Lynn Hill is a living legend and one of the worlds' best known rock climbers. One of the first women in the sport, by 1986 she had quickly moved into the top ranks. She redefined what is possible by being the first person (male or female) to free climb the ascent of the most famous big wall climb in the world - The Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, California. A decade before anyone else. A true wander women she has travelled the world competing and winning over 30 competitions including the “Wimbledon” of the climbing world (Arco Rock Master) five times. In 1999 Lynn led a small team of women to the island of Madagascar to do a first ascent up a steep, two-thousand-foot wall of granite. She’s been a guest at the White House, appeared on the Letterman show and is four time winner of NBC Wide World of Sports Survival of the Fittest competition.
Lynn’s remarkable achievements are featured in the Discovery Channel’s award winning premier of their Elevation weekend series this Saturday April 25th. Valley Uprising explores the evolution of the 50 year old sport from its beginnings in Yosemite Valley, California.
Now 54, Lynn still combines her love of climbing with travelling the world and motherhood.
WW: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today Lynn, its a huge privilege to get to speak with you. I love this quote of yours:
Throughout my life, one of the underlying qualities that has inspired me to pursue my vision of what is possible has to do with trusting in what I truly love and believe in.
That sounds similar to Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss.” I think its great that you believe our success in our chosen field is intrinsically linked to doing what lights us up.
What advice would you give to women still struggling to try and discover what that is?
Lynn Hill: Well fortunately for me it wasn’t a thing that i struggled with, to find what I loved. I naturally gravitated towards that. If someone hasn’t identified that, they need to reflect on what they enjoy because sometimes we have an interest in something and we don’t acknowledge it, a pastime and hobby, but if they have an interest then follow it , explore it and give it the chance to turn into something more. I know that its something younger people struggle with, perhaps because there is so much choice and also that things get obscured by all the other demands of life. But if you really simplify and reflect on what you WANT to do then that's where you can recognise and start developing your passion.
WW: How did you manage to combine focusing so fiercely on your passion and what you love with bringing a baby into the world and the sacrifice or balance that mother hood has required?
Lynn Hill: I consider it a juggle because you can’t do everything all at once, if you have a child you have to prioritise, so once you’ve sent children of to school you can start doing things yourself. There’s a real need to do what I call “me time” and that's something we do ideally for an hour or so on an almost daily basis. I still climb three to four times a week and that’s enough to feed my passion.
WW: I’d like to talk with you about your relationship with fear and how you tackle it. Fear comes in many forms, when we’re trying something new and taking a step into the unknown - what advice would you give on how to manage that based on your experience climbing.
Lynn Hill: I think fear is a good guide to keep us alive, we don’t have it we might not take necessary precautions but its also important to not let fear take over and stop you performing how you want to perform.
So I focus on the solution to the problem. I do a mental shift and do not focus on the fear but doing what I need to do to resolve that situation.
If i’m in a dangerous situation on the rock face, I can either move forward to the next hole or I can move back or down climb (which is precarious.) Those are really the only options. There is a visual process that accompanies this. I imagine my hand going to the next hole and grabbing it. If i see that in my mind very quickly then I know its time to go and that I need to act. If i don’t visualise the next move or if I continue to feel awkward and fearful then I know i need to stop, relax, re evaluate the solution and look for another situation.
WW: So you’ve become very in tune with your instincts, about the timing around when its right to pause and evaluate and when its time to act quickly also which I could definitely apply to decision making process in my own life!
You’ve described your rock climbing as a kind of moving meditation, to what extent has the sport become (or was it always) a type of spiritual practise for you?
Lynn Hill: It could be called a spiritual practise but its not a religious experience, there’s no traditional praying or doing it for a higher purpose. But I am tuning into a universal truth, that’s my idea of spirituality.
As a human being we have our interpretations and our perspective of a situation and that determines how we see it, and if you take your ego out of it and see the reality of the situation as it is then you’re better able to manage yourself in that situation.
Climbing is a practise that makes me feel good and centred and I think that when you feel good and centred we’re better human beings; we feel better about our lives and relate to others better. I think climbing reinforces that kind of honesty and willingness to look at the truth. There’s no hiding on the rock. Your direct action will determine whether you get to the top or not.
WW: Let's talk about one of your amazing achievements; being the first person to free climb The Nose (El Capitan in Yosemite). In other interviews you’ve said that everyone in your peer group and the climbing community was telling you it was impossible.
What was the motivating impulse that took you from hearing everyone saying it was impossible to thinking “right i’m going to do that!” and taking the first step.
Lynn Hill: I figured that my experience and my vision might be unique and that I had a chance of being able to do it if I kept an open mind and had a lot of persistence. I had lots of experience on that climb and different experience with other types of rocks and at a higher level from my climbing in Europe.