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A Brief Introduction to Jimmy Chin
Jimmy Chin is an award-winning adventure photographer, professional climber and alpinist, and filmmaker. He’s a 15-year veteran of The North Face Athlete Team; a major contributor for publications including National Geographic, Men’s Journal, and Outside magazine; and has been profiled in National Geographic, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, GQ, People, and the New Yorker. As a filmmaker, Jimmy has directed documentaries, TV, and commercial projects.
His film, Meru, won the Audience Choice Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and made the 2016 Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary. Free Solo, his latest film capturing Alex Honnold’s historic El Capitan climb, won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Jimmy is one of the only people to ski Mount Everest from the summit, and he climbed the much-coveted first ascent of the Shark’s Fin on Meru Peak. Originally from Minnesota, Jimmy now splits his time between New York City and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Jimmy Chin’s Notable Expeditions
Jimmy has gone on many climbing, skiing, and photography expeditions—here are a few of the most iconic Himalayan ascents and descents for which he’s known:
- Chang Tang Plateau (2002): In 2002, Jimmy participated in a National Geographic expedition across Tibet’s Chang Tang Plateau. He and several other adventurers crossed the plateau unsupported, or without aid or supplies from outside sources. The journey was featured in the April 2003 issue of National Geographic.
- Mount Everest (2004): After an unsuccessful alpine-style climb of Everest in 2003, Jimmy successfully made it to the summit of Mount Everest in 2004 with climbers David Breashears and Ed Viesturs, all while doing camerawork for a feature film project.
- Annapurna (2005): In 2005, Jimmy went with fellow mountaineer Ed Viesturs on a climb of Nepal mountain Annapurna. He took photos to document Viesturs’s journey to climb every 8,000-meter peak in the world without using any supplemental oxygen. The story was featured in Men’s Journal in September 2005.
- Mount Everest ski descent (2006): Jimmy made history in 2006 when he became the first American to ski down Everest from its summit successfully.
- Altitude Everest Expedition (2007): In 2007, a group of alpinists and mountaineering experts—led by climber Conrad Anker and including Jimmy—climbed Everest to retrace the journey of 1924 climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. The climbers disappeared from view shortly before reaching the summit in the early 1920s.
- Shark's Fin on Meru (2011): After an unsuccessful attempt in 2008, Jimmy made history in 2011 when he and fellow climbers Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk became the first adventurers to climb the route called the Shark’s Fin on the Indian Peak Meru Central.
Jimmy Chin’s Photography Career
Jimmy has taken many memorable photographs over his multi-decade career, many of which were featured on the covers of major publications. Here are a few of Jimmy’s most well-known shots:
- Alex Honnold on Half Dome: Jimmy's shot of climber Alex Honnold on Half Dome is an example of the one image that tells the story in a single frame. It was the hero image for his National Geographic story about climbing in Yosemite National Park, and it ended up being the cover. This captivating shot illustrates this story specifically—showing Yosemite’s iconic peak—but it also underscores Jimmy’s larger point that the human potential is limitless, as it shows Alex standing all alone, without any harness or ropes.
- Alex Honnold climbing Free Rider: While documenting Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan, Jimmy was also juggling other tasks: such as climbing with ropes, keeping ahead of Honnold, and keeping his own gear out of the shots. Jimmy says he took this photo from his hip instead of looking through the viewfinder—and it ended up being on the cover of National Geographic.
- Cedar Wright on the Gravity Roof: Jimmy has accompanied many climbers on expeditions around the world. This iconic photo features climber Cedar Wright straining to reach a hold on a climb in Yosemite Valley.
- Icebergs in Greenland: While many of Jimmy’s notable images are of climbers, skiers, or other adventurers, his dramatic shots in the ice fjords of Greenland are potent reminders of the natural world’s beauty.
- Renan Ozturk on Meru: Jimmy took many amazing shots while on his historic climb of Mount Meru in the Himalayas of India. One photo that shows the beautiful but dangerous working conditions is his shot of fellow climber Renan Ozturk as he emerges from a hanging tent (sometimes called a “cocoon”) after a storm.
Jimmy Chin’s Filmography
In addition to his still photography, Jimmy’s filmmaking career includes directing two award-winning films:
- Meru (2015): Jimmy and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, co-directed a documentary film about his two attempts to climb Meru in India, incorporating the wealth of footage he filmed while on the expeditions. The finished film, Meru, won the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and made the 2016 Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary. Jimmy also served as the cinematographer.
- Free Solo (2018): Jimmy’s 2018 Oscar-winning documentary captures Alex Honnold’s historic El Cap climb. Co-directed by Jimmy and his wife, E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Free Solo won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, and the TIFF People’s Choice Award. Jimmy also served as the cinematographer.
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