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70 year old mother of daredevil who climbed El Capitan with no ropes also conquers the peak

[Oct 30, 2021: Sam Thompson]

Dierdre Wolownick, 70, is now the oldest woman to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park

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. 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 the earth. And she did it in fashion. The route she tackled then, Lurking Fear, usually takes 4 days to finish. Ms. Wolownick did it in a single.

Of course, it helped that the writer and now-sponsored athlete had some of the 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 turn into the primary individual to climb “El Cap” with no rope or security gear by any means. Her personal effort — which did use ropes — was “by far” essentially the most demanding factor she had ever accomplished, Ms. Wolownick stated.

Reaching the summit of El Capitan in 2017, she grew to become the oldest lady 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 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 pals and guides. On that journey she went up a better route that climbers usually use to descend. It took her six hours to achieve the summit, and after tenting there in a single day, got here down in six and a half hours the following day.

Ms Wolownick with her son, Alex Honnold, who was the first person to tackle the rock face without ropes or safety equipment (CREDIT: Alex Honnold)

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, just a few years after transferring 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 stated. “I never in a million years thought that I could climb El Cap.” (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)


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Why did you begin climbing?

Alex has all the time cherished it. He was usually very quiet, even morose as a toddler, however he would speak about 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 no less than we may speak.

How did you strive it?

About 10 years in the past, Alex was dwelling with an harm so I requested him to take me to the climbing gymnasium. I figured I’d get to know the gear and climb midway up the wall and are available dwelling and be joyful. I bought on the primary climb and went all the best way up, about 45 toes, and I used to be completely shocked I had no concern by any means. So I did 12 extra climbs that day and cherished 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 operating, little by little, and wound up changing 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, nevertheless it 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 — all the pieces.

I used to be only a lumpy previous center age lady fully taken with jobs and chores. I used to be scared, too, and generally 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 stated, OK, as we speak, you’re not going dwelling after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gymnasium. 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 in a position to do push-ups or pull-ups so I bought a kind 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 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 Fear was nonetheless the toughest factor I’ve ever accomplished by far however simply being on El Cap is a mind-bender. Your life adjustments.


How has climbing modified your life?

I realized how you can undergo via every kind 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 need to deal. It’s not like you may 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 essentially the most unimaginable, stunning, inspiring locations, and the one method to expertise them is to place within the arduous work.

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

You first have to determine why you assume you may’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 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 is perhaps shocked.

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