INTERVIEW: Perfect Partners #17 - Lynn Hill and Nina Caprez

In 1993 Lynn Hill made climbing history by becoming the first person to free climb The Nose on El Capitan, perhaps the world's most famous rock climb. A year later she returned to make a one-day free ascent. As of 2019 only seven climbers have made free ascents of The Nose. Like Lynn before her, Swiss German Nina Caprez has climbed from a young age. Highlights of her climbing career so far include ascents of Mind Control 8c+ in Oliana, Infinite Story, a 420m 8b+ multipitch in the Rätikon, and Divine Providence on Mont Blanc's Grand Pilier d'Angle.

Lynn Hill and Nina Caprez.  © Bryan Liptzin
Lynn Hill and Nina Caprez.
© Bryan Liptzin

Hill and Caprez first met through their association with French climbing equipment manufacturer Petzl. After cragging together near Grenoble, Nina revealed to Lynn her intentions to follow in her footsteps, and asked if she would accompany her. In the autumn of 2018, 25 years after Lynn had made first free ascent, the pair attempted to free climb the Nose. Beforehand they spent a month climbing together in California, culminating in an attempt on the Nose (free, of course). Nina managed to lead the Great Roof free, but has unfinished business with the Changing Corners. Nina plans to return this autumn for a rematch.

Nina Caprez on Lynn Hill

How did you first meet?

I can't remember the first time, but I'm pretty sure it was during a Petzl Roctrip.

Did you know Lynn by reputation before meeting her?

Yes, every climber has heard of Lynn!

What was your first impression?

The first time we climbed together was at Saint Pancrasse near Grenoble. I was really impressed with how much passion Lynn still has for rock climbing. It wasn't just a social thing; she needs to go rock climbing!

What was the first route you climbed together?

That day at St Pancrasse. She climbed a 7c+ and I climbed an 8a+.

Why do you enjoy climbing with Lynn?

Mostly because it's really fun! Lynn has this great capacity to laugh, is a very confident person, and very happy about life in general. She is never frustrated, never complains, and she just gives everything every time she goes rock climbing.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

Of course it has to be the Nose! We spent three weeks climbing in California together. At the end of those five weeks, after checking out the hard pitches, we climbed the route over three days. That time on the wall was intense, and really beautiful. It is one of the key moments in my climbing career so far.

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Simply Truly Authentic.

Lazy morning on Camp 4 after Lynn's first night sleeping on a portaledge.   © Nina Caprez archive
Lazy morning on Camp 4 after Lynn's first night sleeping on a portaledge.
© Nina Caprez archive

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

Never! Lynn is a very, very careful person. She moves slowly and doesn't take unnecessary risks. As soon as Lynn isn't happy about a situation she will tell me.

If you could change one thing about Lynn what would it be?

I'd make her faster. She is the slowest climber I have ever seen in my life. She moves so slowly - belaying her often requires a little bit of patience.

What are your plans for the future?

Nothing yet! But our paths will cross again, for sure.

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Lynn?

I like climbing too much to have ever done an unenjoyable climb!

Has Lynn ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

No, of course not!

What have you learned from climbing with Lynn?

You should climb things for yourself. Because I am from a younger generation I take social media a little two seriously. The first thing in Lynn's head is climbing!

Lynn also has this aura, when you are around her you just feel better. That is something I would like to learn.

Tired at Camp 5 during our ground up ascent attempt.  © Jon Glassberg
Tired at Camp 5 during our ground up ascent attempt.
© Jon Glassberg

Lynn Hill on Nina Caprez

How did you first meet?

I first met Nina though Petzl. We are both on the Petzl climbing team and we did a trip to China. We really got to know each other the second time we met, in France, at the Petzl offices in Crolles. After meeting up, we went climbing at Saint Pancrasse, right above the Petzl Offices.

I found out later, that she had attempted to contact me via Instagram. I didn't even know you can get messages on Instagram, so it took me six months to even see that she'd messaged me. Her message was, that she'd been in the Valley, had done a few routes, including El Nino, and had been up on the Nose.

