Emily Harrington recently redpointed Golden Gate, a 41-pitch 5.13 on El Capitan, becoming the fourth woman to free the wall in a day. The first was Lynn Hill in 1994, the second was Steph Davis in 2004 and third was Mayan Smith-Gobat in 2011.
Hill first attempted to free The Nose in 1989 with Simon Nadin, a fellow World Cup climber. From 1986 to 1992, Hill won 15 major comps, including Rock Master in 1987 in Arco, the World Cup in France in 1989 and Rock Master again in 1992.
Hill and Nadin’s attempt to free The Nose failed, but four years later, in 1993, together with her partner Brooke Sandahl, Hill became the first person, male or female, to free the route. It took four days.
After her climb, she famously said, “It goes, boys!”
Hill’s original climbing grade was 5.13b, which she gave to the crux Changing Corners pitch. She said that she had to use “carefully coordinated sequence of opposite pressures between feet, hands, elbows, and hips against the shallow walls of the corner.”
The next year, in 1994 she became the first person to free-climb El Capitan in a day via The Nose. Usually the climb takes two to six days.
To free The Nose in a day, Hill trained to be able to send 5.13b after a full day of climbing. In France, she was the first to onsight Mingus 5.13b 300m in the Verdon Gorge, simultaneously becoming the first woman to onsight a 5.13b.
Her first attempt to free The Nose in a day was plagued with problems. She ran out of chalk after 22 pitches, very nearly ran out of water and was exhausted by the heat. There was also a film crew, which she opted not to bring on her next attempt.
On Sept. 19 with Canadian Steve Sutton, Hill made another go for El Cap free in a day, and after 23 hours she topped out. Over the past 20 years, a consensus grade of 5.14a/b has emerged for Changing Corners, pitch 27.
Legend Yvon Chouinard said her climb was “the biggest thing that’s ever been done on rock.” Alex Huber later said Hill had “passed men’s dominance in climbing and left them behind.”
In 1998, Scott Burke worked on the route for months and nearly freed every pitch. In 2005, Beth Rodden and Tommy Caldwell spent four days freeing it. In 2005, Caldwell freed it in under 12 hours. It’s also been freed by Jorg Verhoeven, Keita Kurakami, Connor Herson, Sébastien Berthe, Babsi Zangerl and Jacopo Larcher.
In a 2012 interview with Andy McCue for the now-gone Climber magazine, Hill was asked: Looking back today, what is your most striking memory of freeing The Nose in 1993? This is what Hill said:
For me the turning point on the route was the camp six Changing Corners pitch, probably just because I’d failed three times. I slipped on the last attempt at the beginning and that’s where you see your mind start to go because you can either keep persevering or you can kind of mentally give up. And it’s easier to do when you’re 2,500 feet off the ground and it’s really touch and go style of climbing.
But I have to say that my belief that this was kind of meant to be, in a fate sense, was such an important thing for me to achieve to make a bigger statement, which is that I thought that climbing was relatively immature in what we were capable of doing and I had the vision to see that a lot more was capable and there’s no reason that a woman couldn’t do something out there and that to me was an important statement to make because in the history of Yosemite there weren’t really that many role models.
There was one for me, Beverley Johnson, and a few that had hung with the boys so to speak but I think that it’s really important for women, girls to have role models to know that it’s possible because it’s the mind and belief that drives us. If you don’t have any role models then you have even less reason to believe you’re going to stand out. I saw that it was possible with the given set of skills and motivation that I had so I just tried really, really hard.
Hill injured her wrist this summer and kept everyone up-to-date on social media. She’s now recovered and back to sending. Below is a photo that Davis posted in a congratulatory message to Harrington for her recent one-day El Cap ascent.