She Climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan to Celebrate Turning 70

“It’s Never Too Late” is a sequence that tells the tales of people that determine to pursue their goals on their very own phrases.

In her 40s, Dierdre Wolownick taught herself to swim. In her 50s, she took up working. Then, at 60, she grew to become a rock climber — and never simply any rock climber. Four years in the past, at 66, Ms. Wolownick made a record-breaking ascent up El Capitan, Yosemite National Park’s granite monolith that has among the longest, most difficult mountain climbing routes on this planet. And she did it in type. The route she tackled then, Lurking Fear, usually takes 4 days to full. Ms. Wolownick did it in a single.

Of course, it helped that the writer and now-sponsored athlete had one of the crucial completed rock climbers on this 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 individual to climb “El Cap” with no rope or security gear in anyway. Her personal effort — which did use ropes — was “by far” essentially the most demanding factor she had ever achieved, Ms. Wolownick mentioned.

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

And she 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 a good time her seventieth birthday with a small group of buddies and guides. On that journey she went up a neater route that climbers usually use to descend. It took her six hours to attain 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 have been a departure from the primary half of Ms. Wolownick’s sedentary and cerebral life. Growing 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 End of Life: a Mother’s Story,” partially about her first El Cap ascent. In 1990, a couple of years after shifting to suburban Sacramento, the place her husband grew up, she based an orchestra in West Sacramento and carried out it.

“These were wonderful, greatly satisfying things but nothing was really physical. There certainly was no danger,” she mentioned. “I never in a million years thought that I could climb El Cap.” (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)

Why did you begin climbing?

Alex has at all times liked it. He was typically very quiet, even morose as a baby, however he would discuss climbing. The sport 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’d attempt it so no less than we might discuss.

How did you attempt it?

About 10 years in the past, Alex was residence with an damage so I requested him to take me to the climbing fitness center. I figured I’d get to know the gear and climb midway up the wall and are available residence and be completely satisfied. I bought on the primary climb and went all the best way up, about 45 ft, and I used to be completely stunned I had no worry in anyway. So I did 12 extra climbs that day and liked it.

What was your life like earlier than that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over lifeless 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 virtually died whereas snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I began working, little by little, and wound up turning into a runner. There was nothing in life I used to be doing for me and working was for me. Climbing turned out to be the identical, an escape, however it took braveness.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing could be very bodily and there’s a lot to study concerning the gear, the physics, the angles — every part.

I used to be only a lumpy outdated center age lady utterly taken with jobs and chores. I used to be scared, too, and typically you want just a little assist to do one thing completely new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had sufficient conversations with myself and so I mentioned, OK, at present, you’re not going residence after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing fitness center. And I did. It grew to become a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was great.

How did you put together for El Capitan?

I went to Yosemite to practice three days every week for 18 weeks in a row. I’d hike and climb. I’ve by no means been ready to 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. Every time I stroll by it, I do 10 pull-ups. I’m up to 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 Fear was nonetheless the toughest factor I’ve ever achieved by far however simply being on El Cap is a mind-bender. Your life adjustments.

How has climbing modified your life?

I realized how 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 number of struggling. With climbing, you simply have to deal. It’s not like you’ll be able to say, ‘oh, it’s raining, let’s return to the automotive’ once you’re 2,500 ft up. It’s such a privilege to be up there. Climbers get to go to essentially the most unimaginable, lovely, inspiring locations, and the one means to expertise them is to put within the arduous work.

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

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

We’re searching for individuals who determine that it’s by no means too late to swap gears, change their life and pursue goals. (*70*) we discuss to you or somebody you understand? Share your story here.

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