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As the saying goes, there are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old, bold climbers—except maybe for Conrad Anker. From his first lap up El Cap in the eighties to summiting Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen to his recent first ascents in Antarctica, the pioneering alpinist is still at it at 56. His first ascent of the Shark’s Fin on Meru in the Indian Himalayas with Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk stands as one of the greatest climbs of all time, and the documentary film of the expedition, Meru, was one of the first climbing films to go mainstream, winning the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
But despite Anker’s decorated climbing career, he has a pretty low standard for happiness. “As long as I’m breathing air and not six feet under in a pine box, I’m doing OK,” he says. “All I need is to be alive.” With such a storied career, we thought it was about time we asked him to list his favorite climbs from 30-plus years in the vertical world. Summiting one would be a trip of a lifetime. Summiting all of them? That’s one hell of a climbing bucket list.
North Face (5.11c)
The Rostrum, Yosemite, California
“The Rostrum is eight pitches of wonderful, continuous crack climbing. The first three pitches are mostly hands, and then you’ve got some fingers, and then it gets wide at the top. It’s a litmus test for me, of how fit I am when I come back to the Valley. I’ve probably climbed it more than a dozen times. Stop at the Priest Station Café on State Route 120 if you are coming in from San Francisco. Camp 4 is the place to stay if you’re a climber. And don’t forget to visit the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias—they are quite big!”
Losar (VI WI5)
Namche Bazaar, Khumbu Icefall, Nepal
“Though it’s over 2,000 feet of pure ice climbing, Losar, across from Namche Bazaar, is never horrendously steep. And it’s just a fantastic location. You can see Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku on the horizon, and if you look across the river, you can see the town of Namche Bazaar hanging in this basin. Namche is the hub of the Khumbu region and is full of climbers and trekkers. Stay at the Pumori Lodge, and head over to the Panorama Lodge for eats. Make sure to visit the Thame monastery, an hour or so walk from town.”
Shune’s Buttress (5.11+)
Red Arch Mountain, Zion, Utah
“I lived in Utah from 1981 to 1995, and in those days made many quick trips to Zion. Shune’s is kind of an obscure but neat climb. I did the first free ascent [with Dave Jones] in 1992. It has a variety of climbing, from funky finger and hand cracks to off-widths. The cliff bands in Zion are about 800 feet tall, and the climbs pass through different strata, so these petrified sand dunes really make for an interesting ascent. If you visit the park, stay at Watchman Campground, which is located a quarter of a mile from the south entrance. Spend a rest day bird-watching on the Virgin River as it exits the Narrows. Hit up the Bit and Spur bar in Springdale on your way in or out.”
The Nose (5.9 C2)
El Capitan, Yosemite, California
“The Nose has always been one of my favorites because of its location, splitting the east and west faces of El Cap, and its long history. The first time I climbed it was probably in the mid-eighties. I had saved up for the trip and did it on sight in a day with my partner, and so I was psyched for that. These classic climbs in Yosemite are definitely at the top of what I like to do.”
Badlands (VI 5.10d A3+ WI4+)
Torre Egger, El Chaltén, Patagonia
“Jay Smith, Steve Gerberding, and I did the first ascent of this route on Torre Egger in 1994. The ice mushrooms on top were intimidating and had these wind tunnels. At the time, we also didn’t have the weather forecasting that’s currently available. In those days, we camped at the base of the mountains in the beech forest, and we’d track the barometer as we spent rest days bouldering around camp. Now people just rent an apartment in town and hang out until a weather window arrives, and then they run up the mountains. Plus, there’s the famous La Chocolatería de Anabel chocolate factory in town.”
Namaste (5.11d) and Hueco’s Rancheros (5.12b/c)
Namaste Wall, Zion, Utah
“These two [sport] routes I established go up a steeply overhanging wall with these massive huecos. I bolted them around 1990 on lead, going ground up and hanging off of hooks, so to see that they’re still popular is cool. When Chris Sharma climbed them, he was like, ‘Dude, those were some of the best climbs ever, at any grade.’ That was the ultimate compliment.”