After graduating from Middlebury College in 1993, Mark Synnott had no idea where he was going or what he would do for work. He just knew he wanted to climb.
He ended up finding work as a carpenter, since it was conducive to a transient lifestyle. (“Build a house, climb a wall. Build a house, climb a mountain.”) Then, in 1996, Mark spent 39 days living on the side of the 4,700-foot north face of Polar Sun Spire, a rock tower rising from a frozen fjord in Canada’s Baffin Island. The ascent changed his life and started him on his quest to climb some of the biggest walls on the planet.
He said goodbye to his carpenter job and never looked back. Many, many big-wall and alpine climbing adventures have transpired since, taking Mark to places like Patagonia, Pakistan, Nepal, India, China, Tibet, the Alaska Range, the Amazon, West Africa and Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific.
In addition to his big wall exploits, Mark is also an accomplished free climber who especially enjoys long adventure trad climbs, such as the infamous “Stratosphere” in Colorado’s Black Canyon or the east face of Mt. Babel in the Canadian Rockies. He has onsighted 5.12 and redpointed 5.13. He’s climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan 20 times, and in 1997 he snagged the coveted second ascent of El Cap’s hardest line, the Reticent Wall (A5). Equally comfortable on ice and mixed as he is on rock, Mark has climbed high-end winter routes across the U.S., Canada, France and Norway.
As passionate about skiing and ski mountaineering as he is about climbing, Mark appeared in the 2001 Warren Miller film Cold Fusion, skiing off Mt. Waddington and Mt. Combatant in British Columbia. More recently, he snagged the first descent of a 5,100-foot couloir on Baffin Island’s highest peak, Mt. Odin.
When he’s not in the mountains, Mark works with The North Face research, design and development teams and lectures frequently on his life of adventure. He’s also a successful freelance photojournalist and a senior contributing editor at Climbing magazine. His articles and photos have appeared in many publications in the U.S. and abroad, including National Geographic Adventure, Men’s Journal, Outside, Skiing and New York magazine. Mark is the owner and operator of Synnott Mountain Guides (www.synnottmountainguides.com), a climbing school based in his hometown of Jackson, New Hampshire. Of all his adventures, Mark sees getting married and having a family as the greatest one yet. He lives at the end of a dead-end dirt road in the White Mountains with his wife, three children and two dogs.
Favorite Music: I kind of tend toward easy listening – my friends laugh at me.
How I Relax: Sitting in front of the fire at night spending time with my children.
Favorite Destination for Your Sport: Cathedral Ledge, North Conway, NH
Favorite Magazine: National Geographic
Favorite Piece of Your Sport’s History: I have always been inspired by the Golden Age of mountaineering, i.e. the first half or so of the 20th century, when most of the world’s most beautiful mountains were still unclimbed. I can only imagine how it must have felt to explore the Himalayas, looking up at some of the most majestic peaks in the world, knowing that none of them had yet been climbed.
Words to Live By: Live in the moment
Three TNF Products You Always Pack: Redpoint Optimus, because it is the most versatile jacket ever made, and I know it will never let me down. Beeline sleeping bag, because it is so light and I can use it for everything from a summer El Cap route, to an overnight alone climb in the Cascades, or even as a sleeping bag liner on an Alaskan or Arctic expedition. Surgent Hoodie, because I love hoodies, and particularly this one because it is fleece, just the right weight, with a nice simple design.
Which Causes are you Passionate About: I am a board member of the Access Fund. I am also a member/instructor for the Eastern Slope Ski Club, which teaches skiing to grammar school kids here in the Mount Washington Valley. I also support the American Mountain guides Association, the American Alpine Club. I also support Kisment, a local non-profit that provides climbing experiences for under privileged kids
Proudest Moment of Your Career: When each of my three children were born; any summit pales in comparison.
Favorite Climb: El Capitan.
Favorite Vice at Basecamp: An evening cocktail of some sort.
Goals: To find a better sense of balance between my climbing adventures/work and my family life.
Favorite Trail: In the White Mountain National Forest behind my house - the trail leaves from my back door.
Favorite Event: My kids’ soccer games because I love watching them do something they love that is healthy and being shared with other kids and parents.
- “The Great and Secret Show,” VII 5.11 A4 WI3, north face of Polar Sun Spire (first ascent)
- “Crossfire,” VI 5.10 A4, south face of Great Cross Pillar (first ascent)
- “Nuvualik,” VI 5.10+ A3+, west face of the Turret (first ascent)
- “Rum and the Lash,” VI 5.10 A4+, northwest face of Sail Peak (first ascent)
- “The Ship of Fools,” VII 5.11 A2 WI6, northeast face of Shipton Spire (first ascent)
- “Parallel Worlds,” VII 5.11 A4, northwest face of Great Trango Tower (first ascent of northwest face and west summit)
- “The Compressor Route,” 5.10 A1, Cerro Torre
- “SCUD,” 5.11, 7-pitch direct start to Exocet, Cerro Stanhardt (attempt)
- “Shaken Not Stirred,” west face of Moose’s Tooth, Alaska Range
- “The Dream in the Spirit of Mugs,” 5.10c, west face of the Eye Tooth
- Attempted first one-day ascent of Mt. Dickey’s southeast face; reached 4,000 feet in 11 hours.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison:
- “Stratosfear,” VI 5.11+ R, Painted Wall
- “The Dragon Route,” VI 5.10 A4 (first winter ascent of Painted Wall)
- “Paint it Black,” VI 5.11 A3+, North Chasm View Wall (second ascent, winter)
- “Air Voyage,” V 5.12a, North Chasm View Wall
- “Astro Dog,” V 5.11+, South Chasm View Wall
- “Scenic Cruise,” V 5.10+, North Chasm View Wall
- “Goss-Logan,” V 5.11 R, North Chasm View Wall
- “Southern Arete,” V 5.10+, Painted Wall
- Cameroon: “The Great Technical Adventure,” 5.12d, Rhumsiki Tower (first ascent)
- Canadian Rockies: east face of Mt. Babel (5.11), east ridge of Temple, east face of Edith Cavell
- National Geographic magazine: Apr.-July 1998: climbing talent for documentary on Baffin Island big-wall first ascent
- National Geographic Television:
- Apr.-July 1998: climber/videographer for documentary on Baffin Island big-wall first ascent
- Aug. 1998: chief rigger/climbing talent for documentary shot in Iceland
- Dec. 1999: climber/expedition leader for documentary on freeclimbing in Cameroon
- July 2000: chief rigger for documentary shot in British Columbia
- American Adventure Productions, June-Aug. 1999: climber/videographer/expedition leader for documentary on climbing Great Trango Tower (aired on NBC television)
- Warren Miller films, June 2001: climber/skiing talent for climb and ski descent from the northwest summit of Mt. Waddington, Coast Range, B.C.