The Sharp End of Life

A Mother's Story

  • 256 pages
  • Mountaineers Books
  • 978-1-68051-242-7
  • May 1, 2019

Paperback / softback
Out of stock

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  • A mother’s tale of courage, persistence, and finding herself--with the help of her children
  • At 66, Dierdre Wolownick became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan, in Yosemite
Wife. Mother. Professor.

Marathoner. Musician. Survivor. All aptly describe Dierdre Wolownick. As does “climber.” But unlike her son, climber Alex Honnold who began his climbing career at age 19 and free-soloed Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan at 31, Dierdre began climbing at the age of 58.

In The Sharp End of Life: A Mother's Story, Dierdre places her climbing within the context of the rest of her life, laying bare a sometimes vulnerable and isolated journey. She grew up under the watchful eyes of a needy, domineering mother; faced a decades-long struggle in an emotionally abusive marriage; raised two teenagers as a single working mom; and learned to accept and love two kids with extraordinary, demanding skill-sets. All of these experiences gave Dierdre the strength and tenacity to follow her passions. She began running at age 54—inspired by her daughter—and subsequently ran four marathons and nine half-marathons. Then she began rock climbing—and ultimately become the oldest women to climb “El Cap.”

From confused wife and isolated mother to confident athlete, Dierdre’s story is one of growth, acceptance, and unshakeable spirit.


  • 256 pages
  • Mountaineers Books
  • 978-1-68051-242-7
  • May 1, 2019

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