How to get the courage to climb El Capitan

By Rita Panahi, CNN You knew this one was going to be different. Sixty years old, three times the average age to climb the mountain’s tallest feature and nearly 700 feet taller than the…

How to get the courage to climb El Capitan

By Rita Panahi, CNN

You knew this one was going to be different.

Sixty years old, three times the average age to climb the mountain’s tallest feature and nearly 700 feet taller than the summits of Stairway to Heaven, the tallest roller coaster in the world, and Forbidden Planet.

These are some of the facts you’ll see being uttered by Diane McGovern.

It was in 2011 that she decided to scale El Capitan for her 70th birthday.

“I had asked my friends in the climbing community to ask me to do it for my 70th birthday. I’d never done it before. So I kept telling them, ‘Well, maybe later,’” McGovern recalls in a recent interview with the Huffington Post.

“When I finally got on the phone with [friend and climbing partner] John Marnell, and he said, ‘Let’s do it,’ I said, ‘You want to do it?’”

“I just couldn’t think of anything else. I went up the next day, and the next day I did it.”

Marnell remembers thinking, “She can do this”, but McGovern wasn’t sure she was making the right decision.

“I went out to the side of the mountain to share my vision and my ideas about what to do, and I was getting so discouraged by my peers. I thought, ‘Gosh, we really don’t know how to do this.’ I could hear them saying, ‘Don’t try to scale El Capitan,’” McGovern remembers.

“I just decided, ‘No, I’m going to pull it out of myself.’”

Rolling in fear

It wasn’t easy for the two women, who live in Illinois.

“At first it was scary and I was rolling around in the rocks all night, because I didn’t know how it worked. But then once we figured out that it’s actually moving up a slightly raised hill, and you make a set path and keep pushing forward, then it’s really, really easy. It’s worth the effort,” says McGovern.

Although taking on El Capitan for a birthday isn’t the norm, many people have tried the effort themselves, and the benefit of that has the sisters as much as reverential awe.

“Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or who you talk to, you can be very afraid of something and just open your heart to the person that you have and those kind of things go pretty quickly,” says McGovern.

“You go, ‘Well, here’s what I’m thinking about … and here’s my only reason for even wanting to do this, because it means I can get up and look up and do all this stuff I’ve always wanted to do.’”

People have been seen on El Capitan, McGovern says, leaving notes, and even a pile of cakes, for their companion to climb. “But my birthday cake was left on my shoulder, so I will never know,” she adds with a laugh.

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