The ‘Rock’ star Lynn Hill ropes in a crowd

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Isabelle Tavares

Crunched at a 45-degree angle, the first two inches of her fingers jam into a small crevasse as her feet traverse across a smooth rock face. Eight times the height of the Eiffel Tower, erected at a proud 7,573 feet in elevation, the granite monolith, El Capitan, taunts many rock climbers — one skilled female in particular. In 1993, Lynn Hill became the first person to free ascend The Nose, a jutted-out portion of the formation. She did this in four days. The next year, Hill crushed her own record, finishing under 24 hours.

Regarded as one of the best rock climbers during the late 80s and early 90s, Hill spoke about her lifetime of climbing experience at NMU on Tuesday to an audience eager to her stories. She wore black pants and a black top, her silvery-brown hair was pulled back by athletic sunglasses. Hill started the evening with anecdotes from how her early childhood experiences, like climbing the neighborhood light pole, laid the foundation for her love of nature. While flipping through a National Geographic magazine, Hill said she found inspiration from the photographs and stories of rock climbers from that age. Three years later, she found herself in the same places she oogled over.

Born in the Midwest but raised in California, Hill embarked on her climbing career with an “eclectic” group of friends called the stone masters, she said with a reminiscent grin.

“It was our art. We were a loose group of people and loved heckling each other— but it turned out that were at the frontier of free climbing,” Hill said. “[Our attitudes were the] opposite of social media, trying to underplay our feats so we tried to not make a big deal out of it.”

Hill presented these memories through black and white film photos while talking to the audience as if each member was present when the camera flashed. One of the evening’s main themes centered on how women can become good at a sport if they dedicate themselves to it. Coming from a generation that didn’t understand the #Me Too movement, Hill’s message that women don’t have to be “pigeonholed” into those stereotypes sounds natural now.

“It’s a pretty unique opportunity to have her come to Marquette and meet her and talk to her. Back when I learned to climb it was a mainly male dominated sport and now it’s even. It’s very inspirational to females to see somebody that is peak,” said Bill Thompson, co-owner of Down Wind Sports.
“Climbing is my passion and Lynn has been into hard rock climbing for decades. She’s very inspirational for young and older females and just an amazing athlete,” Thompson said.

She was really good at the top of her game and still is, Thompson said. At 57 years old, Hill climbed a 5.13b, a feat that’s near the end of the climbing grade scale.

“I decided to do a 5.14 because I’ve never done it,” Hill explained. “A French man said a woman will never do it. It took me nine days to finally put the route together.”

The gut-wrenchingly difficult route taught Hill the difference between making it and not making it, she said. She discovered that by refining her movements and adjusting a foot, waiting an extra beat and diving her fingers into a little tiny pocket was what made her successful.

“I learned to try my best without expectations of the outcome, no matter how vulnerable I may feel at any given moment. Confronting your own ego and fear that paralyzed you can make you move in a way that’s unnatural,” Hill said. “Finding the right state of mind is the biggest challenge. Be patient, look at the next hold and go for it. That’s one of the things I love about climbing.”

Junior biology major Roxanne Korpela was one out of many NMU students who attended the event and has been following Hill’s feats for the past year.

“I think Lynn Hill is really inspirational, especially as a woman climber and I’m really excited to hear what she has to say,” Korpela said. “I hope to gain inspiration and knowledge.”

After the realization that she could be the first person to free ascend The Nose, regardless of the gender, Hill said she felt like she was chosen. This lead her to think about compassion, to connect with an infinite source of energy and she thought about people in her life who supported her. She looked back on the films with thoughtful eyes and a stoic, yet humble, expression.