Ella Kirkpatrick: on climbing El Cap

Posted by Alex Messenger on 11/02/2013
Ella Kirkpatrick. Photo: Andy Kirkpatrick.
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Ella Kirkpatrick’s story of becoming the youngest girl to climb El Cap was shown on Children's BBC in February. We caught up with her to find out more.

Last October, Ella Kirkpatrick, 14, from Sheffield became the youngest girl to climb the mighty El Cap in Yosemite. Then just 13, she tackled the challenges of searing heat, lack of water, endless jumaring and her mum’s permission to join her dad, the famous climber Andy Kirkpatrick, on a big wall adventure.

With a film about her adventure being shown tomorrow, we caught up with Ella to find out more.

How long have you been climbing?
I can’t remember the first time I went climbing, since I've been brought up with it since birth, but my dad taught me to abseil when I was three.

Whose idea was it to climb El Cap – yours or your dad's?
Every time went to one of my dad’s talks, everyone would ask, "So when are you going to climb El Cap?" My dad would always say "when she's 13," and it really just happened like that.

How much climbing had you done beforehand?
I did lots of climbing before, at the climbing wall (The Edge and The Foundry) and at Stanage. 

Did you do any special training?
My dad taught me how to jumar and how to aid climb, and I did some training at Adam Long's rope-access facilities.  I’ve led indoors but only led outdoors when my dad was teaching me to aid climb.  In the end I didn't get to lead any of the route.

Most importantly, how did you get your mum to agree?
It took us a while as she wasn't fond of the idea, so took lots of persuading.  In the end she would only let me go if Paul Tattersall went; she didn’t trust my dad.

What was it like, standing at the base and thinking, I’ve got to climb that?
It was daunting looking up at what I had to climb. But it was cool, there were loads of rattlesnakes (but I didn't see any bears).  But I just wanted to start, so I was very excited.

What did you most enjoy about climbing it?
The best bit was on the second night when we were all together on the same belay. Every night was good when we set up the portaledge.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t be able to make it?
I always knew the team would get up the climb.

Before you dropped your iPod, which songs were motivating you?
Dancing Shoes by the Arctic Monkeys.

Climbing El Cap is extraordinary for anyone. But have you grown up thinking this kind of climbing is normal?
I think my dad's climbed it 19 times, so it never seemed like a big achievement, but when you've been up there you realise that a lot of people can't climb it. Climbing it is like being in a little club.

What do your friends think of what you did?
My friends don't understand the extent of it and most think I walked up it!  But only a real select few people know how hard it is.  Again, it's like being in a club where only these people understand.

Have you got any advice for girls your age who would love to have a proper adventure but don’t know where to start?
Get informed, get involved, get going!

What’s next? Any more climbs with your dad planned?
My dad wants to do something cool with my brother and is going to go over the Pyrenees, along a route used in the war. I'm trying to persuade him to take me as well. I'd really like to go back to Yosemite and free climb El Cap like Hazel Findlay, but I’ll have to wait until I’m 16 so my mum can't stop me.

Thanks Ella!

Read more about Ella's adventure on Ella's blog of her climb, Ella's website and Andy Kirkpatrick’s blog

My Life: The Big Climb is on CBBC, Tuesday 12th February at 5:45pm.

More information on climbing

Inspired by Ella? Want to start climbing?
Find your nearest climbing wall

Visit Ella's website
For lots of information about climbing

Does your child want to start climbing?
Read our free Parent's Guide to Climbing

What gear do you need to start climbing?
Find out what you need to start climbing indoors

Watch Ella again on the TV programme My Life here 

Watch Ella in action in this YouTube clip:
 



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6
1) Anonymous User
14/02/2013
well done Ella! a real climber! kinda shows up "sports climbing" for the poor imitation that it is
2) Anonymous User
22/02/2013
I'm sorry, but this girl didn't lead anything and she used aid climbing. Admittedly she ascended the correct height, but she didn't 'climb' El Cap - just pulled herself up a lump of rock with adults doing the actual work. Perhaps when she's older, taller and more skilled, she'll be able to go back and climb it properly, placing gear and using the rock to move up instead of ropes when it gets tricky.
3) Alex Messenger (author comment)
22/02/2013
Well, most Yosemite big walls are aid climbed - only the elite are capable of free climbing them. So Ella did climb it in the 'proper' style. OK, her Dad and others did all the leading, and she jumared up, but this is also pretty normal. Even without taking into account that she was just 13.

4) Gypsea
07/04/2013
Tori Allen Summited El Cap at age 13 years 1 1/2 months. I think Tori still holds the record (not Ella). She was born on July 30, 1988 and summited on Sept 11, 2001.
5) Gypsea
07/04/2013
Tori Allen was age 13 and 1 1/2 months when she climbed The Nose of El Cap. Pretty sure that is still the record.
6) Anonymous User
19/05/2014
Well done Ella. Your non-climbing friends (and trolls) will never understand just how big a deal completing this route was, but we do! Fine effort, and good luck with all the climbs to come…..

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