There’s a climbing maxim that goes, “There are old climbers and bold climbers, but there are no old, bold climbers.” Photographer Jim Herrington’s new coffee table book, The Climbers ($60; Mountaineers Books), dashes that adage like a chromoly piton driven into friable stone.
Inspired by the Sierra Nevada routes he’d been climbing for more than a decade while living in Los Angeles, Herrington set out in the 1990s to photograph the range’s pioneering climbers, like Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn, both octogenarians when he finally caught up with them. The next two decades had the North Carolinian vagabonding from California to Cumbria to Kathmandu to capture the world’s elder alpinists who had defined the sport earlier in the century. Herrington somehow did this alongside his day job photographing folks like Mick Jagger and Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Now the collection runs to 60 climbers, with 42 pages written by Greg Child—essentially a history of 20th-century climbing that also folds in each climber’s story. Alex Honnold penned the foreword. The stills—all black and white, all starkly honest—speak for themselves.
It’s a 192-page tribute to the greatest hits of climbing’s golden age, and it just won the Mountaineering History category in the Banff Mountain Book Competition. We asked Herrington for the untold stories behind the images.
Photographed in 2016
Best known for: Being part of the first expedition to summit Mount Everest by the Southwest Face
“I really wanted Sherpas represented,” says Herrington. “Luckily I got two. I went [to Nepal] originally to get Kancha Sherpa, who is the last surviving member of the Hillary Expedition. During my time there, I found I could get in touch with Pertemba. Before I was about to leave for Paris, he came to my hotel. A gentleman, professional and cool. We had a cup of tea and went for a stroll. If I was in Florida, maybe I would have shot him differently. Or if I was in the countryside, in Vermont. But he’s familiar with the bustle and chaos of Kathmandu, which holds so much climbing history. I knew the streets of the city would be just perfect.”