After three attempts over six weeks, 7-year-old Eva Luna Harper-Zahn of Berkeley became the youngest girl* known to have climbed Mount Shasta. Eva Luna reached the summit of the 14,180-foot mountain July 4 with her older brother Sun, 10, and her father, Oliver Zahn. To climb the slopes, which are covered in ice and snow, the group carried tools like headlamps, crampons, helmets and ice axes to stop them in case they fell. It’s the second big climb for Eva Luna, who reached the summit of Mount Whitney last summer and plans to do it again at a faster pace. Berkeleyside asked the rising Cornell Elementary third grader some questions about her recent achievement.
What inspired you to get into mountaineering? Climbing Mount Lassen in 2017 with my parents and siblings. It was beautiful being in the snow and seeing the landscape from the top. It was also the first time I saw Mount Shasta in the distance.
Why did you pick Mount Shasta to climb this summer? Because it looked beautiful in the distance and was much higher than Lassen. It is also harder than Whitney, which I climbed last year. I wanted to see the world from the top!
What type of training do you do to prepare for this activity? I hiked Marin Avenue with a heavy backpack twice a week. I also went on two training climbs to Shasta and the area around it with my parents.
Where do you sleep if it’s a multi-day hike? On Shasta, you sleep at 10,400 feet at a place called Helen Lake — which isn’t a lake but is flat and in the snow.
What was the landscape like? Mount Shasta is a beautiful volcano covered in snow and ice. It is gorgeous. At the bottom, there is forest and there are creeks. As you go higher there is more and more snow. Eventually there is snow everywhere.
You described the climb as “The hardest and funnest days of my life!” What is the most challenging thing about mountaineering? I sometimes feel sick at the high elevation, around 11,000 feet. But I always get better above 12,000!
Did you ever feel discouraged when you’re climbing? How do you overcome it? I like sleeping late and, when I have to wake up at 2 a.m. for an alpine start, I’m a little tired and grumpy — but when I start hiking I feel better.
How do you feel about being the youngest girl (we know of) to do these climbs, and how do you hope this will impact other kids? I hope they feel excited about spending more time in nature. California is a beautiful state with many things to do!
Why is it important to you to carve out a space for girls and kids of color in a sport like mountaineering? Because girls can learn just as much about nature and themselves and are just as strong as boys are!
Do you have any tips for people who are getting into climbing? Don’t give up! Be safe! Have fun! If you can’t summit safely and happily the first time, keep coming back and getting to know the mountain until you are ready. It will be worth it.
What was your favorite mountain hike and why? Mount Shasta! Because the view is pretty at the top and we get to slide down!
Do you have any favorite short hikes in Berkeley? I like walking with my family to Indian Rock or Zaytuna College at the very top of Marin Avenue.
Have you thought at all about your next big hike? I want to do Mount Whitney in a day because last time it took us two days.
Eva Luna’s father, Oliver Zahn, shared some additional context at Berkeleyside’s request.
Can you tell us more about the “slide” down Shasta? It’s called “glissading,” which is a glorified term for sliding down on your butt. When the slope is steep enough you don’t need a sled. It’s a bit cold and sometimes slightly painful, but also incredibly fun and rewarding to make it down a slope you spent hours walking up in small and slow steps in just a few minutes. One needs to be prepared to stop the slide with an ice axe which requires special technique so one doesn’t poke oneself with the sharp parts.
When did Eva Luna and Sun first hit the trail with you and A. Breeze Harper? Pretty much from birth we took them out. We went camping with them when they were a few weeks old, and hiking in carriers. We go on family walks several evenings a week in the hills and longer hikes almost every weekend.
How much of Eva Luna’s interest do you think comes from the family’s love of climbing vs. her own? Of course the kids are, to various extents, fascinated by the same things their parents are. I also think there’s something universal to our love of the outdoors and kids just need to be exposed to it to recognize that. It’s unreal and beautiful up there on high mountains and can be addictive. It’s also quite a bonding experience to be in that environment as a family so I think that’s why they like going back too (we went three times this spring and I was actually a little surprised they wanted to go back again and again because it’s quite intense).
Finally, Luna is incredibly competitive and loves the idea of being the first, and to inspire other kids and especially girls and kids of color to go for it. Sun is less competitive but just really enjoys the beauty of the mountains and has zero challenges with altitude so it seems easy for him. He even carried a serious backpack this time. Also adds lots of moral support during moments when his sister isn’t doing so well like during the hardest and steepest part of the climb at 3 a.m. (she is a late sleeper) and feeling the elevation.
*How did you determine that Eva Luna was the youngest girl to make the climb? We relied on what’s reported online, assuming it would get covered if a young kid did it because it requires a lot of preparation and is quite an achievement. The previous record was apparently held by a 9-year-old boy since 2012, going up the easier Clear Creek route. We also heard that a boy from the Shasta area who’s also Luna’s age may have summited around the same time as her and they might now share the record.
Berkeleyside also checked in this week with Nick Meyers, lead climbing ranger at the U.S. Forest Service’s Mount Shasta Station. He told us there are no official records of the youngest climbers to reach the top. According to the East Bay Times, about 10,000 people try to reach the top of Mount Shasta each year, but only half succeed. Of those who do, “only a handful” are younger than 18. Inspired? See USFS tips for climbing the mountain.
For more details about Eva Luna’s Shasta climb, read about it on Facebook. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.