On a rainy afternoon at the Main Wall of Wild Iris, we had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Amy Skinner. Despite the drizzling rain, Amy and her kids were laughing, cheering each other on, and enjoying the day. Her endless psych, welcoming smile, and generous spirit have inspired the climbing community for generations, and we couldn’t be more psyched to share her words.
In this week’s climber spotlight, Amy tells heartfelt stories about developing routes at Wild Iris in the 90’s, her late husband, Todd Skinner, and what it’s like to climb with her kids. Read on to hear her uplifting story that brings us back to the root of what climbing is all about.
How did climbing enter into your life? Tell us about the early days of your climbing career.
I can’t remember a time that climbing was not a part of my life. I grew up in Las Vegas and moved to Mt. Charleston when I was 10.
My Dad was a climber, so I remember bouldering and climbing at Red Rocks in the late 60’s and early 70’s with my Dad’s circle of friends. When we moved to Mt. Charleston in 1972, we hiked past the limestone walls wishing that there were cracks to climb! Then off we’d go to Red Rock or Keyhole Canyon.
I rediscovered climbing my first year out of high school. That was 1980 —and over the next 20 years I traveled, climbed, worked as a wildland firefighter and fit college into the gaps.
You have given so much to the Lander climbing community through route development and Wild Iris Mountain Sports. What about Lander do you love so much?
Lander holds my heart for so many reasons … the landscape and the hearty people who love it are the most important ones.
We arrived in Lander for the first time coming out of sweaty summer in the Black Hills. It was such a treat to be cold up high in the mountains after trying to pinch crystals at Rushmore! The first day at Wild Iris, I remember dropping Todd off at what is now the North Country and picking him up at the OK Corral. He was so star struck that he could barely speak. (The only other time I remember him being speechless was when he first laid eyes on what is now the Rocklands in South Africa back in 1992.)
Anyway, I knew we were home. Over the next 20 + years, my love for Lander and the people who joined us there grew. Those early years at Wild Iris were close to perfect. We were in our strong years with lots of time to climb and dream. We either climbed or cleaned routes every day— Todd was the only one who had a little bit of an income and a schedule.
Our little community was driven to develop Wild Iris and we all pitched in by placing bolts, hauling gear, building trails, butchering antelope … whatever moved us closer to that end. That was the thing about those early days—it was a team effort and we all happily found our place on that team.
When we opened Wild Iris Mountain Sports, it was first to employ Holly and me, but soon became a way to keep climbing partners fed and available to contribute to Wild Iris’ development! In those early days, the store schedule was secondary to the climbing schedule —part of the machine built to keep new routes appearing. I’d love to get a count of how many climbers we’ve employed over the past 25 years.
Much later, when Todd died, and going forward, the Lander community has cared for us better than I could ever dream. They still do. Lander —the people, the climbing— has given me much, much more than I will ever be able to repay!
The Lander area is now a very popular climbing destination and can get pretty crowded. Do you ever miss the days when it was just you and a few other people climbing at the crags?
The first years at Wild Iris were sweet and I treasure the memories of long days spent at the crag with absolutely no one else there. I remember how startling it was to hear a voice or see a car that we didn’t recognize.
But I’ve always been one to enjoy sharing great gifts with my friends—it’s so much more fun that way. It’s been a treat to watch the Wild Iris culture develop over the years—it was and continues to be a place that holds on to the people who are welcoming, encouraging, and positive.
Are there any morals, ethics, or character traits that Todd possessed that you believe to be important for the current generation of climbers to adopt?
Todd was all about the fun and satisfaction of challenging himself. He was generous with his enthusiasm and truly took as much or more pleasure in other’s success as in his own. He never failed to encourage all of us to challenge ourselves to do great things and he had absolute belief that we would.
We loved watching the younger climbers who stood on his shoulders and believed that all was right in a world where those climbers did his hard routes more quickly than he had … and then went on to do harder new routes of their own!
It’s thrilling to watch all the difficult new routes going in at Wild Iris and on the big walls and Todd’s undone projects being successfully climbed. He was stubborn as hell, which could be frustrating, but that was his key to success. He never gave up on a project or a friend. He was all about perseverance. We built our team by understanding that every member was essential to its ultimate success.
Tell us about one of your most proud moments in your climbing career.
The proudest moment of my career would probably have to be sticking all 4 throwing knives—handles touching each other—in the tree down by the Erratic! We used to hide a set of knives under a big tree out in the sunny meadow near our projects. There is nothing better to ease the jitters of a redpoint attempt or the disappointment of a fail!
I remember a couple of times that Todd and I “doubled” on successfully climbing new routes—once at Hueco the day I did Empire of the Senseless and he did Cowboyography and once at Wild Iris. That was satisfying—plus that meant twice as many bottles of wine to celebrate our accomplishment that night!
More important, though, than a single route or boulder are the memories of many, many days spent laughing with friends around the dinner table or out on a bouldering tour and the strong and lasting friendships made along the way. My proudest moments now are watching my kiddos loving to spend their time outside and setting and achieving goals of their own. That’s the best, really, seeing them shine!
We send a huge thank you to Amy for everything she has given to the climbing community, especially the routes she developed at Wild Iris. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Amy, we wish you and your family the best of luck!