Friday, October 15, 2010

Chin Up

The torrential downpour outside on the streets of Manhattan was reminiscent of the Himalaya as 200 climbing fans gathered on the Upper West Side to hear climber and professional photographer Jimmy Chin recount a spellbinding expedition in 2008 to summit what Conrad Anker called “the center of the universe” – Shark’s Fin, a stunning unclimbed blade defining the east face of Meru, a 6,450-meter (21,161 feet) peak located in the Garwhal Himalaya of northern India, high above the Ganges River.

The 19-day experience was harrowing. “Talk about the art of suffering,” Chin said. “You’re either gorging on food getting ready for the trip or starving somewhere.”

The talk began with a photo of Chin as a youngster in a sled. “Despite all my climbing, the coldest I’ve ever been was standing at a bus stop back home in southern Minnesota in a jean jacket on a 30 degrees below zero day. I guess that prepared me for a life of freezing,” said Chin, a North Face athlete from Victor, Idaho.

Later he praised the support provided by Sherpa. “Here we think we’re bad ass climbers and the Sherpa are running rings around us on an expedition, putting up ladders, fixing lines. They’re all super strong. They were born at 15,000 feet.”

The elusive granite feature on Meru, which resembles a shark's fin, is the exemplar of high altitude alpine big wall climbing, characterized by a 1400 meter (4,593-ft.) climb with the final 700 meters (2,297 ft.) an overhanging big wall. Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk were pushed back just two pitches from the summit. It was painful watching the team spend five days in a two-man portaledge which resembles a hanging tent. Chin calls it his one bedroom/no bath apartment – a “claustrophobic icebox no bigger than a single bed.”

He continued, “On the fifth day in a portaledge in a storm, you basically run out of things to say.

“One of the great things about climbing is that it’s an amazing vehicle to see the world and experience different landscapes.”

The Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series is a classic touring slide show that had all the trappings – an engaging speaker, a sweepstakes drawing, great music, a poster signing, and schwag such as free magazines, refrigerator magnets and lip balm. It was all part of a multi-city tour sponsored by W.L. Gore & Associates, Outside Magazine, Paragon Sports, Primaloft Insulation, and The North Face.

Heading back outdoors again to hail a cab, the nor'easter pounding New York somehow didn't seem quite so nasty any longer.

Learn more about the Shark’s Fin climb here:,

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