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She Climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan to Celebrate Turning 70

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“It’s Never Too Late” is a sequence 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 working. Then, at 60, she turned 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 a number of the longest, most difficult mountain climbing routes on the earth. And she did it in type. The route she tackled then, Lurking Fear, sometimes takes 4 days to full. Ms. Wolownick did it in a single.

Of course, it helped that the creator and now-sponsored athlete had one of the vital achieved rock climbers on the earth 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 grow to be the primary particular person to climb “El Cap” with no rope or security gear by any means. Her personal effort — which did use ropes — was “by far” probably the most demanding factor she had ever finished, Ms. Wolownick mentioned.

Reaching the summit of El Capitan in 2017, she turned the oldest lady to make that ascent, in accordance to Hans Florine, an American rock climber with a file 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 rejoice her seventieth birthday with a small group of pals and guides. On that journey she went up a better route that climbers sometimes 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 had 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,” partly 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 performed 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 all the time beloved it. He was typically very quiet, even morose as a toddler, 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 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 fitness center. I figured I’d get to know the gear and climb midway up the wall and are available dwelling and be completely happy. I received on the primary climb and went all the best way up, about 45 ft, and I used to be completely shocked I had no concern by any means. So I did 12 extra climbs that day and beloved it.

What was your life like earlier than that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over useless at 55 within the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I turned 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, but it surely took braveness.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing could be very bodily and there’s a lot to be taught in regards to the gear, the physics, the angles — every thing.

I used to be only a lumpy previous 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, right this moment, you’re not going dwelling after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing fitness center. And I did. It turned 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 prepare three days every week for 18 weeks in a row. I might hike and climb. I’ve by no means been ready to do push-ups or pull-ups so I received a type of pull-up bars you may 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 finished by far however simply being on El Cap is a mind-bender. Your life adjustments.

How has climbing modified your life?

I discovered how to undergo by way of 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 variety of struggling. With climbing, you simply have to deal. It’s not like you may 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 probably the most unimaginable, stunning, inspiring locations, and the one manner to expertise them is to put within the onerous 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 work out why you assume you may’t do one thing and ask your self if that’s a legitimate level. Look, there’s any individual telling you each step of your life what to eat, what to put on, that you may’t sleep with out this drug, and it’s all nonsense. You can resolve 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 shocked.


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

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