The First Amputee Rock Climber: The Story of One-Legged Jim Gorin

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In the modern age of adaptive rock climbing or paraclimbing, hi-tech prosthetics help disabled climbers send just as hard as anyone, and sometimes even harder.

In 1982 Hugh Herr famously lost his legs at the age of 17 in a mountaineering accident and, after being disappointed with his first rudimentary prosthetics, began designing his own specialized legs which enabled him to climb even harder than he had before his amputation. Herr had custom-tipped feet he would switch out depending on the type of climb: stiff blocks for standing on the the tiniest edge without no calf pump and pointed tips which could be inserted into the thinnest seams like knife blades. He was even able to adjust his height from 5 to 8 feet! When you see a picture, you can see why some folks claimed his adaptations were a form of cheating, but Hugh’s response was perfect. He simply invited the haters to chop their own legs off. In any case, Herr was a crusher who wasn’t going to let the loss of his legs stop him from doing what he loved. This passion led him to become the first person with a major amputation to perform in a sport on par with elite-level athletes. The man established the first 5.13 on the east coast with Lynn Hill as well as a slew of 5.12 trad first ascent, like Stage Fright, an infamously terrifying line.

He would then go on to be a pioneer in prosthetic design at MIT where he invented the world’s first bionic ankle.

And that’s usually where the story of adaptive climbing or paraclimbing begins, but long before Hugh Herr was even born there was another pioneer named Jim Gorin who was at the cutting edge of rock climbing with just one leg.