Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt


There must be a list somewhere of the professions of New York City residents. Non-farm jobs. There are a lot of them here. Tortilla manufacturer, beauty ambassador. One you probably won't see, though, is "professional mountaineer." This isn't much of a town for Alpinists, except when they come to give their slide shows and raise funds. Still, you can't quite say that their number here is zero.

Two years ago, Jimmy Chin, a prominent climber and photographer from Jackson, Wyoming, married a New Yorker, a documentary filmmaker named Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. They had a daughter. Now Vasarhelyi lives with the child on Park Avenue, while Chin lives in Jackson, to the extent that he can be said to live anywhere. But he is so often in New York these days, for regular conjugal stints, that he risks developing an opinion of Mayor de Blasio. For a man of the mountains, the city can be claustrophobic--how many times can a guy jog around Central Park?--but such are the wages of love.

Chin, who is forty-one, was born and reared a flatlander, in Mankato, Minnesota, where his parents, Chinese immigrants, worked as librarians. Later, they made the mistake of taking him on a vacation to Glacier National Park. Real peaks: he was smitten. After college, at Carleton, he became a climbing vagabond (his parents had hoped for a lawyer or a doctor), and then discovered photography as a way of making a living at it. Expeditions around the world brought him some renown, and also a mention in People as one of the hottest bachelors of 2003.

Vasarhelyi, who is thirty-six, grew up on the Upper East Side, and went to Brearley and Princeton. Her parents worked in academia. She has made films about Kosovo and Senegal. She and Chin met at an ideas conference near Lake Tahoe, where Chin was giving a talk about his attempts to climb a notorious route in the Garhwal Himalaya, in India--up the sheer granite face of Meru Central, known as the Shark's Fin. In 2008, he and two companions, Renan Ozturk and Conrad Anker, had been forced to turn back a hundred yards short of the summit. In 2011, they returned, and got it done: a celebrated first ascent. Chin had made a film about the climb, full of mind-bending big-wall footage, and he gave Vasarhelyi a rough cut, hoping for feedback. Three months went by. He took her silence for indifference, or worse.

Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi

In fact, she'd gone to Senegal, to shoot a film. ("Incorruptible," about the 2012 elections there, premiered last month.) When she returned, she watched his movie, and liked it. …

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