Paraplegic Soldier Uses Courage, Determination, and 4,254 Pull-ups to Climb El Capitan
“I think I have cured my phobia of heights.” [twitter by Major Phil Packer]
Publicity attending Saturday’s fatal fall of yet another hiker using the Half Dome cable handrails has drawn some attention away from a noteworthy event that took place on another Yosemite monolith this past week. On June 11, Major Phil Packer, a British soldier whose war wounds cost him the use of his legs, made it to the top of El Capitan, one of the world’s most intimidating rock monoliths.
Major Packer has completed a series of daunting physical challenges to follow through on his pledge (now fulfilled) to raise at least £1 million pounds for Help for Heroes and other charitable organizations providing assistance (including sports opportunities) for injured service personnel and the wider disabled community.
Before tackling El Capitan, the 36-year old major had rowed across the English Channel, skydived with the Red Devils, and completed the London Marathon on crutches. This latter accomplishment was attained only after two weeks of exhausting effort. The El Cap climb required four days and 4,254 pull-ups on a route of 1,800 vertical feet. To say that Phil Packer is a physically and mentally tough individual is quite an understatement.
Postscript: While laudable in every respect, Phil Packer’s climb was by no means the first of its kind on El Capitan. There have been at least half a dozen ascents of El Cap by paraplegics in the past 20 years. The first was logged in 1989 by Mark Wellman (who climbed Half Dome in 1991, and then climbed El Cap again in 1999). In 1998, Trooper Johnson became the first paraplegic to both ascend and descend El Cap. The first female paraplegic to conquer El Cap was Beth Cost, who took the Zodiac route to the top in 2000. More recently, Karen Dark completed an El Cap climb in 2007. This latter climb is especially relevant because Andy Kirkpatrick, one of Karen’s climbing partners, played a key role on the three-man team that assisted Phil Packer’s climb.