Meet El Cap’s youngest climber

Selah Schneiter is the youngest person on record to climb Yosemite’s towering El Capitan. She’s also “definitely the lightest.”

At 10 years old, Schneiter stands just 4’4″ and weighs in at 58 pounds. By her and her mom Joy’s estimate, you could fit 700 of her, stacked on top of each other, on the face of The Nose, El Capitan’s iconic sheer granite face.

“Seven-hundred Selahs, but probably about 600 4th graders,” Selah said during a recent visit to Jackson. She admits she’s smaller than most kids her age.

Selah lives in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, but frequently visits family in Jackson. Buckrail got a chance to talk to her last time she was in town.

Selah topped out on The Nose, after five days and 31 pitches (a section of rock you can climb in one rope length), on June 12. She didn’t know at the time she had just become the youngest person on record to do it.

“We thought I might be the youngest girl,” she said. “But I really didn’t look into it much.”

To climbers and non-climbers alike, El Capitan is awe-inspiring. It’s also intimidating to many climbers of any age. But not Selah.

When asked multiple times whether Selah was ever afraid, she had the same answer: she was only afraid of not finishing.

“I had worked sooo hard, and I didn’t want to do that for nothing,” Selah said.

The team: Selah, her dad Mike, and his friend Mark Reiger. (Courtesy of Joy Schneiter)

The odds were certainly stacked against her. An estimated 50% of climbers who attempt to climb El Cap actually reach the summit. Selah’s age and petite size added extra difficulty. By her estimates, she probably had a 10-30% chance of finishing.

That she beat the odds was no accident. Selah worked hard over the course of a year to prepare her body and her mind for the climb. She had help — her climbing partner/father is a professional climber and climbing guide. He helped her get the physical and technical training she needed.

But the drive to climb El Cap was entirely hers. Selah is obsessed with climbing. She devours climbing films like most 10-year-olds devour Disney. She knows everything about the sport and its history, including who made the first ascent of El Cap (Warren Harding, George Whitmore, and “one other guy” [Wayne Merry]), when it happened (1958, “five years after Everest”), and the first person to free climb it (Lynn Hill, who famously declared “it goes, boys” at the summit).

Hill is one of Selah’s biggest inspirations, her mom said, and ultimately one of the reasons she chose to climb The Nose. Her dad wanted to take her on a shorter route. She wouldn’t have it. “I was like, ‘What? It’s THE Nose! The first route, the most classic route! It’s The Nose!” It’s not the hardest route on El Cap, she admitted —that’s the Dawn Wall, which only three people have climbed. But it’s the longest, and the most iconic.

El Cap also holds a lot of family history. Her parents climbed it together just a week after they met (it’s probably why they got married so quickly, Joy joked). Everything about El Cap seemed to beckon Selah. It was waiting for her.

For five days, Selah powered up all 3,000 feet, sleeping on a portaledge with two sweaty dudes (her dad and his friend, Mark Reiger, going to the bathroom in a paper bag and hauling it in a water bottle behind her (“no one ever asks how you go to the bathroom up there,” she said, but it’s no small feat), eating only energy bars instant-meals prepared with boiling water. She never considered quitting, but there were moments she wished she could call it a day. Still, she persevered.

Selah and her dad spent four nights on a portaledge. They definitely got closer, she said, but she was a little sick of “sweaty guys” by the end. (Photo: Mark Reiger, courtesy of Joy Schneiter)

After nearly a year of training, three years of scheming, and five days on the wall, Selah reached the summit on June 12. It was “super-duper emotional,” she said. Displaying an impressive amount of emotion and wisdom carried in such a small body, Selah reflected that she was “really happy” she had done it, but sad that it was over. She knows she’ll climb it again, but never for the first time.

“There’s only one first time for everything,” she said.

But Selah has plenty of firsts ahead of her still. She plans to climb Half Dome, another iconic Yosemite climb, with both her parents next summer. And does she think she’ll climb for the rest of her life?

“Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep!”

Selah is the oldest of four, and her younger brother is already out for her record. He wants to climb El Cap next year, when he’s nine. Is Selah worried?

Nah. “He doesn’t understand what it takes,” she said.

“And even if he does, I’ll still be the youngest girl. I’ll still hold record.”

Photo courtesy of Mike and Joy Schneiter

 

 

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