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    The Craftsman: Jimmy Chin


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    JIMMY CHIN - Age: 43, Photographer, Pro Climber, World-Class Alpinist

    The Shark’s Fin (center) on Meru. Photo: Jimmy Chin.On a bright afternoon in 2011, Jimmy Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk straddled the summit of the Shark’s Fin on Meru, a 21,850-foot mountain in the Garhwal Himalaya. Meru, according to the Hindu, is a mythical spire, the center of the Cosmos.

    Three years earlier, in 2008, the trio had failed on Meru just 500 feet from the top, when, with nightfall imminent, they either had to turn back, or bivy in the extreme cold without sleeping bags.

    They turned around. “It was tough to swallow,” says Chin. “We pushed through so much, farther than ever before to get to that point. The safety margins are just that thin,” he says.

    After that defeat, Meru became the center of Chin’s universe. A photographer and Global Athlete with The North Face since 2001, Chin has explored Borneo, Chad and Oman, skied Everest and trekked Tibet’s Chang Tang Plateau, but climbing and shooting Meru was a formidable challenge.

    “As far as craftsmanship, the thing you gotta remember is it wasn’t a typical photo shoot,” Chin says. “It was all on the fly. Climbing was the priority, and the better prepared you are with equipment, it contributes toward your capacity to shoot.”

    Jimmy Chin on Meru. Photo: Renan Ozturk. For their successful Meru climb, Chin, Anker and Ozturk adjusted their equipment. “The thing people don’t realize about that climb is how cold it is,” says Chin. “The first time on Meru we went up with summer bags and midweight alpine climbing boots. I came back in a wheelchair, and was on crutches for three weeks. It was a combination of trench-foot and frostbite.”

    Outfitted with warmer but lighter gear, the three climbers were more comfortable, “so we could focus on the climbing,” says Chin. “The gear was crucial for sure.”

    Back on Meru, the team was tighter and more efficient as they pushed up the mountain. “We all found our roles, and it really started to work,” says Chin.

    At 18,500 feet on the fifth day, Ozturk’s words started coming out mushed and scrambled; blood thickens at altitude and Ozturk was predisposed to stroke from a skiing injury he’d had just months before. Anker’s veteran presence kept Chin grounded as the three bivied on a jury-rigged portaledge. “It’s hard to imagine a more dependable partner than Conrad,” Chin says. “I’ve seen him in really stressful situations, and that’s where he shines. He lives for those moments; they’re where he’s the best version of himself.”

    Ozturk recovered, but Chin still had to make moments for photos while climbing at his limit. “There are sacrifices to get the story, like carrying extra weight, moments you could stack the rope better, but you’re cranking so you can get a shot,” he says. “Things aren’t clean; you keep the shooting to a minimum, so it doesn’t impact the climbing.”Jimmy Chin on Meru. Photo: Renan Ozturk.

    Close to the summit, Chin took the sharp end for the “House of Cards,” an A4 aid pitch up 10,000-pound granite blocks. “I’d seen 99 percent of the route from our previous attempt, and I knew what to anticipate … but I wasn’t excited to repeat that pitch,” he says.

    Still, Chin dug deep, climbed the cruxy pitch, and after Anker led a ropelength, Chin took the lead on the summit ridge. Reaching the top was a team effort, with each climber leaning on the other during moments of doubt.

    “Dependable partners rise to the occasion,” says Chin. “That’s one beautiful thing about climbs; you see people rise up and shine.”

    The film Meru, co-directed by Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, won the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

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