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Life and legend of a mystical climber

di Gabriele Ferraresi / LUZ
Tom Frost was born on June 30, 1936, and died on August 24 at the age of 82, passing directly from life to legend. Yes, because Frost goes straight into an Olympus of special human beings - of course, we are all special, but some are more special than others - unique, capable of exploits previously considered unthinkable, suicidal. Human beings capable of overcoming the limits of nature, respecting it: especially when you challenge the mountain, this is a matter for very few.

Tom Frost, born in Hollywood but raised to climb mountains

Boy climbs the crest of a mountain
Birthplace Hollywood grew up in Newport Beach - also in California - engineer graduated from Stanford in 1958, Tom Frost in the vintage photos has that face of a good American boy that is no longer there. He starts with hobbies, which are the opposite of the mountains, in fact as a boy he is a skilled sailor and competes in some competitions in Italy, in San Remo, but from the end of the fifties, his passion becomes the mountains.
Girl prepares for the ascent phase of the climb
First experiences? In the Yosemite Valley, in the Sierra Nevada, in El Capitan, the granite monolith 2,307 metres high became a few decades later an operating system and a nice photo for the typical desktop background. Before this destiny, however, El Capitan was something else: a challenge considered almost impossible for humans, with the first way to get on The Nose, the nose of the granite colossus, opened only in 1958. Three years go by and Tom Frost - along with two other climbers who have made history: Royal Robbins and Chuck Pratt - manages to climb El Capitan's Salathé Wall. It was 1961.

The important thing is not to climb, that (more or less...) everyone is capable, the important thing is how you scale it.

The great feat is yet to come, and the scenario will always be El Capitan: in October 1964 Tom Frost decides to climb the North America Wall, another wall for which the wings of the ropes would be more useful. His adventure companions? Robbins, Pratt, and Yvon Chouinard: yes, the same one that a few decades later will find Patagonia. Tom Frost and Chouinard formed an entrepreneurial partnership and together they began to produce equipment for the mountains. At the time it was an untouched market, there was nothing: no shops, no megastores, no marketing, nothing at all. Chouinard sells crampons and nails for climbing from the boot of his car, to give an idea of the state of things.
Portrait of Tom Frost in Action

Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, a climb to success

A couple of friends united by the mountains and business works: Chouinard is the man of ideas, Frost is the engineer, behind the scenes, works, designs and tests small pieces of metal to which during a climb he entrusts his life. The bond that unites Tom Frost, Robbins, Chouinard and other "noble fathers" of climbing of that period is based on the care of nature, of the mountain, of its intimate beauty.
The important thing is not to climb the mountain, that (more or less...) everyone is capable, the important thing is how you climb it. The important thing is to respect the environment and leave the route, once the descent is over, in the same conditions in which it was found. A group of friends and sacred monsters of the sport that sets an example with actions, not with chatter.
Beyond his life as an entrepreneur in partnership with Chouinard, of course, Tom Frost continues to climb: in 1968 he tackled the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Canada - a name that leaves little room for imagination - and came out the winner. After the "unscalable" challenges do not end, but Frost over the years changes continent and moves to Asia, Nepal. In 1970 he climbed up Annapurna, in 1979 he challenged Ama Dablam, in 1989 Kangtega.

Tom Frost's legendary climbing portraits

Frost, however, does not limit himself to climbing what makes him part of the legend of climbing are also the photos he takes or those taken by his fellow adventurers. In Tom Frost's images, there is, eternally, mountaineering that is no longer there; there is really the History of a sport in its infancy. In some old interviews, Frost also remembers why he decided to take pictures with him during his first ascents: Photography has helped me to get to know nature even more deeply.
Tom Frost climbing in an 80's photo
I had discovered a world from above that was even more wonderful than I thought, and I also wanted to produce something that would help posterity safeguard those environments and inspire those who wanted to tackle those climbs in the future.

The golden age of climbing - the age in which Tom Frost moves - sees two schools of thought, two philosophies of climbing, dualism, and rivalry that it's strange to imagine between characters we think posed and calm like climbers. Warren Harding, born in 1926, is Frost's nemesis; but Frost doesn't even see him.

Tom Frost and the dualism with Warren Harding

They are two side distant worlds: on the one hand Harding, a jester athlete who talks a lot - even too much - and does not have the sacred respect for the mountain environment of Tom Frost. On the other hand, Frost - and especially his friend Royal Robbins - leads a school of granite mystics, who aim to leave the wall as they had found it, without even rock nails, without any trace of the passage of a human being. Because that's what the mountain would want.
Boy climbs the mountain
All his life Tom Frost has kept his motto: "How you do anything is how you do everything", that is, the importance of "how" to do things, not just do them, without wondering why. An environmentalist forty years ahead of his time, he is also responsible for the "rescue" of a sacred place for climbers around the world, Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley, threatened by a questionable redevelopment project in the late '90s.
A man of wisdom that transcends East and West, able to live the spirituality of the mountain religiously but without fundamentalism, Tom Frost said about the relationship between man and climbing: Traditional climbing is important because thanks to what we experience through it, we change our lives. It's a good thing.
Iceman on a snowy peak
A man of wisdom that transcends East and West, able to live the spirituality of the mountain religiously but without fundamentalism, Tom Frost said about the relationship between man and climbing: Traditional climbing is important because thanks to what we experience through it, we change our lives. It's a good thing.

Throughout his life, Frost has kept to his motto: "How you do anything is how you do everything", that is, the importance of "how" to do things, not just do them.

Many times, I complained about not having an instruction manual for existence - says Tom Frost in one of the last interviews - and I complained until I realized that those instructions were there, in front of my eyes, but I could not see them. Now I see them. And I see that nature is our teacher, our instruction manual, our mentor. Nature feeds us, shows us the way, and is always with us. Climbers benefit most from the union between nature, the wall, and the rock: and the lessons we learn from climbing will be useful to us for the rest of our lives.

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