Climb for a Cause: Justice (second row, arm raised) and the rest of her crew atop Africa’s highest peak.

Things were going poorly when Taylor Justice arrived on the scene of the accident. Justice was descending 15,230-foot Salkantay Pass in the Peruvian Andes last year, when she came upon a man in her hiking party who had stumbled and fallen down a 35-foot embankment into a river. The man was bleeding from a healthy gash on his forehead, but his wrists took the brunt of the fall: one was dislocated, the other had a compound fracture with the bone poking through the skin. The man was screaming in pain, his hiking partner was incapacitated by shock, and the porters and cooks on the scene were at a loss for what to do. But Taylor sprang into action.

She used a t-shirt to stop the bleeding from the head wound and a water bottle and towels to clean the wrist. In fluent Spanish, she instructed the cooks on how to make a splint from some cardboard and to unlace their shoes, using the laces to secure it to the man’s wrists. She lined up the men to stand across from each other and form a back brace with their arms for transport. The injured man was hauled out to safety thanks to Taylor, but here’s the twist: Taylor was only 12-years-old.

Now 13, Taylor appears to be the typical American teenager. The seventh grader from Middlesburg, Va., likes sports, hanging out with friends, and bubbles with the energy reserved for the young; she is small, almost fragile looking in street clothes, wears braces, and is on the honor roll.

Taylor has been on skis since she was two years old, spending winters and holidays in Aspen honing her skills. When a good family friend died while skiing on Mount Sopris in 2008, Taylor turned grief into motivation to help others. She walked into a ski patrol shack at Buttermilk Mountain and asked if she could tag along for the day. Soon she was being asked back, and became a member of the Junior Ski Patrol.

“I love helping people no matter where I am,” she says. “The fact that I get to ski and help people, I love it.”

Soon after, Taylor joined a climb of Africa’s highest peak, 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, with a group of women to raise money for the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary.

“Taylor is definitely one of the most amazing young women I have ever met,” says Ginna Kelly, founder of Climb for Conservation and organizer of the expedition. “She is so motivated to climb mountains and do good in the world. She is really a committed conservationist at such a young age.”

Taylor was committed, but her mother balked at first. After months of begging, mom finally relented and even signed on for the trip, too. Taylor dove in head first, making a commitment to helping save the endangered Black Rhino, predicted to go extinct in the wild by 2025. The trip raised over $30,000.

She and her mother—and 13 other women—reached the top of Kilminjaro in November. Taylor had to be held down at the summit as high winds threatened to literally blow her off the mountain, and she was slowed by an altitude headache, but never lost sight of the ultimate goal.

“That’s probably the scariest part: when you think you can’t make it,” she says. “I didn’t think I could make it. I had 10 feet to go to the top, but I kept stopping every two seconds, I had to sit down and stretch.”

The Kilimanjaro climb not only opened Taylor’s eyes to how big of an impact women can make on the world, but also the lives of those who may not have the modern luxuries we are used to.

“Here in America, we take running water for granted,” she says. “I turn a knob and water comes out. There, they have to walk miles to get their water, boil it to make it clean. I saw 10-year-old kids carrying water on their heads. It was really amazing. It was impressive how strong they were.”

“I think most young kids nowadays have grown up being more aware of climate change and all the environmental issues going on around the world,” said Kelly. “I think most kids are concerned about it and want to do something about it. Taylor is really a perfect example of that.”

Taylor is already angling for a spot in Climb for Conservation’s planned treks to Machu Picchu and Mount Everest basecamp. Most 13-year-old girls don’t dream of one day climbing the world’s highest mountain, but Taylor says Everest is her ultimate goal.

“Everest is the highest mountain in the world so it’s really intimidating, but also it’s a great challenge,” says Taylor.

Taylor has been getting a lot of attention for her various experiences and conservation efforts, and it would be easy to get a big head during the process. Her desire to help and inspire people, no matter the situation, keeps her grounded. Taylor counts her blessings and is aware she is leading a unique life.

“Some people won’t do in their entire lifetime what I’m doing now,” she says. “I’m not waiting to live my dreams.”

Read more about Taylor and her expeditions on her website, taylorclimbs.org

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