Making it to the top of El Capitan is a daunting feat even for the most experienced climbers.
Selah Schneiter, 10, was practically born to do it.
The precocious climber made history last week when she became the youngest person on record to scale the famed, 3,000-foot vertical rock formation in California’s Yosemite National Park.
Sitting alongside her parents, Schneiter said on TODAY Wednesday that the feeling after reaching the top of El Capitan’s nose was “just really overwhelming” and “really emotional.”
She also received a special surprise when she got a congratulatory message on TODAY from legendary climber Alex Honnold, the star of the breathtaking 2018 documentary “Free Solo.” The film follows Honnold as he scales El Capitan without any ropes or harnesses, where one slip or false step could’ve meant a fall to his death.
“Hey Selah, nice work on El Cap, pretty impressive,” Honnold said in his video message. “You might not know, but I actually got to watch you a little bit from the meadow…it was pretty incredible to see you up there and so, well done.”
Schneiter has been climbing since before she could walk because her parents, Mike and Joy, are also avid climbers.
She is the oldest of four children, all of whom can often be found on the climbing wall in the family’s house.
Her father was by her side the entire way during her five-day climb into the history books, which took a year of planning.
“I’m super proud of her just to see how big her heart was and how strong she was,” Mike said.
Schneiter’s record-setting ascent was all about the preparation to face a challenge that is potentially deadly. Last year, two experienced climbers fell to their deathwhile scaling El Capitan.
“Our motto was, ‘How do you eat an elephant? Small bites,”’ she said. “So we were just trying to do one day at a time, one move at a time, one pitch at a time.”
“She talked about it really for a number of years,” her father said. “We started kind of hatching a plan, like if we’re going to do this, you need to do a series of steps, like goals to get there. I said, ‘Well if we can kinda get to that point where I feel like we’re ready, we can give it a go.’
“She just did great preparing for it, training for it. I really felt like, OK, maybe we have a chance… Just go give it a shot. We could always come down if it wasn’t working.”
Knowing that the climb is so demanding that it has forced experienced climbers to turn back, Joy Schneiter was mainly worried about the physical punishment her daughter would have to endure.
“I would say I was concerned for her endurance,” Joy said. “She’s so little. I know how much work it is to get up a big wall. It’s not just going up 3,000 feet, it’s hauling and jugging and sleeping and exposure to the elements, being baked in the sun, it’s just a lot of energy sapping experience…
“I knew that they would turn back if they needed to, and I knew that, of anyone, Mike was the person who would keep her safe up there.”
Once she reached the top, she enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Then she had a food craving that any 10-year-old could understand.
“Pizza,” she said. “I was just really looking forward to it.”
Her climb is the latest significant experience in the family’s life with El Capitan.
Mike and Joy first met and fell in love there 15 years ago during a climbing trip, with Mike giving her “a peck on the cheek” when they reached the top. Less than a year later, they were married.
“It’s really special to us,” Mike said.