a waste of money and prefer to buy a Lamborghini," said Benegas. "The fact they say 'This is what you want to do and we support you' ... well, you just don't see that."
Next on the Seven Summits list is Alaska's Denali, North America's tallest point at 20,320 feet. Johnny leaves June 14 to attempt that summit. Then comes Elbrus in Russia, Africa's Kilimanjaro, the Cartsenz Pyramid in New Guinea and finally, the Vinson Massif in Antarctica.
"You raise your kids to find a passion and you encourage them to follow that," said Deb Collinson. "Sure there is a certain amount of risk, but when your child is doing what they love you really don't want to stand in the way of that. When he went to South America, I did the mommy thing. His inner compassion and intuition carried him through. I realized that obviously he is not afraid. So why should I be?"