Pull: A Paraplegic’s Attempt at Half Dome
Monday October 15th, 2012
by Maria Luci
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to climb Yosemite’s Half Dome, a rock formation that was once called “perfectly inaccessible”? Now imagine ascending its two mile granite face as a paraplegic. That’s exactly what Sean O’Neill, a t-12 paraplegic, recently attempted to do.
Sean’s story begins several months ago, as Los Angeles-based photographer Justin Bastien chatted with his friend Timmy O’Neill, who’s a Patagonia climbing ambassador. Timmy was telling Justin about his brother and their plans to climb Half Dome together. Inspired, Justin offered to document the experience to promote Sean and Timmy’s non-profit, Paradox Sports, which helps the disabled community get outside and pursue their outdoor sport dreams.
At first, the idea was to keep things small. Just climb, shoot, return. But, before they knew it, “the project started getting bigger and bigger”—evolving from just a few people climbing the wall to a group creating a short film, updating live on social media and, most importantly, partnering up with Patagonia. This all happened after Justin told his friend Bill Boland—who also happens to be Patagonia’s online creative director—about the project. Bill thought the story was great, and wanted to help them get the word out and was able to provide the team an opportunity to share the story through Patagonia’s social media pages, on their site and at a live event at their Ventura, CA store.
Just reaching rock was a challenge in itself. Sean rode a mule the 8.2 mile trail to the notch on Half Dome. From there, the group took turns carrying him on their backs to the base camp.”He weighs 120 pounds,” Justin says, “and the terrain is pretty challenging with lose rocks, slippery areas of dirt and sand and some areas where a fall would be fatal. Timmy carried him most of the way, which was unbelievable considering how exhausting it was.” Upon reaching the Dome, Sean began his ascent using a unique climbing system Timmy developed. Sean has used this system, which involves a small pull bar attached to an ascender, on his past climbs, including on El Capitan. He then basically pulled himself up the sheer face of the rock, dragging his legs behind him. Of the climb, Justin says,
Sean was getting worked on the wall and still wanted to keep going. He encountered challenging overhanging ledges that he had to literally haul his legs over. There were pendulums where he had to swing across the low angle wall. Eventually, all of this provided to be too much to handle with such little time to climb 1,700 feet to the first place of rest and shelter. Luckily, Timmy made the right call and they decided to descend. When they got to the bottom, they realized Sean’s shoes had worn through and if they’d kept going in the dark, Sean would have surely injured his feet.
Even though they didn’t make it to the top, Sean’s story has still been an inspiration to others.
The reaction has been extremely positive; it’s been inspirational to so many people. Even while we were on the trail. People were hiking Half Dome, fatigued, doubting they could make it, and then we come by with huge backpacks, ropes and are carrying a guy on our backs that is going to climb the “steep side.” People couldn’t believe it and their perspective quickly changed. Once the images started showing up on social media, the story developed a bit of a following with great comments coming in by the minute.
Once back from the attempt, Justin quickly got to work with John Phaneuf (editor) and Todd Hannigan (original music), putting together the video for the Patagonia premiere, which was just days away. Finishing up just before the event, the team proudly shared the film to a packed house. The film was extremely well received with people telling Sean, Timmy and Justin just how wonderfully moving and inspirational it was to them.
View the video “Pull” here:
Justin himself is extremely proud to have been a part of Sean’s adventure saying, “I learned so many great lessons from this project on a professional and more importantly, on a personal level. None of us give up easily, especially Sean, and we just kept moving forward with each challenge along the way. Seeing Sean out there with the biggest smile on his face you could ever imagine in the middle of all of that suffering and hard work made the whole experience worthwhile. Next year, we will be back to climb the route and put Sean on the summit of Half Dome.”