Top climber visits NMU
MARQUETTE — Her last name is Hill, and she lives in Boulder, Colorado. So, maybe it was Lynn Hill’s destiny to be one of the world’s best climbers.
Hill, 58, came to Northern Michigan University’s Jamrich Hall on Tuesday to talk about her experiences that have landed her on the list of elite climbers in the world.
She went from climbing a neighborhood light pole in her younger days to being one of the few people in the world to make an all-free, one-day ascent of The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley.
When she was 13 years old, a family camping trip to Yosemite Valley changed her life.
“Gazing up at those glacier-polished granite walls, I had a hard time imagining how anyone could possibly climb them,” Hill said.
She did find out, and then some.
Hill was the first person to complete an all-free ascent of The Nose with a 1994 effort, having first discovered competition climbing during a visit to France in 1986. However, she received accolades before that feat. In 1979, she was the first woman to climb a route rated 5.12d. Hill continued to climb routes at the highest standards of difficulty, including being the first woman to do a route-graded 5.14 in 1991 — three years before any other woman. In 1992, she was also the first woman to make an on-sight ascent of a climb rated 5.13b.
The National Park Service has this to say about The Nose: “Long, aesthetic, and immediately visible upon entering the Valley, it has all the makings of a classic line. At 5.9 C2, the Nose is considered to be the easiest full-length route on El Capitan, which makes it extremely popular and draws relatively inexperienced big-wall climbers. But the Nose also is a complex climb, requiring a large repertoire of techniques that may be unfamiliar to newcomers.”
Hill definitely wasn’t a newcomer when she made her historic ascent.
At the time Hill began her climbing career, though, equipment had evolved from pitons to removable protection devices.
“Rather than rely on the aid of our equipment for upward progress, our objective was to climb up using only the natural features of the rock with the least dependence on our equipment other than for safety purposes,” Hill said.
She was part of a new climbing community.
“The late ’70s marked the beginning of a whole new era in free climbing,” Hill said. “What started out as an eclectic band of friends evolved into a synergistic group of climbers that pushed the level of free climbing in America.”
Moving around in the world, however, enlightened her to other ways of doing things.
For example, a 1986 trip to France introduced her to limestone climbing.
“I had heard how much fun it was to climb on limestone faces, but I had no idea that this experience would open up a whole new era of free climbing,” Hill said.
In fact, she expressed great appreciation of limestone as a mineral itself with its stalactites, pockets and edges.
“It’s just the most varied rock I’ve seen,” Hill said.
Hill has been a guest at the White House and has been featured on numerous television shows such as “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Battle of the Superstars” and the “Survival of the Fittest” competition, among others.
However, for Hill, climbing goes beyond television cameras. Competition climbing, regardless of the results, gives her an opportunity to learn from her mistakes.
“That’s the one thing that climbing is really beneficial for, is confronting your own ego, your fears, that tunnel vision that comes and kind of paralyzes you; so all that extra tension can make you move in a way that’s not natural,” Hill said. “Whether you’re in a competition or just trying to do your hardest route or trying to climb something on site, you just have to find the right state of mind, and that is the biggest challenge in climbing.”
There still is the technical challenge of rock climbing, such as wedging fingers into a tiny pocket and using an arm in a bracing technique.
“The difference between making it and not making it always comes down to those little, fine details of adjusting a foot or just waiting that extra beat, looking at that hole,” Hill said.
She’s traveled all over the globe for her climbing pursuits, including Morocco, Australia and Vietnam, but close to home, she stays active in educating people about her passion through working on a video series.
“The idea is to create what I call the language and vocabulary of climbing,” said Hill, who noted she talks about things like points, planes, planning sequences and the use of momentum in the form of arcs.
Climbers were in the audience to listen to Hill’s talk, including NMU senior Theo Medendorp who said the event was “wonderful.”
It might have been a little inspiring as well.
“I think I probably will start climbing again once the weather gets warmer,” Medendorp said.
Tuesday’s event was sponsored by Platform Personalities, the Organization for Outdoor Recreation Professionals and the Student Finance Committee.
To learn more about Hill, visit lynnhillclimbing.com.