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.
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
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.
GALLERY: CLIMBING EL CAPITAN'S DAWN WALL:
Climbing El Capitan's Dawn Wall
Tommy Caldwell working Pitch 15.
Tommy Caldwell setting up gear at Base Camp.
A wide view of the Camp along the Wall.
Kevin Jorgeson (in green) Climbing on Pitch 15 – top and center people are photographers.
Kevin Jorgeson (in red) Climbing High up on Pitch 13 – Tommy in yellow and photographer in green.
Tommy Caldwell (in red) Climbing on Pitch 14 – Kevin belaying in green.
Tommy Caldwell climbing on Pitch 11 – Kevin Belaying in Yellow
Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell sorting gear in El Cap Meadow before heading up the wall.
Kevin Jorgeson (in blue) on Pitch 8.
Kevin Jorgeson (in blue) high up on Pitch 8.
Kevin Jorgeson (in blue) ascending the rope from base camp to his next climb, while Tommy Caldwell sorts gear at camp (in yellow.)
Tommy Caldwell (center in red) on pitch 10. Camera man Hangs close to his right to get the shot.
Tommy Caldwell eating some well earned dinner.
Kevin Jorgeson (in red) climbing Pitch 11.
Kevin Jorgeson's fingers hopefully recovered.
Kevin Jorgeson (center, in green) navigating Pitch 15 while Tommy Caldwell (right, in yellow) belays. Multiple cameramen hang on ropes taking photos and video.
Kevin Jorgeson (center, in green) navigating Pitch 15 while Tommy Caldwell (far right, in yellow) belays. Multiple cameramen hang on ropes taking photos and video.
Kevin Jorgeson (in red) ascending the rope to Pitch 17.
Tommy Caldwell (shirtless) climbing Pitch 17 and Kevin Jorgeson (in red) is belaying.
Tommy Caldwell (in red) climbing Pitch 19 and Kevin Jorgeson (in blue) is belaying on his rest day. Brett Lowell (cameraman, in green) is shooting from above.
Kevin Jorgeson (in green) climbing on Pitch 15 while Tommy Caldwell belays.
Kevin Jorgeson (in green) celebrating his finish of Pitch 15 while two cameramen shoot video and stills from above.
Crowds watch and wait anxiously in ElCap Meadow.
Kevin Jorgeson (shirtless, middle) climbing Pitch 17.
Kevin Jorgeson (shirtless) climbing the top of Pitch 17 while Tommy Caldwell (in yellow) belays below.
Kevin Jorgeson (shirtless) stands at the beginning of Pitch 18 looking up.
Kevin Jorgeson (in red) climbing on Pitch 18 while a cameraman (in blue, top right) shoots the action.
Tommy Caldwell (in yellow) breaking down the Portaledge to move it to the next pitch.
Kevin Jorgeson (in yellow) and Tommy Caldwell (in green) hiking up the summit towards the crowd.
Kevin Jorgeson (in yellow) and his girlfriend Jacqui Becker (in purple).