"The goal then was really to climb those mountains for the fact that we could see them from the ranch house."
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Skinner rebuilds his strength
at Hueco Tanks near El Paso, Texas. The crag is the most difficult collection of short climbs in the United States.
"We eventually were on the wall for 60 days, and we never came down to base camp once in that entire period."
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Skinner bivied on El Capitan's West Face in Yosemite.
"... horrible storms that we couldn't get out of because the ropes were buried under ice on the wall."
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In his own words
"Getting to the top has no value if success is guaranteed."
Out the back door of his father's hunting and guest ranch in Pinedale, Wyoming, the Skinner boys had the Wind River Range to themselves. With his brother and father, an accomplished Yosemite climber, he spent hours in the mountains riding horses and learning to climb. By the time he met other climbers at the University of Wyoming, he
could lead 5.10--respectable, especially by '60s standards. Skinner has since climbed all four of North America's hardest big walls--a so-called "Grand Slam"--and has completed a stunning but controversial free-climb of Yosemite's Salathé Wall.
Skinner, like his bushy, unruly hair, enjoys calling his own shots. And his iron biceps usually let him. True to his rural roots, he's amiable to a fault. But unlike the silent cowboy archetype, Skinner has a penchant for gab--and, many say, wild exaggerations of his own exploits.
Who are your heroes?
"Royal Robbins was sort of an early hero because he was going to places and doing things first. From when I was ten years old it was really my gut instinct to do that. He'd look at a mountain and he'd see the lines that nobody had done yet. He didn't look at a guidebook to follow it, he looked at a guide because it
pointed out gaps."
What makes you angry?
"I've seen a lot of peer pressure force climbers into parts of the sport they don't really love. And that makes me angry because it's frustrating to see somebody be that malleable. If you think of climbing, if you say 'I'm a climber,' that could mean you've climbed all the Himalayan peaks or it could mean you climb on a
plastic wall only in your own house. I believe that very, very strongly. My message is: You know what you love and that should be the guide."
What scares you most?
"We were scared on Trango, because we could have died a couple of times. Not from something weird like an avalanche, even though we got hit by ice and had a rockfall that completely blew our whole route apart 50 feet behind us. But you're not afraid of that because you can't plan for it--it's like, it either killed you
or it didn't. There were some storms that froze our ropes to the wall that we couldn't get out of. The same ones that killed the people 20 miles away on K2 and killed a Japanese guy a mile from us and eventually blew our base camps apart with avalanches. They were horrible storms that we couldn't get out of. Those were spooky. They came down pretty much to the elements of just
surviving. That's the actual fear part."
How will you top yourself:
"I'm done with that kind of crazy walls. I've done the four big ones in North America. I'd like to kind of immerse myself in the gymnastic [elements of rock climbing] for a while again. South Africa is right on that pattern, as has Hueco Tanks been this winter. It's a different direction."