el capitan
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‘Valley of Giants’ Anthologizes Legendary Female Climbers of Yosemite

Lauren Delaunay Miller’s ‘Valley of Giants’ book collects a wide range of stories from pivotal women in Yosemite climbing history — with fresh perspectives from Lynn Hill, Liz Robbins, Beth Rodden, and more.

Let’s be frank: Women climbers have crushed it in Yosemite just as much as the guys.

Lynn Hill changed the world with a visionary climb and a clever three-word statement when she made the first free ascent of the Nose of El Capitan in 1993. But her feat constituted a highlight in a long lineage of influential women climbers in the Yosemite Valley, rather than an aberration from it.

Now, climber and writer Lauren Delaunay Miller seeks to tell the whole story in one epic shot.

“Valley of Giants” consolidates key episodes in Yosemite women’s climbing history. In it, you’ll find journal excerpts, original essays, interviews, archival materials, and essential firsts that cover “the past century of climbing” in the modern hub of the sport.

The book rounds up 40 contributors spanning multiple eras. It includes legends like Bea Vogel, who forged her own gear in a primordial era of climbing we’ve all but lost. It also folds in perspectives from the sport’s first female stars, when the media first drew widespread attention to climbing in the ’90s. Lynn Hill, Steph Davis, and Beth Rodden all contribute.

Mari Gingery, one of the first women to climb “The Shield” on El Cap, writes in the foreword that “the stories feature a medley of intrepid female characters” who “offer fresh perspectives.” From available excerpts and descriptions, the writing can range from experiential to inquisitive to wrenching.

‘Is It Worth It?’: Book Excerpt

Josie McKee, an Edelweiss athlete and motivational speaker, contributed a piece titled “Is It Worth It?” She writes:

We wanted to know: How fast can we climb the Nose? Right then and there, about one-third of the way up a 3,000-foot face of granite, my choices were fueled by this curiosity. Decisively, I pulled the last cam out and kept moving. The best I’ve ever moved. Fingers in the familiar crack, in just the right position, toe on this crystal, core tight, reach to the next hold, sensing each grain of rock. Focused, present, in flow. Perfect. Fast.

Her climbing partner is Quinn Brett. If you’re squeamish about injuries or don’t like thinking about freefalls, you might want to skip the grim details of what happens next.

Instead, you could fast-forward to focus on McKee’s reflections as she debriefs the accident:

As the weeks passed, I tried to climb again. I suffered from visions of falling. A body (her body, my body?) falling through the air. I cried while top-roping and could find zero motivation for climbing. What is the point of doing something so dangerous? I began to ask: Is it worth it? How could any of it be worth what happened to Quinn? I had never stopped to question if I should do these things or why I wanted to do these things. I just wanted to know what I was capable of. And I still wanted to know what I was capable of.

Spoiler alert? She’s still exploring what it means to find out.

And so are many of the women of “Valley of Giants,” the first Yosemite Valley climbing anthology focused on women. You can pick up the book now from various sellers for around $20.

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Sam Anderson

Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.