Jimmy Chin

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Jimmy Chin
Jimmy Chin speaking at University of Michigan
Born (1973-10-12) October 12, 1973 (age 48)
Alma materCarleton College
OccupationClimber, film director, and photographer
Known forFree Solo
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Jimmy Chin (born October 12, 1973) is an American professional climber, photographer, and Academy Award-winning film director. He directed, alongside his wife, E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Free Solo.

He has organized and led numerous climbing, ski-mountaineering and exploratory expeditions to China, Pakistan, Nepal, Greenland, Tanzania, Chad, Mali, South Africa, Borneo, India and Argentina. His achievements include climbing and skiing Mount Everest from the summit, making first ascents of big walls and alpine towers in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan and the Garhwal Himalayas of Northern India, and crossing the Chang Tang Plateau in north-western Tibet on foot.

His work has been featured in numerous publications, including National Geographic, Outside, and Men's Journal. He collaborated with his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, to direct the documentary films Meru and Free Solo, the latter of which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.[1]


Chin's parents fled to Taiwan from mainland China during Chinese Civil War. They then moved to Minnesota where Chin was raised.[2] He participated in martial arts and competitive swimming.[3] He attended Carleton College.[4][5]

Expedition career[edit]

Early in his career, Jimmy Chin organized several climbing expeditions to Pakistan's Karakoram Mountains. He signed a sponsorship agreement with The North Face in 2001.[6]

In 2002, he was asked to join a National Geographic expedition to make an unsupported crossing of the remote Chang Tang Plateau in Tibet with Galen Rowell, Rick Ridgeway and Conrad Anker. The expedition was featured in National Geographic's April 2003 issue[6] and documented in Rick Ridgeway's book The Big Open.

In 2003, Chin headed to Everest with Stephen Koch. They attempted the direct North Face via the Japanese Couloir to the Hornbein Couloir in alpine style, eschewing supplemental oxygen, fixed ropes and camps. They were unsuccessful and both were nearly killed in an avalanche.

In May 2004, Chin climbed Everest with David Breashears and Ed Viesturs while filming for Working Title on a feature film project with Stephen Daldry. Chin later accompanied Ed Viesturs to Annapurna in 2005. Viesturs successfully climbed Annapurna and finished his quest to climb all of the world's 8000 meter peaks without oxygen. Chin photographed the expedition and the story was featured in the September 2005 issue of Men's Journal.

In October 2006, he achieved the first successful American ski descent of Mount Everest with Kit and Rob DesLauriers. They skied from the summit and are the only people to have skied the South East Ridge route.

In May 2007, Chin joined the Altitude Everest Expedition as a climber and expedition photographer in an attempt to retrace George Mallory and Sandy Irvine's fateful last journey up the North Face of Everest.

Outside of major Himalayan expeditions, Chin has participated in numerous exploratory climbing and skiing expeditions to Baffin Island, Borneo, Mali, Chad, the Pitcairn Islands, Antarctica and other remote regions of the planet.

In April 2011, Chin survived a class-4 avalanche in the Grand Tetons, his home mountain range.[7]

In 2011 Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk made the first ascent of the Shark's Fin route on Meru Central in the Garhwal Himalayas in India. They had tried the same climb in 2008, but were forced to turn around 100m from the summit.[8] His film of the climb, Meru, was released in 2015.[9]

Filmmaking career[edit]

Chin began filming in 2003 under the mentorship of Rick Ridgeway. He was a cinematographer for the National Geographic television special Deadly Fashion. He later worked with David Breashears, shooting Ed Viesturs climbing to the summit of Mount Everest. He worked as a cinematographer with Chris Malloy of Woodshed films on the feature documentary 180 South.

In 2010, Chin started the commercial production company Camp 4 Collective with Tim Kemple and Renan Ozturk. He sold the company to his partners in 2014.

Chin collaborated with his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi to produce and direct the feature-length documentary Meru, about his 2011 climb.[10] It premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, winning the US Audience Documentary Award.[9]

Alex Honnold and Chin started climbing together in 2009 but it wasn't until 2015 that Honnold chose Chin and wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi to film his process of climbing up El Capitan.[11]

On June 3, 2017, Chin led a team that filmed Alex Honnold on the first ever rope-free ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Collaborating again with Vasarhelyi, they produced and directed the feature-length documentary Free Solo.[12] Free Solo went on to win the People's Choice Award: Documentaries at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival,[13] the 2018 BAFTA Award for Best Documentary,[14] and the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.[1]


Chin has worked with charities and campaigns supporting environmental rights. He has given master classes for the Rowell / International Campaign for Tibet to support Tibetan wildlife and culture. He has also partnered with the American Alpine Club to create an intentional resource for grieving. His work with The Access Fund supports national monument rights. Chin is also a member of the Conservation Alliance, offering photography services in support of charity.

Personal life[edit]

Chin was born and raised in Mankato, Minnesota, and graduated from Wayland Academy. Both his parents are from China, his father was born in Wenzhou, and his mother was born in Harbin.[15] They both worked as librarians.[16]

He is a 1996 alumnus of Carleton College,[17][18] where he received a BA in Asian Studies.[17] He first became involved in climbing while at Carleton.[19] After college, he became a climbing dirtbag, despite his parents' disapproval. He serendipitously discovered photography when he borrowed his sleeping climbing partner's camera to take a photo. They sold the picture for $500, and this started his photography career.[20][6]

On May 26, 2013, Chin married film director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. They have two children, Marina (born 2013) and James (born 2015).[21]

Notable ascents[edit]


