Carmen George

Team effort: Climber, paralyzed from waist down, blasts up Astroman

Enock Glidden, left, climbs up Astroman on Yosemite National Park’s Washington Column through a series of pull-ups beside Nick Sullens.
Enock Glidden, left, climbs up Astroman on Yosemite National Park’s Washington Column through a series of pull-ups beside Nick Sullens. Special to The Bee

Dreams are never accomplished alone.

There is personal will, hard work, and then there’s everything else.

For Enock Glidden of Maine, a group of generous Yosemite National Park climbers were part of that web of immeasurable support that made his goal of big-wall climbing a reality earlier this month. They helped carry him through – literally.

Glidden, 37, is paralyzed from the waist down. He was born with the most severe kind of spina bifida, a birth defect where the spinal column doesn’t form correctly in the womb.

But the disability didn’t keep him – or a slew of friends and strangers – from believing he could climb one of Yosemite’s most challenging routes, “Astroman.”

Christian Cattell was among a group of three that helped Glidden up the route by rigging ropes and placing gear. More than a dozen other climbers came out of the woodwork the morning of Oct. 2 to carry Glidden to the base of the climb on Washington Column at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley.

Most of those who carried Glidden met him for the first time that morning.

Cattell met Glidden the day before the climb. The 26-year-old helped round up the volunteers at Camp 4 near El Capitan, a favorite campground for climbers from around the world.

They took turns carrying Glidden on a stretcher over steep and rocky sections. It took the crew about two hours to get him to the base of the climb.

“It was pretty amazing that all these people I had never met before just came to make it happen,” Glidden says. “Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible.”

Glidden believes he is the first paraplegic person to attempt Astroman.

Glidden, Cattell, Craig Muderlak and Nick Sullens got more than halfway up the 1,100-foot climb before they decided to rappel down due to the threat of a coming storm.

Glidden trained for several hours every day for months to do the climb. Astroman is no small undertaking.

Cattell says anyone who takes on Astroman in good fashion is a “badass in my book.”

“It was the No. 1 free climb in the entire world at one time. … That is something that people work really, really, really hard to do. It’s a powerful route. Very strenuous. You know it’s just an endurance battle from the get-go. It’s one solid pitch after another.”

While working to push through one particularly tricky pitch, Cattell’s frustrations faded away when he looked over at Glidden “cranking out pull-up after pull-up after pull-up.”

“It was pretty easy to keep going after that.”

Glidden did an estimated 700 pull-ups over two days. Special gear kept him from sliding down the rope after each pull-up.

Cattell, who spent much of the year climbing in Yosemite, was asked by climber Timmy O’Neill if he would like to help Glidden. O’Neill co-founded Colorado-based nonprofit Paradox Sports, which helps people with disabilities participate in adaptive sports. O’Neill’s brother, Sean, another paraplegic climber, has been Glidden’s primary trainer and mentor.

Glidden also received some encouragement from Mark Wellman, who in 1989 became the first paraplegic person to climb El Capitan.

Glidden got into climbing after friend Nick Hall, a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, died during a rescue on the Emmons Glacier in June of 2012. Glidden used to look longingly at Hall’s photos of beautiful places he visited.

“I really wanted to be able to see that for myself.”

Today, Glidden experiences the beauty of the world in many ways, including adaptive ski racing, tennis, kayaking and flying planes.

“I seem to like it better off the ground I guess. I like that point of view. Everything seems so much more perfect from up there, like it’s all meant to be there.”

His active lifestyle has been a major boost.

“It’s given me more confidence. I’m definitely stronger and healthier and I’m happier, probably, because I’m getting out and doing things.”

Glidden is going to school for computer science and hopes to use the knowledge to make a website where people can follow his adventures.

Of climbing Astroman, he says, “I hope it inspired people to just try. It doesn’t have to be rock climbing. … When you try, you are going to find a way.”

Next year, Glidden plans to climb El Capitan.

Cattell wants to help him make that happen, too.

“He’s a climber to the core. He’s incredibly strong physically, mentally, spiritually. He’s going to go far. He’s never going to stop climbing. He’s a very intelligent, strong man who has a lot of drive and it doesn’t matter that he can’t feel his legs. These walls are calling his name.”

And, no doubt, the names of many others who will keep helping make Yosemite dreams come true.

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge