Will Winford Climbs El Capitán
to support Dupuytren disease research.
Will Winford is a geek; a self-professed lover of all things technical. His day job finds his 5’11” 157 pound frame parked in front of a computer screen and banging away at the keyboard or pulling wires and installing new servers. He is the data center manager for a government defense contractor in Newport, Kentucky not far from Cincinnati. “I’m basically the IT guy”, he says with a grin. But if you ran into Will at the local Starbucks and asked the unassuming 27 year old what he did, his first response would be…“I’m a rock climber”.
Will’s mom, Patti, planted the seed of adventure when he was 6 when she took part in some beginning mountaineering on an Outward Bound excursion. The climbing bug bit deep at the age of 12 on a Winford family outing to West Virginia where the towering rocks along the New River Gorge challenged his spirit, and it wasn’t long after that you would find Will scaling whatever stone face he could get to on a teenager’s budget.
Climbing hasn’t been easy for Will. At 13, a fireworks accident put him in the Shriner’s burn hospital where doctors were doubtful he would regain use of his hands. He proved them wrong and went onto dig those hands into the crevasses of Seneca Rocks, the Red River Gorge, Stone Mountain, Joshua Tree, and St. George Utah among others. Then early this year, another test of his resolve to climb surfaced once again in his hands. Unrelated to the burns, a lump became painfully apparent in his right hand. It was especially tender when he tried to grip a rope and he found it becoming more and more difficult to fully open his hand. A local doctor diagnosed him with Dupuytren Disease, a hand contracting syndrome he had never heard of. Will is no stranger to pain. He’s soldiered through four lung collapses and two surgeries for a torn lung from a climb hyperextension, but he wasn’t prepared for this. Dupuytren disease has created an ongoing crisis for Will, threatening the use of his hands for both climbing and keyboard.
Searching for answers, Will found the Dupuytren Research Group website and sent a short email venting his fears and frustrations. To his surprise, he received a call back from hand surgeon Dr. Charles Eaton, the organization’s founder and director. A long conversation followed. The two discussed the bad news that the disease is a progressive condition with no cure, and the good news that the Dupuytren Research Group is about to launch a research study designed to find a cure for the disorder. Will volunteered to help, and on September 22nd, 2015 he will undertake the most challenging climb of his career and a test for even the best; The Nose of Yosemite’s 3,000’ monolith El Capitan. His objective is to put the spotlight on this prolific affliction and enlist the help of those who suffer with Dupuytren to take part in a nationwide comprehensive study led by Dr. Eaton through the Dupuytren Research Group that will lead to a cure.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A climb of a 3,000 foot vertical rock wall begins with a single grip. Hand holds on a sheer monolith as challenging as El Capitan are at a premium. One climbing route to El Capitan’s summit is The Nose. Only experienced, fit, and daring climbers attempt this ascent. For 27 year old Will Winford, it was the biggest challenge of his rock climbing career. Will wore no commercial logos on his clothing…this wasn’t a sponsored event…this was personal. Will was making this climb to draw attention to a disease that affects his hands and threatens both his climbing and his career. Will has Dupuytren Disease, which is slowly crippling his hands. Will knows that even though most Americans won’t recognize the name, Dupuytren Disease is the most common crippling hand disease in this country. Will is working to change this.
For this climb, Will partnered with a more experienced climber from Tennessee, Beckett Honicker. They had spent many hours discussing the ascent by phone and online, but didn’t meet in person until the actual climb. They began their climb the morning of September 22 2015, a literal leap of faith, putting their entire safety in each other’s hands.
Day One cast a cloud of uncertainty on their success. Their “haul bag”, a 200 pound container of food, water, poop tubes, and sleeping gear, took a wild swing and slammed against the wall, shattering containers of over two gallons of their drinking water. What was to be a three night adventure would now have to be two. Night One found the team disheartened while securing their “port-a-ledge”, a four by six foot rope suspended shelf, at 1,200 feet above ground level. Sleeping side by side and head to toe, both were exhausted from the day’s effort. “We slept like the dead”, said Will.
Hot coffee courtesy of their jet-boil, accompanied a hearty breakfast of cold Indian food and began Day Two. A pair of other dual teams were climbing The Nose as well, and at one point, all three teams became entangled in each other’s ropes. Shouts and accusations gave way to a team solution – to everyone’s relief. The sound of swifts and bats whizzing past their bivy that night lulled the climbers to sleep at 2,300 feet on the wall.
Day Three began with clear skies and whipping winds. The day was to be a scramble to
scale the final 700 feet as water was depleted. Will and Beckett worked the wall with precision and a steady stream of adrenaline. Beckett’s final shout of “Will…line is fixed!” told him the top was near. Will’s first act at the summit was to take a climb ending selfie with the abyss as background and he turned to Beckett and exclaimed, “Hell yeah man. We did it!”
Two gallons of water had been left at the top for the team who gratefully gulped it down before taking the long hike to the bottom where Will’s mom, dad and a group of good friends greeted them with hugs and congratulations on a job well done.
About Will Winford
Will grew up in Independence, Kentucky one of four children to Patti and Steve. Dupuytren Disease affects both of Will’s hands, and is worsening steadily. His father and great uncle also have Dupuytren Disease, pointing to its genetic connection. When not climbing, Will works as an IT specialist at Odyssey DCS, a government defense contractor that handles billing and asset tracking. Will is single and lives in Newport, Kentucky.
Dupuytren Disease is named after Baron Dupuytren, a famous 1800s French surgeon. It is the most common inherited hand crippling condition. It typically progresses slowly over years, but occasionally can develop over weeks or months. The disease usually begins as a thickening of the skin of the palm. A firm lump of tissue, sometimes painful, may form. Cords of tissue may appear in the palm and extend up to the fingers. These cords may tighten over time, pulling fingers toward the palm, sometimes severely. Dupuytren Disease affects over 10 million Americans. Well-known Dupuytren sufferers include Ronald Reagan, Paul Newman, Margaret Thatcher, Chelsea Handler, and Mitt Romney along with his wife Ann and son Matt.
About El Capitan
El Capitan is a vertical granite formation in Yosemite National Park, part of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Once considered impossible to climb, it rises 3,000 feet from base to summit along its tallest face and is one of the world’s toughest rock climbing challenges. “El Cap” has two main faces, the Southwest (on the left when looking directly at the wall) and the Southeast. The most popular and historically famous route is The Nose. It was first climbed in 1958 by Warren Harding and his team in 47 days using fixed ropes along the length of the route. Since the first climb, 24 have lost their lives in the attempt. Today, The Nose typically takes accomplished climbers 4–5 days of full climbing, and has a success rate of around 60 percent.
Dupuytren Research Group’s El Cap Facebook event page:
Find out more about the IDDB at http://Dupuytrens.org/iddb/
Enroll in the IDDB: the Dupuytren Research Group’s International Dupuytren Data Bank: http://DupStudy.com
For more information including photos or to arrange an interview with climber Will Winford or Dr. Charles Eaton, please contact Russ Morley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 561.346.0248.