Who is Lynn Hill?
“Don’t break eye contact.”
Lynn Hill, climbing LEGEND, stared me in the eyes and raised her beer to meet my glass of iceless water (with lemon please).
“What is it…seven years of bad sex if you break eye contact during a toast? I think I learned that while spending some time in France.” Lynn took a bite of food and looked up, probably wondering why all of us at theDIHEDRAL had such starry looks in our eyes.
Our night hanging out with Lynn is one I’ll never forget. The breeze blew as we sat outside the restaurant talking and eating. The time blew by as well; a scheduled one hour interview turned into one of three and a half. The number of restaurant patrons slowly diminished until we were the only ones remaining. Eventually, the only chairs left unstacked and table uncleaned belonged to us.
Despite probably being extremely tired from her flight and climbing seminar earlier in the day, Lynn made no moves to end the conversation. We listened to incredible story after story. Some sad, some happy. At one point I found myself spilling out my own life story. When I apologized for getting a little too “deep,” she replied,
“Well, that’s just how these things usually go, isn’t it?”
Lynn got “deep” as well. She talked about what it was like climbing in Yosemite during her parents’ divorce at 16. I felt sad for her, inspired, and regretful all at the same time.
1. Sad for Her
Going through a divorce is luckily something I’ve never had to endure, however, I know what it’s like to want to escape something. Yosemite was Lynn’s escape from her home situation. It was a land of no rules, adrenaline, and unlimited potential. A place she found where she belonged. That’s a bittersweet feeling for sure. It’s the loss of one thing and the discovery of another.
Stories like this make me want to shake off all the fears I have when lead climbing or multi-pitching. Here Lynn was, changing the course of rock climbing history at a young age by stepping out and doing something out of the ordinary. Even though it might have been a little scary, she did it anyway. How can I step out and separate myself from the norm?
Man, what was I doing at 16? At the time I was obsessed with impressing the peers on my football team and getting my drivers license. I wish I could’ve shaken off social pressure and focused on the things I really cared about. If only I had started writing back then, how much better would I be now?
We all recognize Lynn Hill as the accomplished climber that free climbed The Nose and kept breaking the boundaries of a highly gendered discipline. However, when you sit down with her you realize that her accomplishments go beyond the wall. I have to confess that when we had the opportunity to talk to Lynn I did not know what to expect. I am nowhere near her skills as a climber and there is no way that any of us could relate to the level of excitement and challenges faced in her professional life. However, Hill’s reality goes beyond those tangible accomplishments.
It is important to understand that elite climbers are humans too. Lynn Hill is a devoted and outstanding mother who broke the status quo when she had her son at the age of 42. Breaking social expectations is always challenging, I know so because I had my son when I was only 19. Although we had our kids in different stages of our lives, it was exciting to share our experiences and perceptions about motherhood– especially when raising kids outdoors. How did you climb with your son? Did you even get a chance?! T runs around and, even though I let him explore, my heart stops every time. Hill’s son, Owen, is already a teenager so she does not face this challenge anymore. Nevertheless, knowing that she once did put me at ease; I am not alone in the world! It only took me a couple of minutes (and a beer!) to connect to her as a mother.
If you are a parent, you understand how exciting it is when someone else feels your pain and celebrates your accomplishments. I am grateful for the experience, and for outspoken, strong women like Lynn Hill.
It’s always a downer when you’re at the gym/crag and no one understands your mechanical physics lingo. You feel like a nerd who has no place with the hip climbers. And if you have no place with your local climbers, then surely you’re not cool enough for a legendary pro-climber like Lynn Hill, right?
All of you nerds out there, be ready to feel pleasantly surprised. Not only does Lynn Hill get mechanical physics, she uses it to explain climbing! As it turns out, Hill is a scientist herself. I was elated to find out about this, and went absolutely bananas anytime she mentioned the word “vector.” Even more, every time “vector” and “rock” were in the same sentence, I just about passed out. Hill demonstrated how contact vectors affect your movements, how the planes of each part of your body achieve balance, how your center of gravity determines how you will make the next move…I could go on and on.
She painted the most detailed picture in my head: a revolutionary climber-box (we make objects boxes in mechanics, and this box happens to be a crazy good climber) with arrows pointing away in several different directions (representing the forces acting upon our lovely box) near that weird target-shaped symbol for center of mass adjusting as the box changes positions (sticking all of her moves, I might add), and multiple planes with coordinate grids covering each of them, showing the position and orientation of the box at all times.
Given this image, Hill explained climbing tips in perfectly clear terms. Only a true climber-scientist could have accomplished this. And, in my book, scientist (I’m not biased in the slightest?) is synonymous with genius; thus to define Lynn Hill, I’d say:
Lynn Hill—I don’t have the ability to put into perspective who or what this person has contributed to the climbing world. If you want to know some of the high points, just Google her name, and you’ll get 192,000,000 results. I personally don’t think a single one of those results can capture the tour de force that is Lynn Hill, and I willingly admit that I can’t do it either. But, after spending just a couple days in the effulgence of her magnificent aura, I picked up on a few things that you won’t find among volumes of articles and forums dedicated to her unimaginable accomplishments!
If it were possible to strip away all the accolades, if it were possible to eliminate the fame, the notoriety, the records, and the glory, what you would notice is a woman built out of compassion, curiosity, intelligence, and focus…the likes of which I have never seen before. Based solely on those attributes, I imagine Lynn Hill would rise to prominence in any field or any discipline she lends her energies to.
In the short amount of time we spent with Lynn, I managed to see her interact with hundreds of individuals. She gave each person the attention one might reserve for royalty. Whether it was the clerk in the pro-shop, the waitress at the restaurant, the fans at her clinic, the audience members at her seminar, or the kids just wanting an autograph, Lynn Hill engaged every single one of them as if they were the icon. She listened to their stories, asked them questions, shared experiences, answered inquiries, and gave what I would consider to be priceless climbing and life advice. Not once did her interactions seemed forced or burdensome. Authentic and genuine is just who she IS!
I’ve never met a person so in tune with those who surround her. Truly engaged in every moment. Just seeing how empowered people felt after conversing with Lynn was a warming lesson in the efficacy of genuine human interaction. Imagine watching someone give the same level of focus it would take to get the 1st free ascent of The Nose on El Cap to each and every person they interact with. That’s Lynn Hill.
Greek mythology claims that on occasion the gods would descend Mt. Olympus, and the hoi polloi would stand in reverence of their glory. Lynn Hill’s achievements put her in the same conversations as the gods, but when she makes her way through the crowds, reverence is the last thing she is looking for. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, reverence is the thing she is looking to give.
Lynn Hill has been climbing for nearly 45 years, rightly earning legendary status, but I hesitate to classify Lynn Hill as a legend. ‘Legend’ attends to something or someone from the past, and from what I have seen of Lynn Hill’s compassion, curiosity, intelligence, and focus…she is just getting started!
The best is yet to come!