PHOTO: JIMMY CHIN. COURTESY MUSIC BOX FILMS.
Most people try to avoid death. Jimmy Chin has made a career out of defying it. The 41-year-old climber, mountaineer, and skier has survived avalanches, skied Everest, and scaled some of the most treacherous and inaccessible mountains in the world, and as an accomplished photographer and cinematographer, he has filmed it all. Chin’s most recent feat: Meru, a feature-length documentary he co-directed, chronicles his nail-biting ascent of the Himalayan peak of the same name. “I’m sure it’s apparent in the film, but I really enjoy challenges,” Chin says, with breathtaking understatement. Scaling Meru’s Shark’s Fin route—a complex climb that requires alpine, ice, and big-wall techniques—was once thought to be impossible, a notion that functions like bait for a guy like Chin. After one failed attempt and two near-death experiences, Chin and his climbing partners, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk, returned to the mountain and became the first people ever to reach the top of the route. Given his day job, it’s easy to assume that Chin isn’t scared of anything, but he says that that’s not the case at all. “I have lots of fears and insecurities.
I certainly feel fear; I feel fear all the time. Climbing is scary. Part of the exercise is managing that fear.” Which begs the inevitable question. “Ah, the why question,” he responds. “It’s kind of an impossible question, ‘Why do you climb?’ There are reasons that seem obvious to me, but it’s also an ineffable thing, like, ‘Why do people play music or make art?’ Because it’s their calling, and fortunately or unfortunately for climbers, climbing is a calling.” And maybe Meru sheds a little light on its devotees. “I wanted to show the complex decisions and motivations that go into a climb,” he says. “Whatever your calling, you have to take risks and push yourself and pay your dues. Meru is really about being passionate about your life and what you do.”