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She Climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan to Rejoice Turning 70

She Climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan to Rejoice Turning 70

She Climbed Yosemite's El Capitan to Celebrate Turning 70

“It’s By no means Too Late” is a collection that tells the tales of people that resolve to pursue their goals on their very own phrases.


In her 40s, Dierdre Wolownick taught herself to swim. In her 50s, she took up operating. Then, at 60, she grew to become a rock climber — and never simply any rock climber. 4 years in the past, at 66, Ms. Wolownick made a record-breaking ascent up El Capitan, Yosemite Nationwide Park’s granite monolith that has a few of the longest, most difficult mountaineering routes on the planet. And she or he did it in type. The route she tackled then, Lurking Concern, sometimes takes 4 days to finish. Ms. Wolownick did it in a single.

After all, it helped that the writer and now-sponsored athlete had some of the achieved rock climbers on the planet to information her: her well-known son, Alex Honnold, the star of the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo.” The movie chronicles her son’s breathtaking journey to turn out to be the primary particular person to climb “El Cap” with no rope or security tools by any means. Her personal effort — which did use ropes — was “by far” probably the most demanding factor she had ever carried out, Ms. Wolownick stated.

Reaching the summit of El Capitan in 2017, she grew to become the oldest girl to make that ascent, in line with Hans Florine, an American rock climber with a file 179 climbs of the vertical rock formation.

And she or he has not slowed down. In late September, Ms. Wolownick returned to El Cap with out her son to climb it once more, this time to have fun her seventieth birthday with a small group of mates and guides. On that journey she went up a neater route that climbers sometimes use to descend. It took her six hours to succeed in the summit, and after tenting there in a single day, got here down in six and a half hours the following day.

The grueling climbs had been a departure from the primary half of Ms. Wolownick’s sedentary and cerebral life. Rising up in New York, she painted and performed the piano in Jackson Heights, Queens. As an grownup she taught 5 languages and wrote books, together with a 2019 memoir, “The Sharp Finish of Life: a Mom’s Story,” partly about her first El Cap ascent. In 1990, a couple of years after transferring to suburban Sacramento, the place her husband grew up, she based an orchestra in West Sacramento and performed it.

“These had been fantastic, significantly satisfying issues however nothing was actually bodily. There definitely was no hazard,” she stated. “I by no means in 1,000,000 years thought that I may climb El Cap.” (The next interview has been edited and condensed.)

Why did you begin climbing?

Alex has at all times liked it. He was usually very quiet, even morose as a baby, however he would discuss climbing. The game has actual jargon — they are saying issues like “jugging” and “rapping” — and I had no clue what he was saying. It pained me that I couldn’t relate to him over this. I figured I might strive it so not less than we may speak.

How did you strive it?

About 10 years in the past, Alex was dwelling with an damage so I requested him to take me to the climbing health club. I figured I’d get to know the tools and climb midway up the wall and are available dwelling and be comfortable. I bought on the primary climb and went all the best way up, about 45 toes, and I used to be completely stunned I had no worry by any means. So I did 12 extra climbs that day and liked it.

What was your life like earlier than that?

Complete turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over useless at 55 within the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I grew to become the executor of his property. My father had simply died and I used to be coping with his property, too. Alex had nearly died whereas snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I began operating, little by little, and wound up turning into a runner. There was nothing in life I used to be doing for me and operating was for me. Climbing turned out to be the identical, an escape, but it surely took braveness.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing may be very bodily and there’s a lot to be taught concerning the tools, the physics, the angles — all the things.

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I used to be only a lumpy outdated center age girl fully taken with jobs and chores. I used to be scared, too, and generally you want a bit assist to do one thing completely new and alien to you. However after a month or two I had had sufficient conversations with myself and so I stated, OK, in the present day, you’re not going dwelling after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing health club. And I did. It grew to become a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was fantastic.

How did you put together for El Capitan?

I went to Yosemite to coach three days per week for 18 weeks in a row. I might hike and climb. I’ve by no means been capable of do push-ups or pull-ups so I bought a kind of pull-up bars you’ll be able to put in a doorway and began engaged on it. Each time I stroll by it, I do 10 pull-ups. I’m as much as about 50 pull-ups a day now. They’re not pull-up-from-the-ground pull-ups, however nonetheless, for me, they’re extraordinary. Climbing Lurking Concern was nonetheless the toughest factor I’ve ever carried out by far however simply being on El Cap is a mind-bender. Your life adjustments.

How has climbing modified your life?

I discovered the right way to undergo by all types of discomfort as a result of what you get from it makes it worthwhile. It’s the identical for anyone who desires to observe a path of bliss. There’s a whole lot of struggling. With climbing, you simply should deal. It’s not like you’ll be able to say, ‘oh, it’s raining, let’s return to the automotive’ while you’re 2,500 toes up. It’s such a privilege to be up there. Climbers get to go to probably the most unimaginable, lovely, inspiring locations, and the one method to expertise them is to place within the laborious work.

What would you inform people who find themselves caught or scared to make adjustments that may be good for them?

You first have to determine why you suppose you’ll be able to’t do one thing and ask your self if that’s a legitimate level. Look, there’s anyone telling you each step of your life what to eat, what to put on, you could’t sleep with out this drug, and it’s all nonsense. You may resolve for your self what you suppose you’re able to. It’s simply so unhappy when individuals say, oh, I’m 50, I can’t … fill within the clean. Attempt it anyway! Who cares! You may be stunned.


We’re on the lookout for individuals who resolve that it’s by no means too late to change gears, change their life and pursue goals. Ought to we speak to you or somebody you understand? Share your story right here.

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