George Whitmore tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 13 after developing a cough and fever, according to his wife Nancy

By Gabrielle Chung
January 06, 2021 10:19 PM
Advertisement
George Whitmore
| Credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/AP

George Whitmore, a member of the first climbing team to scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, has died from complications related to the novel coronavirus. He was 89.

Whitmore died on New Year's Day at a rehabilitation facility in Fresno, California, from damage to his lungs after he was released from the hospital, his wife Nancy told the Associated Press.

The legendary climber, who was a cancer survivor, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 13 after developing a cough and fever, she said.

Nancy, who was married to Whitmore for 41 years, said her husband had been extremely careful about wearing a mask and the family does not know where he contracted the virus.

Whitmore was the last surviving member of a climbing team that first reached the top of El Capitan.

Alongside Warren Harding and Wayne Merry, Whitmore scaled the famous rock formation in 1958, creating path now known and used by climbers as "The Nose."

Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 1958
| Credit: Eric Paul Zamora/Fresno Bee/AP

In 2008, Whitmore returned to Yosemite to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his historic ascent, telling Associated Press that he didn't realize "how special" the climb would be and the impact it would make on the rock-climbing community in the future.

In addition to his passion for climbing, Whitmore was also an environmental activist and an advocate for nature conservation.

He helped establish the Kaiser Wilderness in 1976 and lobbied for the passing of the California Wilderness Act of 1984, which added 1.8 million acres into the National Wilderness Preservation System, according to The Fresno Bee.

He was also reportedly involved in protecting Mineral King in Sequoia National Park from commercial development, among other movements to save natural landmarks.

"Nature doesn’t clear cut trees for parking lots and neat road corridors," Whitmore he told the newspaper in 2004. "They don’t need to log an area near a river to make a road that shouldn’t be moved in the first place."

As of Wednesday, there have been at least 21,292,109 COVID-19 cases and 360,999 coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University's coronavirus database.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.