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Memorial for a Climbing Pioneer

Todd Skinner was a pioneer in the sport of free-climbing who will be sorely missed. As his family reported on his blog last week:

We are deeply saddened to report that on October 23, 2006, Todd Skinner was killed while descending fixed ropes on the Leaning Tower in Yosemite. Details of the accident are incomplete at this time, but it appears that he and his partner Jim Hewitt were working on a free route on the 1,200-foot monolith. Information on the accident will follow as we receive it. Todd and Jim were rappelling the route “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” and were several hundred feet above the base when the accident occurred. Apparently, Skinner went first and suddenly fell; his rappel device and locking carabiner remained on the rope.

The San Francisco Chronicle listed some of Todd’s many accomplishments:

“Skinner, who lived with his wife and three children in Lander, Wyo., was a specialist in free climbing, a style in which ropes and other equipment are used only as backup in case of a fall. He is credited with more than 300 first ascents in 26 countries, and his adventures have been documented on film and in magazines in 12 languages.

Among the highlights was the first free ascent of the Salathe Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan in 1988. The route, which is considered by many climbers as the best and most intimidating rock climb in the world, is steeper even than the famous Nose route, also on El Cap. Skinner’s other first ascents include the north face of Mount Hooker in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, the Great Canadian Knife in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Yukon Territory, the Northwest Direct Route on Yosemite’s Half Dome and the East Face of Trango Tower in Pakistan’s Karakoram Range.

He also led mountain and jungle expeditions to Pakistan, Vietnam, Mali, Greenland and Kenya. Through it all, he gained a reputation as one of the world’s great storytellers. With a mirthful cowboy twang, Skinner would describe in colorful detail his bull-riding experiences on the professional rodeo circuit or his jungle adventures with National Geographic, often with an emphasis on shocking detail.”