Dierdre Wolownick

179: Oldest Woman to Climb El Capitan and Mother of Free-Soloist Alex Honnold

This week’s conversation is with Dierdre Wolownick, the mother of legendary adventure rock climber Alex Honnold.

You may recognize him from this year’s Academy Award Winning film, Free Solo, where he became the first person to ever free-solo El Capitan in Yosemite.

Alex was a previous guest on this podcast, episode 108.

I wanted to speak with his mother Dierdre for a couple of reasons.

First, Alex was one of the more challenging interviews I’ve ever had on this podcast.

Everything just seemed so matter of fact to him.

One thing I hope you’re noticing from listening to these conversations is how much one’s upbringing (their parenting structure and environment) dictate who they become and why they do what they do so I thought who better to have a follow up conversation with then Alex’s mother.

Second of all, Dierdre’s own story is quite incredible.

Inspired by her daughter, Stasia, Dierdre began long-distance running at the age of fifty-five, and she has since completed several marathons, as well as numerous half-marathons and other races.

At fifty-eight, she took up rock climbing with her son, Alex, and at the age of sixty-six, she became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan, the iconic 3,200-foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park.

Dierdre’s award-winning writing has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and books worldwide, and she created a publishing company that sells internationally.a

She just published her first book, The Sharp End of Life: A Mother’s Story, where she shares her intimate journey, revealing how her climbing achievement reflects a broader story of courage and persistence.

I think you’ll be fascinated by this conversation.

“It’s never too late unless you are willing to accept that it is. Life is completely open to you unless you buy into the limits that other people put on you.”

In This Episode:

  • Being expected to obey, to be seen, but not heard and how that became the “hiding years”
  • Why her family environment growing up triggered her to give up who she truly was
  • The common traits both Alex and Deirdre share when it comes to withholding emotions
  • Coping with the lack of family attention by becoming a great listener
  • How her childhood shaped her parenting philosophy
  • What makes her son Alex unique
  • Why she refused to put Alex on medication despite other parents recommendations
  • What the objectives of parenting should be
  • Formal instruction vs guided discovery when it comes to skill development
  • The reason Alex and her are both incredibly stubborn
  • The principles she care most about: honesty and discernment
  • Why cause and effect is critical to teaching your kids how to fend for them selves
  • A moment where Alex came close to death and how she handled it
  • Why it’s never too late to do anything you want
  • Journaling is the key to figuring out who you are
  • Her definition of mastery

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