Lynn Hill rewrote the rules of what’s possible in rock climbing

Lynn Hill is the definition of a woman who has been reaching new heights for years.

The professional mountaineer is widely known as the first person to scale the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, proving that women and men belong in the same arena. The 3,000+ foot climb is one of the most famous in the world, and the fact that it hadn’t been scaled as a free climb before was just another challenge for Hill – who has been climbing since the age of 14 – to cross off his list.

She climbed the Nose in 1993 (on her second attempt), and at the end, she uttered a phrase that has followed her throughout her career: “It’s okay, boys!”

Lynn Hill is a long-time advocate for gender equality in sports, pictured here in Joshua Tree, California.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

“My whole career, a lot of things were there to be done for the first time,” she says.

In 1999, Hill led a group of women to make the first ascent of a steep granite wall in a remote region of Madagascar. (“I still don’t know of a tougher first ascent ever set by a women’s team,” Hill wrote on her website.) It was, she says, a new level of achievement for her as a leader and she is proud in the fact that one of the group members, Beth Rodden, who was 19 years old and relatively inexperienced at the time, later became a successful climber.

Hill, 59, admits to facing adversity throughout her career (some have tried to insist she owed her success to her short stature). But she persevered — as a top high school gymnast, as a mountain climber, and as an advocate for gender equality in sport. “It wasn’t like I was being cocky saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’m right, and they’re all wrong,'” she explains. “It was more about finding out what I could do with an open mind and not just blindly listening to what people were saying.”

Virginia F. Goins