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 up...it'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 Love of Wilderness Started at Camp
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.
Marines Help Wampler Descend Mountain
To raise money for the camp, Wampler decided to embark on the climb of his life.
"The message of the climb and the foundation that we have is to get kids with physical disabilities outside in the great outdoors and to learn that they can achieve whatever they want to," Wampler said.
When the Marines greeted Wampler at the summit of El Capitan, they had a surprise with them: Wampler's 10-year-old son.
"It was just such a wonderful surprise to see his 10-year-old boy trek up with the Marines and jump out and run and greet his dad. He was hiding behind a rock and he was the last one," Elizabeth Wampler said.
They rotated shifts carrying Wampler on their backs down the mountain.
The generosity of the Marines still gets Wampler choked up.
"It was absolutely awesome...they showed up at the top and picked me up at eight in the morning and it took us almost eight hours to get down the backside. And they never complained, they were just absolutely amazing people," Wampler said.
In the middle of the climb last week, Wampler got emotional when asked about what he'd tell his wife and family.
"I love you and I can't wait to get off the top, get off this rock," he said.
Wampler's wife is full of emotion over her husband. The couple said they're more in love now than ever.
"I knew that he was tenacious and that he worked really hard and what he puts his mind to he can do, but this exceeded all. I'm in awe like everyone else who knows about it," Elizabeth Wampler said.
When asked if he'll climb again, Wampler laughed.
"No more mountain climbing, I'm retired now."
To Donate to Camp Wamp, Visit Their Website By Clicking Here
To Watch More of Steve's Journey, Click Here