You may have heard about Alex Honnold, the daredevil climber whose historic ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite with little more than a T-shirt and hand chalk was portrayed in the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.
Well, now his mother just became the oldest woman to conquer the famous granite peak, having reached the peak on September 23rd—the morning of her 70th birthday.
Dierdre Wolownick, the writer and language teacher, decided to take up climbing as a means to connect more deeply with her son, who made history in 2018 when he became the first man to climb El Capitan without ropes or safety equipment.
“Climbing El Cap at 70 takes its toll, physically, mentally, emotionally,” Wolownick writes in her blog. “I’m not ‘down’ yet. Not sure I ever will be, completely.”
In 2008, Honnold was home nursing an injury, which allowed him the time to accompany his mother on her first visit to the climbing gym Pipeworks in Sacramento. She completed 12 routes that first day with his help, but it was months before she had worked up the courage to return on her own.
Wolownick became committed to the sport, and began to meet friends and sharpen her skills. She scaled parts of Half Dome and Cathedral peak at a time when many people her age are thinking about retirement and slowing down.
The writer would go on to publish a memoir of her experiences climbing with Alex called The Sharp End of Life: A Mother’s Story, referring to the climber at the sharp, or lead end of a route who essentially bears all the responsibility for guiding the route and securing the rope for the other climbers.