Lessons from Lynn Hill: Learn the basics from a rock climbing legend

Lynn Hill, a living legend in rock climbing and one of the climbers profiled in the Discovery Channel documentary, Valley Uprising, shared some of her best rock climbing tips, tricks and techniques in a recent talk with SI Edge.
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Lynn Hill, a living legend in rock climbing and one of the climbers profiled in the Discovery Channel documentary, Valley Uprising, shared some of her best rock climbing tips, tricks and techniques in a recent talk with SI Edge.

Start slow

This might sound strange coming from the climber whose resume includes over 30 international competition titles and a myriad of first ascents. But those achievements didn’t happen overnight. The foundation behind all of Hill’s accolades has been a dedication to proper form and technique, which she first learned as a gymnast. Although Hill’s career as a gymnast was short lived—she stop competing when she was 12 because she grew tired of its rules and structure—she kept her focus on the fundamentals once she started climbing at age 14 in Joshua Tree National Park.  “If you don’t master the basics then you develop bad habits,” she says. “It takes time to gain the necessary strength needed to climb at a high level.” 


Be consistent and plan ahead

Valley Uprising documentary shows the extreme rock climbing revolution

Climbing is its own language, so one should approach their training and preparation as if trying to learn a foreign tongue. There are no short cuts. “If you don’t immerse yourself then it is very hard to make progress,” Hill says. She knows from experience. While living part-time in France and Italy during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hill picked up more than five victories at the prestigious Rock Master Invitational in Arco, Italy. (She also became fluent in French and Italian.)

Strategy, like in chess, is also crucial to climbing. To maintain momentum and preserve energy, it’s vital to map out a plan for how to navigate each pitch. “The best climbers know where to put their hands and feet at least two moves in advance,” Hill says. She also emphasizes the importance of utilizing your feet, as footwork is one of the keys to rock climbing success.

Leave your mark, but not on the rock

Hill’s rise to the peak of the rock climbing world came during the later years of the Stone Masters generation of climbers. This group, which included Jim Birdwell and John Bachar, made their first treks into Yosemite Valley in the 1970s and drew inspiration from pioneers in the sport like Royal Robbins.

However, the Stone Masters also sought to forge their own path. Hill became one of the innovators of free climbing, in which one relies on simply their hands and feet to make upward progress. Equipment is only used as a safety precaution. The shift in the sport embodied the philosophy to do the most with least. “We believed in minimizing our reliance on the equipment while doing the most aesthetic and outrageous climbs possible,” Hill says.  

While the prospect of climbing rock faces that tower thousands of feet overhead can seem daunting or even impossible, concentrating on the details is essential to ultimately reaching the summit. “Your most important muscle is your brain,” Hill says. “If you can imagine it you can do it.”


Keep pushing your limits

Climbing is more than just a lifestyle for Hill. It’s a vehicle for social change. “Climbing is empowering,” she says. “It helps prove that women can bee really, really strong. We’ve made a lot of progress through the climbing evolution and have gotten more people to start coming to the table with an open perspective.”​

Now 54-years-old, Hill hasn’t settled. She still has the passion to continue her “art” of climbing—which she calls a “moving meditation”—and to keep searching for the next challenge. She’s currently looking for a climb in the Flat Irons rock formations near her home in Boulder, Colo., that is more technical than any she’s previously attempted. She craves the mental and physical test.

“I’m a better climber in some ways than I was in my twenties,” she says.