Regardless of your familiarity with the world of professional rock climbing, there is something very relatable about Lynn Hill’s memoir Climbing Free: My Life in the Vertical World
. Imagine being 72 feet above the ground on a seemingly casual ascension when, as you lean back to make the descent, the rope that is supposed to be attached to your harness has come undone and you plummet to the ground. Pretty intense, but this is only the first chapter. This book is a detailed look at the life of one of rock climbing’s greatest female athletes. It is more than just an adventure tale; it is an autobiography of a woman who devoted her entire life to the pursuit of achievement in a sport previously dominated almost exclusively by men. It seems rare that a book would be so compelling from start to end, but I assure you this is one of the best investments you could make with that extra twenty bucks you were going to spend on an overpriced movie. The story chronicles Hill’s early days of climbing in Yosemite in the seventies, youthful and inexperienced, to her progression as a resilient climbing machine who went on to conquer some of the world’s most difficult climbs. The story is primarily focused on one particular climb: Yosemite’s 3,000 vertical feet monster “El Capitan” which Hill ascended in less than 24 hours without the aid of climbing gear; a feat almost unheard of even for the most audacious climbers.
Hill constructs a powerful story that creates a unique bond with her readers, highlighting how the emotional strain of climbing is as much of an impediment as the physical. For readers unfamiliar with the art of rock climbing Hill provides an insight to the complete mental devotion that guides climbers regardless of their physical capacity, emphasizing that often the biggest obstacle is not the rock in front of you, but the doubts and uncertainties that linger in your mind. While this is a memoir about Hills accomplishments in climbing, it is also a very personal tale where Hill explores the culture “behind the rock” so to speak. Her book is ripe with a cast of colorful personalities, many of whom create a profound influence on her life, and further add to the exceptional world that Hill draws us into. Throughout the book, and particularly towards the end, there is a weighty feeling of nostalgia that undertones the story; nostalgia for the purity of the sport, and the people and experiences that have left a more lasting impression than any award could. Hill embodies the spirit of evolution in climbing and her story should be read by all.