"Trust the cosmos, but tie your camel."
My Perfect Adventure
Jimmy Chin strongly considered becoming a Shaolin monk. Until he decided that that whole abstinence thing would be too much to handle. Kung fu’s loss was mountaineering’s gain, and now the world’s best climbers call on Chin to join and document their historic expeditions.
The professional climber, skier, photographer, and filmmaker has conquered Everest three times and was the first American to complete a ski descent from its peak. He has first ascents in India’s Garwhal Himalayas, in Pakistan’s Karakorams, and on Mount Meru’s Shark's Fin, plus more than a dozen one-day El Cap summits—carrying his cameras all the while. He directs and shoots for his film company, Camp 4 Collective, which contributes to memorable productions like Samsara and National Geographic documentaries.
The Minnesota native (he lives in Idaho now) is, with other famous climbers like Conrad Anker and Kit DesLauriers, on the North Face athlete team and is also a Zozi guru, which means that occasionally, you can pay the adventure-travel site to let you join a Chin-led outing.
In this interview, he says that the Tetons are his idea of heaven (even though he narrowly escaped getting buried by a Class IV avalanche there), that his travel priorities include setting up a tent—or, better yet, getting lost—and that it was his mom who instilled his devotion to excellence.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk.
Wake up before dawn and head out with an old friend into the Tetons. Skin up Garnett Canyon toward the Grand and watch the sun rise above the Teepee Glacier. Climb the Stettner and Chevy couloirs. Kick steps up the Ford Couloirs to the summit. Step into bindings and ski steep pow back down.
If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go?
I would love to go ski mountaineering on the Antarctic Peninsula. I've had several expeditions planned to Antarctica but scheduling conflicts have kept me from ever making it to my seventh and final continent. Ski mountaineering would be an amazing way to explore the area.
Where is the best place you've ever visited?
When I first visited the Tetons, I was blown away. The mountains and the valleys there are stunning in every season. The skiing in winter is phenomenal—what I consider to be the best in the lower 48—and the summers are beautiful, with wildflowers in alpine meadows and pristine rivers and lakes. There’s world-class climbing, skiing, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, fishing, hunting, and more. If you like being outside, it's a tough place to beat.
If you could have lunch with any adventurer, who would it be and why?
George Mallory, just to hear whether they made it to the top of Everest. Or [climber, filmmaker, writer, and Patagonia VP] Rick Ridgeway. He’s an old friend and mentor, and it's been a long time since we've caught up.
Who has been your most influential mentor?
Conrad Anker has had the most profound impact on my life as a climber. He taught me the importance of keeping it all in perspective, keeping the ego in check when making decisions, and having fun and being kind. But it was my mother who taught me about motivation and trying to achieve excellence in everything you do.
What motivates you to keep taking pictures?
Photography satisfies so many creative instincts that it's hard not to be motivated to do it all the time. It's not just framing an image and pressing the shutter button—it’s also the process of traveling to a location, putting together the shoot, building trust with people and subjects, waiting for the perfect light, and capturing an unexpected or decisive moment.
What’s something you can’t travel without?
A Guide to the I Ching by Carol Anthony. It comes in handy at the least expected moments.
When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
A new destination is often a base camp, so I’m usually building out my tent and making it a nice place to live for a couple of months. If it's a city, I'm usually out the door to go get lost.
As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, why did your plans change, and do you have any regrets?
Growing up, I watched a lot of kung fu movies with my dad. There was a while when I was pretty sure I wanted to be a Shaolin monk. Then I found out that monks live a very, um, austere life. No regrets yet.
When and how did you first start climbing?
I started climbing in college [Carleton], during one of the outdoor-club climbing trips to Joshua Tree.
What advice you would give to an aspiring mountaineer?
Get some good, basic instruction from a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] course or through guided climbing trips. Nothing takes the place of spending time in the mountains to get better mountain sense and proficiency. Take it one step at a time.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Every day you go to bed, your life is one day shorter, so make the most of every day. Also: Trust the cosmos, but tie your camel.
Have you ever experienced a near accident that made you think twice about going out again?
I got caught in a massive Class IV avalanche in the Tetons. I shouldn't have survived but did. That made me think a few times about going out again.
If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
I’d be a pro surfer. After a long day on the job, I’d kick it in a hammock drinking coconut water instead of climbing into a frozen portaledge hanging on a high-altitude wall in the Himalayas.
Name three things you still want to cross off your bucket list.
Ski a first descent in Antarctica.
Get barreled surfing.
And BASE jump El Cap.