70-Year-Old Becomes Oldest Woman To Climb Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan

by Leanne Stahulak

Dierdre Wolownick, a 70-year-old woman from New York, is believed to be the oldest woman to climb the summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

Miraculously, Wolownick beat the record previously held by herself, from four years ago, according to CNN. The outlet reports that she made the climb in 2017 when she was 66 years old. Wolownick climbed the 3,200-foot summit for no other reason than that she wanted to see the sunset from the top.

Unfortunately, the first time she did the climb in 2017, it took her 13 hours. Sunset had come and gone by that point.

“Most elite climbers who climb the route we climbed, Lurking Fear, take four or five days, and we did it in 13 hours,” Wolownick told CNN. “But I still wanted it, I wanted to be up there and see what it was like for myself. I wanted to sleep up there, to see the sunset and sunrise, and I felt like I had to do it.”

So, Wolownick returned to Yosemite National Park this year on her birthday, September 23. According to Hans Florine, a record keeper for people who complete ascents of Yosemite, she officially made it to the top at 70 years old and became the oldest woman to do it.

Since she’d already made the trek once, Wolownick had a better idea of how to make it up the sheer vertical cliff. She sliced her climb time in half, to just six hours, which meant she had plenty of time to witness the sunset and eat birthday cake from the top of the world.

Dierdre Wolownick Recalls Climbing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park at 70 Years Old

“It’s an amazing place to be up there at the top, I could write an entire book about how it felt,” Wolownick told CNN. “I was just blown away by how powerful it felt. There’s nothing like it.”

Yosemite National Park’s website calls the El Capitan climb, “one of the world’s ultimate challenges for climbers.” But the climb posed no issue for Wolownick’s son, Alex Honnold, who was the first person to free-solo climb El Capitan.

Some might recognize Honnold as the star of National Geographic’s award-winning film “Free Solo.” To free-solo, a climber uses no ropes or safety gear. Meaning, if Honnold slips, he falls to his death.

Now, Honnold’s incredible climbs at Yosemite and across the world have inspired his mother Wolownick to try it for herself.

“I didn’t start climbing 10 years ago to become the oldest woman to get to the top, I did it to get closer to my son,” Wolownick said. “I climbed El Cap for me, because I wanted to experience all of it.”

And experience it she did. But Wolownick doesn’t take her incredible, record-breaking climb for granted.

“Climbing El Cap at 70 takes its toll, physically, mentally, emotionally. I’m not ‘down’ yet,” she wrote on her blog. “Not sure I ever will be, completely.”