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.
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.