Lynn Hill, the 5′ 2″, 110-pound rock goddess, almost singlehandedly neutered one of the most testosterone-soaked sports on the planet. The feat: Becoming the first person to free climb The Nose route on El Capitan—a 31-pitch beast that was widely considered impossible to ascend without ropes and pulleys. It was 1992, and having been an athlete her whole life—gymnast, weightlifter, runner—Hill had spent the 1980s dominating every climbing competition she entered. Just before turning 30, she decided to step away from competition and return to her first love, traditional climbing, big outdoor routes that required serious commitment. Little did Hill know that she was also laying the foundation for an entirely new era in big-wall climbing, in which the most famous aid-only routes (those requiring gear to pull you upward) would be climbed using only body power. Preternaturally strong and technically gifted, Hill was uniquely suited for stringing together a relentless series of moves without the help of aid gear. Hill began working on The Nose in 1989. Three years later, she had climbed each and every pitch—during several separate trips—using only her own hands and feet to ascend. The very next year, as if to prove this was no fluke, she also became the first climber to do the entire route in a day, in one single push. That feat, free-climbing The Nose in under 24 hours, was so stunning and ahead of its time that it wouldn’t be repeated for another decade.
• She was the first person to free climb The Nose on El Capitan, a rock formation at Yosemite National Park that is nearly 3,000 feet high.
• After her first successful ascent of The Nose, she tried again and finished the climb in less than 24 hours—one of only two people to do this.
• She was the first female to ascend “Midnight Lightning” in Camp 4 at Yosemite National Park, a boulder that is considered difficult because of a jump that’s necessary to successfully complete the climb.
The Last Word
When The Nose finally went free, it shattered long-held beliefs about what was possible on big walls. In many ways, it was Lynn Hill’s feat that began a revolution in the sport, one that led to Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s much more publicized triumph on El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in 2014. If you surveyed today’s rock hounds on the top 10 most talented sport climbers ever, almost every single one of them would put Hill on the list—and many would place her at number one.
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