Jimmy Chin : the incredible career story of acclaimed climber

jimmy chin climber and filmmaker

The director of Meru and Free Solo and Oscar award-winning moviemaker, Jimmy Chin, says his film work is only his part-time job. He still thinks of himself as a climber at heart.

This winter, with back-to-back expeditions to Patagonia and Antarctica behind him, Jimmy Chin, director, cinematographer and National Geographic photographer and 20 year veteran of The North Face team, blocked out March to be home with his family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA.

There, with his wife Chai Vasarhelyi, with whom he co-produced and co-directed Meru and Free Solo and his kids, Marina and James, he balanced family and work while also getting into the mountains to maintain his mental and physical edge. “I’m backcountry skiing every day but keeping it mellow and safe given the circumstances,” he says.

Jimmy Chin : How he got into climbing

Jimmy Chin ’s name is synonymous with the world’s best adventure photography. And he’s got there by combining his skills as a top-level big wall climber and ski mountaineer, his appreciation of mentorship, and his self-discipline. But he didn’t earn his 2.6 million followers on Instagram overnight; his career grew over 24 years, starting after college when he hit the road to climb. He eschewed societal norms and lived out of his 1980 Subaru wagon for seven years.

“You don’t appreciate how good a climber he is because you get distracted by the art. Which is probably the way he likes it. And he pulls that off,” award-winning author Jon Krakauer says in Jimmy Chin ’s director reel. “He climbed Everest to photograph and film the ski descent. And I think he skied more of it than the people he was filming.”

Climbing history

For his first published photo, in 1999, while bathing in the morning light on the summit of El Capitan after climbing the 3,000-foot monolith, Jimmy Chin leaned over and captured a shot of his friend Brady Robinson in his sleeping bag. That image started his career as a lensman. Robinson sold the image to clothing manufacturer Mountain Hardwear for US $500. The two split it. Chin was hooked.

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