  • Mt. Kinabalu, FA V 5.12 A2, Borneo
  • Meru-Sharks Fin, first ascent of East Face VI 5.10 A4 M7, India
  • Mt. Everest, South Col Route, Nepal
  • Kaga Pomori, FA IV; 5.11R South Face, Mali, Africa
  • Chiru Mustagh, first ascent Southeast Ridge, 21,000 ft., Xinjiang, China
  • Free solo of the Grand Traverse, Grand Teton National Park, 12 hours car to car
  • Tahir Tower, FA VII 5.11 A3, Kondus Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan
  • 15 one day ascents of El Capitan
  • Native Son, VI 5.9 A4, Pacific Ocean Wall, VI 5.10, A3+
  • Beatrice Tower, FA VII 5.10+ A3+, Charakusa Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan
  • Fathi Brakk, FA VI 5.10+ A3 WI4, Charakusa Valley, Karakoram, Pakistan

Ski mountaineering

  • Mt. Everest, South Pillar Route, first American ski descent
  • Tai Yang Peak, first ascent and ski descent, Xinjiang, China
  • Chang Zheng Peak (22,800 ft.), first ski descent, Central Rongbuk, Tibet
  • 12 ski descents of the Grand Teton
  • Ski traverse and descent of the Grand Teton, Middle Teton and South Teton 10 hours car to car
  • Denali, West Buttress, Rescue Gully


  • Climbing, Sept. 2011: Cover photo and article on climbing the Towers of Ennedi in Chad, Africa
  • Outside, April 2011: Cover photo and article "The Rainmaker", about his career as climber and photographer[22]
  • National Geographic, May 2011: Cover photo and article on Yosemite climbers
  • Climbing, March 2012: Cover photo of Ivo Ninov leading on the Pacific Ocean Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite National Park
  • Alpinist, May 2012: Article "The City and The Blade" about the first ascent of the Shark's Fin
  • Men's Journal, May 2012: Article "Climbing Mount Impossible" about the most attempted and coveted first ascent in the Himalayas
  • Sunset, Oct. 2018: Cover photo and article "The High Life," about his upbringing, spouse, life, and accomplishments as a climber and filmmaker


As director[edit]

As instructor[edit]


  • Nominee Piolet D'Or International Climbing award
  • Outside Magazine's Adventurers of the Year 2012
  • American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) Sports and Adventure Winner
  • Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) Foundation's Award
  • National Geographic and Microsoft Emerging Explorers Grant
  • Galen Rowell Memorial Photography Award
  • Lyman Spitzer Adventure Award: K7 Climbing Expedition
  • Polartec Grant Recipient: K7 Climbing Expedition
  • Honorary Doctorate, Sustainability Science, Unity College, Unity, Maine [www.unity.edu]
  • Carleton College Alumni Award for Distinguished Achievement[24]
  • Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival for Meru (2015)
  • Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Free Solo (2018)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Slavsky, Bennett. "Free Solo Wins Oscar for Best Documentary (Videos + Photo Gallery)". Climbing Magazine. Retrieved 2019-03-11.
  2. ^ "Photographer Jimmy Chin on Mastering the Art of Chill". Adventure. 2018-02-02. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  3. ^ Ramseyer, Ben Church, CNN Video by Celine. "Oscar-winning director on risking it all for the perfect shot". CNN. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  4. ^ Clash, Jim. "Academy Award Winner Jimmy Chin On Reinhold Messner, Everest's Over-Commercialization, Fame". Forbes. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  5. ^ Jr, Tom Huddleston (2019-10-28). "'Free Solo' climber Jimmy Chin says this is how to prepare for a big challenge". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-05-14.
  6. ^ a b c Andrew Bisharat (2 February 2018). "Photographer Jimmy Chin on Mastering the Art of Chill". National Geographic.
  7. ^ Breslow, Peter (July 3, 2016). "The Beast Born of Snow". NPR.
  8. ^ Hayden Carpenter (20 January 2015). "Climbing Film "Meru" Makes it into the Sundance Film Festival". Rock and Ice.
  9. ^ a b "A Filmmaker's Epic Journey to the Peak of Meru". National Geographic. 25 February 2015. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  10. ^ Lisa Chase (12 September 2018). "Free Solo's Director Doesn't Give a F**k About Climbing". Outside Online.
  11. ^ "How Jimmy Chin Filmed Alex Honnold's Death-Defying Free Solo". Magazine. 2018-09-27. Retrieved 2019-05-07.
  12. ^ "Exclusive: Climber Completes the Most Dangerous Rope-Free Ascent Ever". 3 June 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  13. ^ "TIFF 2018 Awards: ‘Green Book’ Wins the People’s Choice Award, Upsetting ‘A Star Is Born’"
  14. ^ [1], 10 February 2019
  15. ^ "Why Jimmy Chin Takes Pictures While Climbing and Skiing Mountains", Mark M. Synnott, 10 August 2015, National Geographic
  16. ^ "Photographer Jimmy Chin on Mastering the Art of Chill". 2 February 2018. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  17. ^ a b "Pipsters", Paumgarten, Nick, July 25, 2015, The New Yorker
  18. ^ Anon., "Jimmy Chin '96: A Mountaineer in Manhattan", Carleton Now.
  19. ^ "Jimmy Chin Just Can't Stop Climbing". Esquire. 20 April 2016. Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  20. ^ "A Mountaineer in Manhattan". 27 July 2015. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  21. ^ "Elizabeth Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin", 26 May 2013, The New York Times
  22. ^ "Outside Magazine, Apr 2011". Outside Online. 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2021-02-13.
  23. ^ Nast, Condé (2018-12-05). "'Free Solo' Director Jimmy Chin Will Be Your Photo Instructor". Condé Nast Traveler. Retrieved 2021-07-15.
  24. ^ "Carleton College".

External links[edit]