Outside magazine, January 1996
The only thing Todd Skinner seems to like more than talking about climbing is doing it. And clearly he loves doing it. In one of the more noteworthy acts of determination in recent memory, the 37-year-old Wyomingite, with the help of three other climbers, spent 60 consecutive days last fall inching up the sheer granite face of Pakistan's 20,467-foot Trango Tower--perhaps as many as three or four times.
The point of it all was to add a purist's twist to ascending one of the world's most harrowing big-wall routes by climbing it "free," i.e. without using anything artificial, such as the climber's rope or other protection, to improve his position on the rock. There were several good reasons why nobody had free-climbed Trango's east face, not the least of which is the fact that its altitude is three times that of Yosemite's big walls, making life on the vertical considerably more taxing.
The lifestyle adjustment, however, wasn't a problem for Skinner, a big-wall specialist whose penchant for self-promotion has stirred controversy over the years. The team of Bobby Model, Mike Lilygren, Jeff Bechtel, and Skinner started up the wall, practicing the hardest pitches with climbing aids before "setting" them free. The going was slow--one odious but necessary task was to clear the 3,300-foot-long crack route of ice and slush--and early on much of the team's time was spent riding out storms that painted the wall with ice and made its hanging bivouacs sway wildly. By the time Skinner and company returned to civilization in mid-October, they had pulled off what many are now calling the most difficult high-altitude free-climb ever. And they were happy to be on solid ground.
"I nearly passed out from the gasping," says Skinner of the moment he summited. "I saw sparks. My heart hurt for three days afterward."