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Renowned Climber Killed by Fall in Yosemite

Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
October 26, 2006
 
Noted rock climber Todd Skinner died Monday, October 23, in California's
Yosemite National Park, after falling 500 feet (152 meters) while
pioneering a new climbing route near the park's Bridalveil Fall. (See a
photo of Bridalveil
Fall
.)

Skinner, 47, of Lander, Wyoming, was one of the pioneers of "free climbing," in which mountaineers use ropes for protection and descents but eschew any form of artificial aid while ascending, even on the most difficult slopes.

(Read a Q&A with Skinner from 1999.)

Featured in several National Geographic and National Geographic Adventure magazine articles, the climber was a member of the National Geographic Society's Expeditions Council advisory board.

(National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

He is survived by his wife, Amy; his son, Jake; and his daughters, Hannah and Sarah.

The Accident

Skinner fell while descending a fixed rope after he and a partner had completed the day's work on a new route near a 1,200-foot (365-meter) spire called the Leaning Tower.

"It was a rappelling accident," said his long-time friend and former climbing partner Steve Bechtel. "His equipment broke."

Skinner was a standout among a generation of talented climbers who proved that seemingly impossible ascents could be done using free-climbing methods.

"He was the first to do it when everybody else thought it was impossible," said his friend and agent Ann Krcik.

In the process Skinner proved that even the world's biggest, most intimidating walls could be free-climbed, as long as the climber was patient, talented, and meticulous.

His 300 ascents in 26 countries included not only the first free climbs of big walls in Yosemite and in Wyoming's Wind River Range but also the first free climb of a route called the Great Canadian Knife in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Canada's Northwest Territories.

Skinner also free-climbed on the first ever ascent of a 3,600-foot (1,100-meter) wall called Ulamertorsuaq, near the southern tip of Greenland. The climb was featured in the first issue of National Geographic Adventure in spring 1999.

On another outing he spent 60 consecutive nights camped above 18,500 feet (5,640 meters) on the rocky outcrops of Trango Tower during the first free climb of that 20,600-foot (6,280-meter) spire in Pakistan's Karakoram Range.

Motivator

When he wasn't climbing, Skinner worked as a motivational speaker, often drawing on his book, Beyond the Summit, which applied his climbing strategies to business.

"From the outpouring of emails I've been receiving, he transformed people," Krcik said. "He was one of those people you'd meet for five minutes and never forget."

"One of his overriding philosophies [was] the necessity to always be learning and developing—that one of the biggest dangers is to pick goals that are too low and won't fully challenge you," she added.

Skinner believed that in business and climbing, today's summit is only a stepping-stone to another goal.

"It's not a finish line," Krcik said.

"He always said there's nothing more dangerous than a moderate mountain, because the real goal is what you'll learn en route to the summit."

As a climber, Skinner was noted for his tenacity.

"He could be successful where nobody else could be, often because there aren't many climbers who'd want to work as hard at it as he did," Krcik said.

Among his friends, he was also noted for his kindness and his humor.

"A lot of people are nice, but not many are kind," Skinner's former climbing partner Bechtel said. "It's a subtle difference. He was a genuine guy."

And, according to National Geographic magazine expeditions editor Peter Miller, "he was a really funny guy."

Through all of this, Skinner was forever drawn to seek out new peaks in remote parts of the globe.

"This climbing I need—like food, at regular intervals," he wrote in an essay in the 2000 National Geographic book Voices From the Summit: The World's Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing.

"The search for new places to climb is like oxygen—a continuous supply, mandatory to my life."

Memorial Fund

A memorial fund has been established for Todd Skinner's wife and three young children. Donations may be sent here:

Skinner Memorial Fund
c/o Atlantic City Federal Credit Union
704 West Main Street
Lander, WY 82520
U.S.A.
Phone: +1 307 332 0299
 

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