Man With Cerebral Palsy Reaches Summit of El Capitan

Marines help Stephen Wampler descend mountain after six-day climb.

ByABC News
September 15, 2010, 11:49 AM

Sept. 20, 2010 — -- After pulling himself up with his hands 20,000 times in six days, Stephen Wampler finished the climb of his life Friday when he reached the summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

"It was six days of just absolute torture and I would say awe-inspiring too," Wampler said.

Awe-inspiring not only for Wampler but for disabled children worldwide. Wampler, born with cerebral palsy and usually wheelchair-bound, became the first person with his disability to reach the top of El Capitan.

With the help of two friends and a uniquely crafted climbing chair, Wampler pulled himself up the mountain four to six inches at a time. It was a towering challenge. The mountain is twice as high as the Empire State building.

"The pure exhaustion of six to eight hours of constant pull-up after pull-up after pull-up and the bright sunshine and the heat," Wampler said. "The whole adventure was, was just unbelievable."

Wampler trained for a year, learning how to use a system of ropes to climb. Not only did Wampler learn how to climb, he spent the year overcoming a fear of heights -- or so he thought.

"I thought I got over it, but when I was halfway up, it kind of crept back in and I had to deal with it, because once you're halfway's easier to go up than down," Wampler said.

The whole time Wampler was climbing, his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children camped out at the base of the mountain on a bridge.

"It was the roughest week of my life," Elizabeth Wampler said. "I was behind him 100 percent, but I was fearful. So much so, that when he got to the top, I fainted, I was just relieved."

The climb was certainly a challenge, but adventure is nothing new for Wampler and his family.

Wampler's desire for adventure began when he was a young boy. His parents put him in summer camp when he was nine.

"Going to camp as a kid opened so many doors for me, and that's when I experienced the real adventure of nature," Wampler said in a video on his website.

Wampler attended the camp for nine summers. He said that he has carried the confidence that the camp gave him all of his life.

After camp, he went on to college, started a business and fell in love with Elizabeth.

"When I met him, at first I thought, I bet he's having a really hard life, I bet. He broke my heart. I thought people were probably mean to him, I thought he was sad every day, I thought he was alone every day -- and I quickly learned that nothing could be further from the truth," Elizabeth Wampler said in a video on their website.

When Wampler found out that his beloved childhood camp had closed, he took action. Elizabeth and Stephen formed Camp WAMP in 2004. WAMP stands for Wheelchair Adventure Mountain Programs.