National Geographic : 2011 May
• and we couldn't have been happier. But I was a Camp 4 tourist, soon to return to Wyoming. e lore of Camp 4 came from those who lived there all summer, every summer, like hobo kings, constantly pushing the limits of their abilities and the park's tolerance. To this day, Camp 4 fables are staples of camp res round the world. Once, a drug smugglers' plane stu ed with bales of weed and wads of cash crashed in the high country. e ragged, sandaled lads of Camp 4 marched back and forth through the snow, absconding with the loot. For a time, T-bone steaks replaced tinned sardines. One climber rolled out of Yosemite in a broken- down DeSoto and returned ten days later in a red convertible Lincoln Continental. A few others lit out for the Alps with dreams of grandeur but didn't make it any farther than a bordello in Bor- deaux, returning fat and at broke the next year. at was then. ings have changed. Visiting a Yosemite climbing camp today, you're just as likely to meet a divorce attorney from Delaware as a wild-haired dirtbag. Walking through Camp 4 one morning, I hear a dozen languages---Czech, Chinese, ai, Italian---and meet climbers from all walks of life. A young German engineer, grin- ning ear to ear, has just completed a five-day ascent of El Cap. A barefoot young woman from Denmark, with nose ring, dreads, a tattoo, walks a slackline---a tightrope strung three feet o the ground between trees. A mom and dad from Washington State teach their two kids how to climb. Rock climbing is no longer a fringe sport. It's mainstream. And unlike the early years, there are nearly as many women as men on the rock--- a welcome change re ected in the accomplish- ments of one person: Lynn Hill. "I started hanging out in Camp 4 when I was 15," says Hill, now 50. "I was practically the only girl there." A former high school gymnast, she was a fearless climber, bringing a uid graceful- ness to the sport. By the time she was 17, Hill had scaled Half Dome. "Lynnie was a genetic freak," says climber John Long. "She was the strongest, most stubbornly dogged, most gi ed climber I'd ever met. Her weight-to-strength ratio was ridiculous." A er perfecting her cra in Yosem- ite, Hill moved on to other venues, winning dozens of competitions in Eu- rope. en in 1994, at 33, she returned to Yosemite with an audacious plan: to free climb the Nose on El Capitan in a day. "All the naysayers said it was impossible," Hill says. "Except John." e Nose, a 2,916-foot line on El Cap, may be the most famous rock-climbing route in the world. To scale it, you must painfully twist your hands and feet, ngers and toes into vertical cracks. In 1975 Long, with Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay, completed the rst one-day ascent of the Nose, although his team relied on aid climbing to get past the Great Roof, a harrow- ing overhang two-thirds of the way up. Determined to free the Great Roof, Hill clung to the smallest fingerholds, hanging upside down, feet skittering o the slick wall. Using what she calls "delicate tai chi dance steps," she managed to surmount the roof with what were essentially ngertip side pulls. She reached the summit of El Cap in 23 hours---a feat considered by many today to be the ultimate climbing ac- complishment of the late 20th century. , every climber comes to Yosemite with a dream: a route he or she is ach- ing to do. When I rst arrived, I had my heart set on the Steck-Salathé on Sentinel Rock---a route that requires plugging your whole body into a wide crack. Alas, in the event, the wall was too big and my partner and I too green. We igno- miniously bailed only halfway up. Now, 30 years later, Dean Potter offers to climb it with me. One of the last long-haired rebels still living in the valley, Potter, 38, is in- tense, built like Tarzan, and known for his rope- less ascents and bold BASE jumps, leaping o cli s with a parachute. But Potter has rules for me. I'm not allowed to bring any food or water, no backpack or raincoat, not even a helmet. "It's the only way to move fast," he says. Visiting Yosemite today, you're just as likely to meet a divorce at- torney from Delaware as a wild-haired dirtbag.