I Didn't Dare Fall

by Lynn Hill
Spring 2010

The climb began inauspiciously one summer in 1979. The weather was getting hot in the Valley, so we asked John Bachar to give us a ride up to Tuolumne Meadows. Since Fairview Dome is the tallest, most aesthetic looking of the Meadows' smooth granite domes, we headed directly there. Yabo’s commitment to free climbing was so convincing, he sometimes appeared to have a mystical quality. As he slung our minimalist rack of gear over his shoulder, I felt a sense of blind faith. In reality, though, I had no idea what I was getting into.

Yabo began leading the first pitch up a steep shield of glacier-polished rock that gleamed like a mirror. Standing on a small ledge 100 feet off the ground, he belayed me up. Then it was my turn to lead. Above me rose a shallow left-facing dihedral leading to a blank, burnished face above. I climbed to the base of the thin dihedral, placed a small hexagonal shaped nut in the crack, and then continued up for 15 more feet until the crack ended at a smooth, featureless face. I had no idea where this vague path would take me, but I knew that the next 20 feet would be severe.

“Yabo, watch me. This looks very hard and insecure. If I fall from here, I’ll hit that ledge sixty feet below me.”

“I’m watching you. Go for it. You won’t fall,” Yabo shouted convincingly.

I believed him. Balancing upward, I entered an irreversible sequence of delicate moves. The only holds were tiny crystals so insubstantial that I could barely feel them with my fingers or feet. Soon my last piece of protection lay 30 feet below me and there were no cracks in sight in which to place another nut. With each move higher, the consequences of falling became more serious. I remained focused on maintaining perfect body position, and controlling the exact angle of my foot placements and weight transfers. One false move here would most likely be painful, if not fatal. I had willingly climbed myself into this situation; now I had to climb myself out of it.

After 10 more feet of climbing, I arrived at a small ledge and let out a sigh of relief. I slotted a single small nut into a crack, secured the rope, then called out, “Off belay.” When Yabo reached the belay, he simply said, “Good lead, that was really hard!”

I had no idea what level of difficulty I had just climbed, though I knew it was extreme, with death-fall potential. The concentration had been so intense that I had felt my whole being absorbed in the experience. Yabo looked at me with eyes that seemed to say, "See what you can do if you go for it?" Then Yabo set off for the next pitch.

Reprinted from The Stonemasters: California Rock Climbers in the Seventies.

About the Author

From futuristic climbs like Levitation 29 in Red Rocks, Nevada (1981), to multiple world championships in the European World Cup Series (late ’80s), to the first one-day free ascent of El Capitan (1994), to current-day efforts from Morocco to Vietnam, Lynn Hill first equaled, then surpassed, men’s best efforts on the rock. A tireless educator, Lynn’s popular camps help promote heart-based climbing as well as the values of sustainable adventure.