Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A dark day

I just heard that Todd Skinner, one of the true masters of rock climbing died yesterday in Yosemite.

The Supertopo forum has many anecdotes from people who enjoyed Todd as a friend over the years.

I first met Todd in about 1983 or so, when I was a student in Colorado. Todd was in town to do a slideshow at the local shop, and somehow ended up on the floor of our student house. This was a bit like having Michael Jordan sleeping on my floor, but Todd was appreciative and entertained us a bit. He was a legend of the '80s scene, and I kept bumping into him over the years in Hueco or someplace random. I corresponded with him about climbing new routes in various places, he was always forthcoming with information and excitement. Todd was one of the first "professional" climbers, meaning that's all he wanted to do and did, and as I struggled to make that lifestyle work I always respected Todd as much for his dedication to climbing as his actual climbing. Todd truly used his sponsorship money solely to go climbing, that purity of purpose has always been my model.

During one rather bleak spell in my own path through life Todd talked to me for several hours about sponsorship, speaking, climbing and life. The quote I best remember is, "Well, it's nice to get free gear, but you can't put quickdraws in the gas tank." A few days ago a friend and I were hiking down from Yam while talking about photography and how to make a living from it when some manufacturers are chiseling for a "photos for gear" deal, and I shared Todd's quote with hopefully a bit of the same humor and insight that Todd had shared it with me all those years ago. I didn't know at the time he had likely just fallen to his death, it's just one of those quotes that makes sense as so many of Todd's did.

Todd had his vocal detractors in the climbing scene, but I never heard Todd bad-mouth another climber, route or accomplishment, and there were times when he certainly would have been justified in doing so. He counted most people as his friends even if they weren't, not out of naivete but out of straight-up hope for the individual and life. That was another lesson--never let the bastards get ya down, life's pretty damn cool. At times his "cowboy" act annoyed me, but in the end I came to see it as every bit as subversive and carefully ethical as my own punk sensibility of the era, and certainly more genuine. We're all actors, Todd just had more fun with it than most.

Ah hell Todd, thanks for being you. Peace to Amy and Todd's massive extended family around the world.

And to everyone who climbs, be careful, we're all one wrong clip from a parachute-free BASE jump. I know this because Todd was smart, careful, strong and solid in a way few will ever be on the cliff.

No comments: