Man with Cerebral Palsy Conquers El Capitan

Sep 23, 2010
Outside Magazine

El Capitan Summit (Steve-Joseph Summit Reunion)
On September 12, Stephen Wampler set out to become the first person with Cerebral Palsy to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan. Joining him were two experts pitching rope and a 15-person film crew shooting a documentary about the climb called “Wall.” His wife, Elizabeth, and two kids followed his progress from the ground with a telescope.

Twenty thousand pull-ups and six days later, the Coronado, Calif. resident reached the top of the 3,000-foot rock. Outside caught up with Stephen and his wife on Sept. 22.

So I hear you’re afraid of heights?
I thought I got over that until the very middle of the climb. I was looking at a piece of the rock that came out 40 feet over my head and the fear came right back.

Was that the worst part?
I hit two walls. One on Tuesday evening around 7:30 where I was so dehydrated that I was almost incoherent when I got to where we were sleeping. My partners were really worried about me. Then on Wednesday, I had that one point where I felt I cannot do this anymore. I was hanging 200 feet below this huge roof and I was blowing from side to side in the wind. That’s where I had to really overcome everything.

And you reached the top.
It was a euphoric feeling of conquering this huge rock because I was so ready to be off that rock the day before.

I’d never been out of my chair before for more than 24 hours over the years. I thought I would enjoy my time out of my chair, but it was the most uncomfortable experience I’ve ever had in my life.

What was so bad about it?
Having CP, I don’t have really good balance. There was no point during the whole eight days that I could balance myself or where I felt like I was comfortable. It was very taxing on my body.

Who designed your climbing equipment?
[The pulley system] was a concept of mine that took about six months to create. The other piece that I was sitting in was another concept that was in design for about nine months.

Were you a climber before?

So why El Cap?
It was the most outrageous adventure that I could think of to raise awareness of disabled people around the world.

What’s your next great adventure?
I’m gonna rest for a while. I am so sore and exhausted that I can’t believe it.
Elizabeth: I figure he can have at least six days to recover, because that’s how long he was on the wall.

Stephen Wampler is the founder of Wampler Kids, a summer camp for children with physical disabilities. Wampler’s immediate goal is to raise $2 million for this summer camp in support of his climb. He also has plans to build a “futuristic, modern, state-of-the art home for people with disabilities” that would allow families with disabled children to vacation together for free in Coronado.

--Erin Beresini

Photo of Wampler with son Joseph--who hiked to the top to surprise his dad--at the top of El Cap. Four Marines carried Wampler back down.

Filed To: Celebrities, Climbing

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