Maria Cranor, the woman who brought climbing into the modern era | The Mountaineer | Sports

The first time Lynn Hill left home to rock climb, she had just turned 14 and had no idea what she was going to do. She also didn’t know that that day would determine the rest of her existence. And she, far from it, could have imagined that she would become the most respected climber in history. That morning in Big Rock, Southern California, another woman climber approached Lynn Hill and congratulated her, extremely impressed by what she had just seen: a girl with no experience climbing with amazing courage, elegance, and determination. That woman, named Maria and surname Cranor, died on January 15, 2022 at the age of 76, a victim of cancer. What she did during her lifetime is worthy of a great film, but it has only been partially captured in a small documentary titled The Mentor and directed by Mike Call. Maria Cranor had at least three lives: pioneering climber, visionary entrepreneur, and physics professor at the University of Utah. Simply put, everything she set out to do she did well. That is why it is difficult to understand that her life has gone unnoticed beyond the tiny circle of those who treated her.

With the arrival of the 70s of the last century, the walls of California and especially those of the Yosemite Valley experienced a revolution: new, rebellious airs arrived, people opposed to society, its laws, its ties and conventions… people who He didn’t want to possess anything except his destiny. Many were climbers and quickly called themselves the stonemasters (play on words that indicates that they combined two masteries: rock… and getting high on marijuana). They climbed as they lived: to the limit, freely forcing the most demanding steps and embracing a serious and dangerous commitment on the rock. The first woman to have a place among the stonemasters was Maria Cranor: her ticket was to climb the Valhalla route, in Tahquitz, in 1976. No woman had ever achieved it, and she, who was 22 years old and had only been climbing for two years, impressed the men so much that they immediately welcomed her into a A very small group that included legends like Jim Bridwell, John Bachar, John Long and Ron Kauk. That day she showed that women could do anything men did. The rest of her life further demonstrated that women could do much better than men. The documentary begins with two elite climbers of the present facing Valhalla without great success, which puts into perspective, half a century later, the difficulty that Maria Cranor overcame.

Group image of the ‘Stonemasters’ in the mid-70s. Maria Cranor, wearing a white t-shirt, is on the left of the image.Maria Cranor Collection

If the 70s were years of wild climbing in Southern California, the 80s brought a revolution imported from Europe: sport climbing was looking for its niche. Faced with the escalation defended by the stonemasters, all adventure, self-protection and daring, the sport proposed new rules: safety, skill and strength to seek new limits in difficulty… without getting hurt. It was no longer about climbing big walls, but rather small walls that forced men and women to give their best. And so, two worlds collided. In 1984, Maria Cranor’s passion for climbing led her to the headquarters of the Chouinard Equipment company, whose owner, Yvon Chouinard, had also created the Patagonia firm. The profitability of the latter far exceeded that of its brand of hard mountain equipment (ice axes, crampons, carabiners, etc.), so in 1989 Chouinard got rid of Chouinard Equipment, which was renamed Black Diamond. Without experience or studies in marketing, Maria Cranor asked to be responsible for the content of the catalogs and everything related to marketing. She knew how to see that there was no reason to choose between traditional climbing and sport climbing, deciding that both universes could coexist and complement each other. Time has proven him right: sport climbing is today a rapidly expanding global phenomenon and Black Diamond continues to be the fetish brand for mountaineers and wall climbing lovers. Cranor began a type of relationship with the climbers she sponsored that went far beyond the mere exchange of image for material: she was a true mentor for figures such as Lynn Hill or Mark Twight, who remember her as a great advisor and spiritual guide. The filmmaker and author of the documentary, Mike Call, remembers her “as a stone that once thrown into the pond sets off ripples that inspired countless lives and generations of climbers. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Maria had more to do with driving the climb into the modern era than anyone else she ever knew. However, what made her one of the most important people I have ever dealt with was her ability to look you in the eyes, say one simple, powerful thing, and change your life.” Since she never sought to be the center of attention, it took Mike Call a world to get Maria to agree to participate in the documentary.

Maria Cranor climbing in California.
Maria Cranor climbing in California.Randy Vogel

When she turned 50, Maria Cranor decided to study physics. She knew nothing about mathematics or algebra, a lack that she made up for by studying 16 hours a day, according to her own testimony. The last years of her working life were spent teaching classes in the physics department at the University of Utah. But she never ignored the climbing scene, and when she talked about Black Diamond she always did so in the plural, as if she were not able to take off the climber and businesswoman outfit with which she showed men that it made no sense for them to give up. so much importance.

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