Jimmy Chin: What I’ve Learned
43, mountaineer, alpinist, skier, photographer, film director
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 245 (October 2017).
I learned perseverance growing up. My parents were immigrants—it was brave of them to come here to try to make a life when English wasn’t their first language. Their work ethic was tremendous.
Photography was self-taught. It’s been a vehicle to see the world, and also forces me to look at the world through new eyes all the time. Whatever your craft, follow through with it, and it will open your eyes.
My climbing partners taught me trust and humility. In the mountains, it all comes out, all the emotions and character traits, so it’s important to surround yourself with good people, people with integrity … You know, just have a spine! I have no time for bullshit, basically.
Trekking across Tibet’s Chang Tang Plateau taught me the importance of narrative and story in filmmaking. But more important, I saw three pros pull off a really low-percentage expedition. Rick [Ridgeway], Galen [Rowell] and Conrad [Anker] had maybe 100 expeditions between them, and they were so meticulous with planning and calculations.
I’m eternally grateful to my mentors … just really appreciate that they took the time for me. It instilled a sense of giving back, because you realize how much you can do for somebody.
Skiing Mount Everest in 2006 was all about who I was with. Also, it taught me that you have to pay your dues. I tried Everest alpine style in 2002, and then went back in 2004 with Ed Viesturs and David Breashears, so when I got to the mountain in 2006, I had a pretty good idea of how to climb it. I had read everything, studied it all in great detail, and trained endlessly. You can never underestimate how challenging a climb will be.
[The 2015 feature film] Meru taught me that making a film is like an expedition. I really had to fight for that movie—it was dead in the water several times. Some people let me down, but others stepped up. You gotta push through the doubts and make it all come together.
I’ve learned that a photo can never be perfect, but there are moments when it all comes together. Sometimes you capture a shot spontaneously, but planning meticulously for a certain image—that’s satisfying. I always reference a photo from near the Hillary Step on the Everest expedition. Even the chance to ski there is low, but I wanted a specific image above 28,000 feet.
The people I meet around the world, who don’t have much materially, simplify everything. I’ve seen impoverished places where people still live fulfilled, happy lives. It reinforces that kindness, compassion, heart and intelligence are so important—you have to respect everyone and keep your life in perspective.
Taking time to choose my career taught me that even when you have a lot of doubt, you have to trust your gut and believe in what you’re doing. I wanted to follow the things that meant something to me. Nobody ever really figures it all out, though; you get older, but the landscape will still change under your feet. You just have to learn to enjoy it.
When I got caught in an avalanche in 2011, it taught me impermanency. You have to roll with the punches. You could have a stroke, heart attack, or get run over by a postal truck any day—nothing is forever.
Also read Angie Payne: What I’ve Learned
One person was 17. Two others were only 22. The people herein span every decade beyond the teens and extend to someone who reached 96.
Each year we compile our annual tribute to Climbers We Lost. Each year it feels bigger, and bigger means sadder. This year has seemed particularly painful in that we have some multiple accidents: two leading alpinists attempting a winter ascent in the Himalaya; three such in the Canadian Rockies; two little-known but extremely accomplished and well-prepared young women in the high Sierra.
We feel this compilation is important—maybe the most important thing we do all year.
We put effort and heart in the project but cannot cover everyone, and are always sad to leave anyone out, often inadvertently. We always encourage you to add photos and remembrances of any others in the comments field.
This year’s is our biggest compilation yet. We wish it were far smaller, while taking comfort in the accounts of those who lived long, fulfilling and often extremely impressive natural lifespans. Please, everyone, be careful out there.
—Alison Osius and Michael Levyread more