Nina wanted to know if would I go back up with her. Her invitation threw down the gauntlet, and I decided, that because it was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first free ascent, it would be cool to head back up there. I knew it would be a good opportunity because Nina is super motivated, cool to hang out with, and a very good climber.

Did you know Nina by reputation before meeting her?

Not really. I don't really follow social media, as much as I should. I didn't really know her, until I met her.

What was your first impression?

It is different to now actually. My first impression was she was a really nice young woman, and really open. What I didn't see is how much energy and psyche Nina has. That I learned after climbing with her, and going to the Nose with her.

What was the first route you climbed together?

We climbed at a crag that overlooked Crolles. Nina was working an 8a+ and our warm up was a 7c, which wasn't so good for me, being jetlagged. We both did the 7c and Nina made some big links on the 8a+ that day.

Nina on the Stoveleg.  © Bryan Liptzin
Nina on the Stoveleg.
© Bryan Liptzin

Why do you enjoy climbing with Nina?

She has a lot enthusiasm, is a very strong climber and will not give up. I like those qualities. She's also fun and has an interesting personality. Although we have had different upbringings - Nina is Swiss, whilst I'm from Southern California - which gives us different viewpoints of the world, we are both strong women, and share similar views on how to get by in the world.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

It would have to be the Nose. In the run up, we spent a month climbing together everyday. I think we are an efficient partnership. Our strengths are a little different; I come from a trad background, and knew certain things, whilst Nina is from a younger generation and knew other things. For example, and this might sound surprising, but I'd not really used a portaledge before. The Nose was a really good experience for both of us. I learned things from Nina and I think she learned some things from me. There were ups and downs, of course. The changing corners were much harder than I remembered, but it was twenty-five years ago…

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Intense energetic optimistic.

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

There was a moment when we went ground up on the Nose… I was wearing brand new shoes, and because there is a lot of crack climbing on the Nose, I had chosen a comfy pair, where my toes are flat - rather than a performance pair that I would normally wear. The shoes weren't broken in, and they kept slipping unexpectedly.

I had done nearly all the hard climbing on the pitch, and was just about to step onto Sickle Ledge, when my foot slipped unexpectedly. Nina hadn't put in any protection, because after that move the climbing was easy, so I took a 45' sideways fall, spraining my finger and hitting my knee in the process. It was not terrible, but being on a big wall with a swollen finger is far from ideal.

On a positive note, the best moment when climbing with Nina, was watching her send Great Roof. I knew she wanted to do it so badly. I was right there with her, the first one to scream, and tears came to my eyes. I was super psyched for her. I'm rooting for her to go back and send the whole route.

Lynn and Nina on the last belay on The Nose.  © Bryan Liptzin
Lynn and Nina on the last belay on The Nose.
© Bryan Liptzin

If you could change one thing about Nina what would it be?

I think I would have her place more protection on traverses.

What are your plans for the future?

We've got plans to go climbing on an Island, off Tahiti, in June. There are 85 metre limestone towers, right off a white sand beach with palm trees on it! But I think we'll see each other before then.

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Nina?

When we were on our way to Yosemite, we stopped in Owens River Gorge. Nina led this route, which she didn't have an easy time on. She fell a few times. After, she said, she'd buy me a beer if I top roped it without falling. I did it, just, but I didn't like it!

Has Nina ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

No! That sort of thing isn't really an issue for me.

What have you learned from climbing with Nina?

She has a different approach to me. Sometime I see her do a move, and think, wow that was a clever way to do that move. Her tenacity is also something I'm impressed by.


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"Live only the life you want."

My passion for climbing started as soon as I stepped into my first real climbing shoes, I knew that this is my sport.

I grew up in the middle of the Swiss mountains...

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18 Apr

Great stuff. The second portaledge photograph is amazing.

18 Apr

Great interview from 2 inspiring climbers and not a mention of gender. Good to see 2 people just getting on with it and enjoying it.

Well, at least until that one anyway.

19 Apr

Interesting how Nina's recollection of their first climbing day together is subtly different from Lynn's :)

19 Apr

Just weaving that one in as the whole gender debate seems to be a current theme of the website. Simply steering the article back on topic. ;)

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