Fly on the Wall

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Rock climber Lynn Hill has seen the highs and lows of vertical life. She's taken an 80-foot fall and lived to tell about it. She's free-climbed the half-mile-plus Nose of El Capitan, and filmed it. She's stemmed, chimneyed and dyno'd her way up the world's most imposing rock walls, and earned big bucks for it. The tiny powerhouse has prevailed in a world of 'hard men' twice her size.

The question, of course, is why? Why spend days clinging to a rock face, ripping skin and sweating blood? Because it's there? Because she can?

Maybe. But Hill is humble and matter-of-fact about her reasons-more down-to-earth than most world-class climbers. 'I think it really comes from having a low tolerance for boredom,' the 36-year-old suggests. 'I like to be challenged. If I'm not trying hard at something, I get bored. So I have to keep finding things that interest me.'

For almost 20 years, Hill has eschewed boredom to the nth degree, making a name for herself as one of the world's greatest sport climbers. From the time she first hit the rocks in the mid- '70s to her exit from competitive sport climbing in 1992, Hill chalked up more than 30 international titles. From 1988 to 1992, she had a lock on the Rock Masters Invitational at Arco, Italy-the 'Wimbledon of rock climbing.' In 1990, she won the Climbing World Cup, and in the same year, she became the first woman to make a grade 5.14 move (read: crazy hard, impossible for most mortals, male or female).

But 1993 brought Hill's crowning achievement: That year, she stunned the vertical community by becoming the first person to free-climb Yosemite's Nose. With her broad smile and sun-bleached hair, Hill has been profiled in Sports Illustrated, Time and the New York Times. She's been sponsored by Nike, Boreal and Scarpa climbing shoes and Chouinard Mountaineering Equipment.

Now, under her own banner, with regular backing from the North Face Climbing Team, Hill travels the world, pioneering routes up woolly, big-dog walls in Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, Scotland, North Africa, the U.S. and Europe.

'My mother used to say I marched to the beat of my own drum,' says the 5'2', 100-pound Hill, who grew up in Orange County, California, one of seven children. She began climbing with her older sisters at the age of 14, and by her early thirties had redefined the genre, using her size and her childhood skills as a gymnast to find alternatives to routes frequented by much taller and seemingly much stronger athletes-most men.