Lynn Hill – 3,000 feet up the world’s most famous rock wall: Yosemite’s El Capitan


“People said, Oh, no, you can’t do that. That’s too hard‘.

It doesn’t look like there’s holds, but I just looked at it with an open mind and found just enough to make it possible.”

                                                                                                                                                 – Lynn Hill

In 1993, Lynn Hill became the first person to free-climb the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, California. Revered as one of the best rock climbs in the world, it boasts a 3,000 foot pitch straight up solid granite. Lynn attributes her success to adaptation. “It’s all about adapting yourself to the rock,” she says. “The rock is what dictates the moves.”  Fear and awe dance together with each finger hold, and a cavernous feeling works it’s way across my gut just watching Lynn and fellow climbers Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell inch and jump their way up and across the Nose – without ropes. Their amazing feats have been captured on video by Google Maps, the company’s first ever vertical “Street View” camera work, which gives all of us non-climbers and climbers alike a climbers-eye-view, safely accessed right from our desktops and kitchen counters.

In 1996, Erik Weihenmayer successfully climbed the Nose, and became the first blind person ever to do so.

I’ve never climbed, yet I’m fascinated by people who do. I am thrilled every time my eleven-year old daughter moves effortlessly up the artificial turf in snake-like fashion, as indoor rock climbing has become her passion.

If adaptation is the key to success, let’s use it. The only way we can adapt is to first know the basics. Beginner’s mind is a very appropriate way to honor adaptation. Mindfulness – it’s important. It’s important to be present to a student’s process and needs.

In my work, adaptation is the tool I offer so that students may climb and achieve the “Oh no’s.” Every teacher of the blind knows that a blind child’s hand is a treasure. In Waldorf education, we understand on a very deep level the importance of the hand, through Steiner’s insights, research on brain development, plasticity and connection, as well as the care of the hand in particular. It is not uncommon for Waldorf nursery and kindergarten teachers to consciously devote their attention to providing hand massages to the children in their care. In our work, we say, “This is a necessary component. This is kindness. This is life-giving”.

Arthur Auer, Program Director of the Waldorf Education Program at Antioch University, New England, expresses how Waldorf teachers view the connection in this excerpt from Learning About the World Through ModelingSculptural Ideas for School and Home. “Physical grasp and manipulation thus set the stage for emotional and mental grasp of experiences and ideas.  Hand activity and grasping not only initially help establish the awe-inspiring neural network of the mind in our very early years, but also contribute to keeping it vibrant, flexible and active throughout our most formative learning yearsfrom birth to 21and into adulthood. Without regular, rhythmic, and active engagement of our hands, many neural pathways would remain unused, underused, or would fail to receive the permanent myelin sheathing they need around them for remembered and repeated action. They would remain disordered and chaotic, atrophy, and wither away. Our minds would be reduced to underdeveloped reflections of their true potential.”

As always, I am inspired by the healthy insight that Waldorf education provides and by individuals who climb 3,000 feet up sheer granite rock. I am most inspired, as always, by the children who must climb the world without sight.

If you’re so inspired, as I am, you can learn more about the world’s top female rock climbers through their essays in: Leading Out: Women Climbers Reaching for the Top by Rachel Da Silva. For children, No Summit Out of Sight: The True Story of the Youngest Person to Climb the Seven Summits by Jordan Romero and Linda Leblanc, available from Bookshare through Sonne Valley School, and book sellers.