Episode 41: Paul Piana, Rock Climbing Legend.

A younger, steely-eyed Piana

On Episode 41, I have the distinct pleasure and honor to sit down with one of my heroes, Paul Piana. Paul spent the 80s and 90s defining big free climbing along with his intrepid partner, Todd Skinner. These cowboys shirked tradition and set new standards for big rock climbs all over the continent, hemisphere, and world. Paul talks about his upbringing as the descendent of immigrants, his Wyoming roots, and his storied relationship with one of the all time greats, Todd Skinner. Above all, Paul proved himself to be the steadiest of partners from start to finish.



18 Replies to “Episode 41: Paul Piana, Rock Climbing Legend.”

  1. This is such a genuine and wonderful interview. I’ve come back to it a couple times since first hearing it. Paul seems like a humble and thoughtful man, and I will never forget the way he spoke about Todd’s death at the end.
    “What else could you do, but try to fly…”

    Thanks for this Chris.

  2. Great episode with Paul here. Loved hearing about his early exploits in the Black Hills. Back in 1989, after the Salathé freeclimb, Paul gave a slideshow at the University of Tennessee which was very inspiring. However, the theme was basically “Quit your job or school, divorce the wife, and hit the road for rock climbing” and it came at a bad time as it was exams week! Insprired by Paul, I took a 3 month climbing trip out west in my VW bus. Decades later in Hueco, as I was cooking dinner in the picnic shelter, I kind of rescued Todd as he was rappelling down a climb with one rope and it didn’t reach the ground. I sent up one of my ropes so he and an editor from Nat Geo could get back down to the base. He was so gracious!

  3. Just finished listening to this one, and it was a great episode all the way through! Also, the song at the end couldn’t have been a better choice. Thanks for putting out the Enormocast, Chris.

    1. Thanks! I try not to use popular and possibly legally problematic music for the show, and I was actually looking for some old obscure cowboy music to put in there, and listened to that Thin Lizzy tune and it gave me goosebumps in the fucking chorus. Its one of my favorite classic rock tunes now, and I can’t really remember ever noticing it before. So if I get a cease and desist order from Phil Lynnot’s estate, I’ll frame it.

      1. Fucking goosebumps is right. I still can’t get over how perfectly it fits.

        I need to relisten to Kris Odub’s cowboy poem from the end of #38. That episode was a good one was well, but I wasn’t feelin’ it quite like #41. Then as it wrapped up, Kris started his cowboy poem and you faded in the droning tones, and the hair stood up on my scalp…

  4. Thanks for doing such great interviews! My teenage daughter and I have just started to get into climbing this past year, and I’m learning a ton from your podcast. Todd spoke at a corporate event that I attended (I think it was the Winter of 2005) and my wife and I sat at the table with him before his presentation on climbing Trango Tower. We got to hear some fun stories about eating strange stuff in the jungles of South America and other fun tales. He was such a genuine and friendly guy – I wish he were still around to interview! Listening to his presentation on the Trango Tower expedition was an unforgettable experience.

  5. Really great episode!
    There were some chilling moments for me as he described his Salathe fall. This interview was really solid from beginning to end.

  6. Great episode! Up there with the best of Enormocast: Hayden Kennedy, Randy Leavitt, Craig Demartino, Henry Barber, etc. With this sort of interview pedigree, you should be able to land all the big fish (interviewees and sponsors). Glad you decided not to cut and edit too much from Paul’s interview. Everything left was worth keeping.

      1. Never stopped listening–from the birth of “Off Belay” through episode 41 of the Enormocast. I’m just a pretty crappy correspondent (one of my many failings). But I’ve been a Enormocast evangelist: spray, Enormocast stickers, t-shirt, etc. I’ll try to be better chiming in online with ideas, kudos, and the like.

        I’m sure Paul wouldn’t remember it, but I spent some time with him and Todd when they were climbing with my friend Sally in the Meadows (Hans Florine may well have been around at that time too). Todd and Paul were both very cool guys to hang out with.

        Keep up the great work on the podcast, and I hope you have a great autumn on the rock.

  7. This is one of my favorite episodes so far. Thanks Chris for asking great questions, and thanks Paul for opening up and sharing some great stories. The adventures that you and Todd had have been inspiring me since I started climbing almost two decades ago. Thanks again.

  8. wow, best climbing interview ever!
    I have been wondering what Paul is doing these days.
    I love to hear those stories!

    1. Best ever? I don’t know about that, but thanks. I got kind of sick of this one during the edit because I had to do a lot of engineering on background noise, but once I listened to it in post as entertainment rather than work, I, too, was quite pleased. Paul is a sweet and generous guy and it was a pleasure to talk to him. We both choked up quite a bit when talking about Todd.

      1. Just listening to him talk about Skinner’s passing just about brought tears to my eyes. Love what you’re doing man. Please keep it up.

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