The name Lynn Hill is synonymous with cutting edge, breakthrough climbing. She brings up visions of big walls, pine trees, and 80s haircuts. Fundamentally, Lynn is one of the world’s best and most exciting climbers in history – in my humble opinion. Born in the 60s, raised in the 70s and 80s by a mismatched band of wayward climbers, she dominated the free climbing and competition scenes and remains to this day a legend of climbing.
As a child gymnast, Lynn was familiar with the discipline and rigour required to succeed in sports. Her small stature and flexibility gave her a natural edge and she thrived. However, when it came to competing, she lost interest, wanting to do it for the love not the glory. Aged 14, she went on her first climbing trip with her sister and Chuck Bludworth. Instantly, she was hooked to the physicality and culture of climbing. Two years later she went to Yosemite for her first taste of big walling, where she met her first boyfriend Charlie Row.
In 1979 she made the first free ascent of Pea Brain (5.12d) in Colorado, which began to highlight Lynn as a forerunner in free climbing in the United States. Hitting the competition scene again but for this new sport, Lynn began to show her calibre against previous greats such as Beverly Johnson and Catherine Destivelle. Lynn and Catherine had a long rivalry that was a mixture of competition and respect – in 1986 Lynn lost out to Catherine at the Arco e Bardonecchia Sportroccia (later known as Rock Master) in a result that proved to be controversial and unexpected. Bouncing back from this, Lynn made 15 wins between 1986 and 1992, dominating the competitive scene and stepping up as a truly great athlete. Her heart however was still out there on the rock.
In the midst of competing, Lynn studied for her Biology Degree at the State University of New York and continued to power through first ascents and notable female grade achievements. The event she is probably most known for was the first free ascent of The Nose in 1993. This behemoth of El Capitan in the beautiful Yosemite Valley had been stumping climbers for decades, and it was thought it would never be climbed free. But at 32 Lynn proved the world otherwise, and topped it a year later with the first ascent within a 24hour period. Her smaller hands found their way through the crack at the back of the big roof and showed that the previous stigma of having to be all muscle wasn’t necessarily true – being small, flexible, and with a great power to weight ratio proved the magic combination.
Her book, Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World, came out in 2002 and remains relevant. Her passion and enthusiasm is infectious, and she continues to support up and coming female climbers today at events and competitions. Reading her journey makes my hands itch to get on the rock and prove myself in her shadow. Even though that’ll probably never happen, her story is still one to excite and inspire in any path of life.
Lynn’s Website: http://lynnhillclimbing.com/
Bio by Tiffany Stoneman