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[Note: This is a pitch for a magazine article that I’d like to write. I don’t know how to write pitches but I think these few paragraphs stand well on their own. Enjoy.]

Pil’s eyelids are heavy with the tiredness of a man who seldom speaks to anyone but himself. He smokes hash, takes a pull of some local spirit, and hands me the dirty bottle. Its contents taste like acetone but warm me to the toes. Hiding under his thick stubble and nettled mane are the soft features of a fair-born Brit turned leathery by the remote places of the Indian subcontinent. He’d wandered into Chattru from somewhere to the north on this, my tenth evening in the valley. I found him sitting in the dhabba, a strange presence that I could not ignore: Pil is both farangi and sadhu; he is a hermit and an ascetic; he is a powerful and visionary climber; he is the holy-man of so many rocks; he is a climbing yogi, shanti.

The souls of expatriates have always seemed fragile to me, existing as they do in a state of displacement. Yet amongst the boulders of Chattru and nearby Jota Dara, clothed in a strange mix of Tibetan and Hindu mysticism, Pil’s own soul is so obviously light. His are not the concerns of the modern climbing lifestyle, its restive relationship with media, elitism, and celebrity. Living alone in a cave, hours from civilization, he is a climber in the most primitive sense. To the degree possible, Pil’s existence is a reflection on movement over rock and nothing else. To call him a sadhu, though, is to paint a caricature. In fact, it’s the contrast between his approach to spirituality and India’s ancient, baroque asceticism that brings something about my own “climbing life” into much deeper focus. Here in Chattru I see plainly for the first time that the thing that we are doing is unique in the world. It takes Pil to make it obvious that we trying to call a new spirituality from the abyss simply by climbing rocks.

Chattru is not remote by our standards, but our standards don’t apply in the Himalaya. A collection of mud-brick tea houses serves as a night-stop for truck drivers on their long trip between Manali and the villages of outlying Himalchal Pradesh. It’s here that the rough road from Rotang-La winds down to the valley’s narrow floodplain and crosses a turbulent river. The floodplain is a land of orphaned granite, miles upon miles of cast-offs from the five-thousand-and-more meter peaks that hem us in. While the rest of India heaves and sweats Chattru is dry and frostbitten, nestled in the monsoon’s shadow. Here is Pil’s hermitage, his life’s work, and the seat of his spirit. In this valley, waiting long unnoticed, is the best bouldering in all of Asia.

The man, the climbing, and the setting are all exceptional. What is truly compelling about Pil’s story, though, is that it greatly elaborates on the idea of climbing as a spiritual pursuit. Chattru’s austerity — barren earth rushing up to the foot of the Himalaya — and its primal mystique make the singularity of Pil’s life all that much more apparent. There is the resounding sense that if something as naive and idiosyncratic as rock climbing can open the door to Nirvana, it will happen in Chattru.

They are passing
They are passing in great waves
They are coiled wire
They are gasses, excited
They are fish pulling on empty, empty air
They are grapefruit in the summer heat, overripe and fallen from on high

The strangeness of other people, people from far away
The movements of their hands and the lines on their faces still familiar
Their warmth towards children; everyone everywhere is warm towards children

The woman is a sparrow with a crooked neck
The man is a man

Despite my trepidation about returning to the “real world,” being home for the holidays is nice. I’ve been spending time with family and friends, and trying to catch up on a bunch of writing. (Yes, you’re owed several stories from the final six months of my trip; they’re coming.) I also took a couple of days to put together a presentation about my life-on-the-rocks for the local Boy Scout troop. Florida being the place in America where you’re least likely to find a rock, these kids don’t get a lot of exposure to climbing culture. We opened the event up to the public and had a nice turnout. I also took the show on the road to a couple of local business groups, hoping to bring a little more exposure to the Scouts themselves. Well, as a consequence of all the publicity, the local paper got hold of me and wrote a nice article about my recent experiences.

This seems like as good a point as any to say some words of thanks to everybody who made my Asia trip such an outstanding experience. The support, at home, on the road, and especially via the blog, was amazing. It’s great to know that folks are following along. It’s not quite over, either: I’m heading to Mexico for the winter! Stay tuned.

~br

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p1040958 (Modified (2))Typhoon

Everything descends: beds, hotel rooms, buses, subway platforms, escalators. I go, desperate and sleepless. Nights, days, and the rain follow. Waking rain, unceremonious rain, rain that talks out of turn, descending.

Impact

The color runs out of my face and my eyes itch. I don’t know why, but the moment makes me think about one point at a time – first my toes, then back, then mouth – and trying to stretch each the same way that life, all of it, is really just a stretched thread. It’s the shrill of the stretching thread that summons God down, brings angels through the veil, darkens the sun, and cracks time like cheap china.

Long dream

The thread, it’s the stitching of her blouse. The shrill is a dark fleck in her eyes. Her lips, a cutting edge, a devestation held back only by a weak smile.

In August, one of two things will happen. Either my not-so-secret project will find enough people to make it’s fall dates viable and I’ll come home, or it won’t and I won’t.

Regardless, the fates are kind to me. If I don’t come home in August, I’ll stay in Asia until the holidays. For this reason, I’ve pushed my Tibet/Nepal schedule back until after the decision is made. I want to have plenty of time in the Himalaya, and with a possible exit looming at the end of July, I’d rather put it off than rush through. Instead, I’m going to orbit around Chengdu for the next month, scouting out Gongga Shan and Changping Valley. I’m also going to make sure I get myself out to Beijing, just so there aren’t any gaping holes in my China ticklist. When I leave, bound either for Nepal or the US, I’ll definitely be able to say I’ve done China.

Right now, the name of the game is “visa run!”

~br

It has been quite a while and I haven’t been very communicative. My last blog entry was made almost a month ago now. I imagine that you’re wondering what I’ve been up to. Well, after Vang Vieng I spent a few days in Luang Prabang, a gem in the heart of undeveloped Laos, wet on the shores of the Mekong. Then came a 24-hour bus ride to Kunming, China. I spent a week there relaxing and reacquainting myself with the developed world. I’ve since settled back into a regular climbing schedule in Yangshuo. Recent days haven’t been terribly productive, due to rain, but there are certainly worse places to be stuck indoors. Yangshuo boasts good food, decent coffee, and lots of wifi.

Despite all the down time I haven’t had much of an opportunity to write. I’ve been working on a secret project since I left Bangkok and my involvement with it has peaked in recent weeks. A few months back I wrote about the insolubility of my motivations, of the way that sometimes certain ideas take hold and begin to compel. Well, I am definitely hooked! I’ll explain:

If you’ve been following along, you probably know that I came first to India back in July. There I was met by a group of climbers and a big red truck. I spent six months with HotRock, traveling from India to Pakistan, China, and Vietnam. The experience was overwhelming. The climbing, the people, and the destinations were all unforgettable. I cannot say enough about HotRock as an organization and a community. They were my ambassadors to the Third World, enabling me to have the experience I wanted when I set out from home. For that I am grateful. Thanks, guys!

Somewhere in China it occurred to me that someone should try do the same thing for climbers who want to visit the States. At home, I can go to a different world-class crag each week and not run out of destinations for more than a year. Most foreign climbers will only ever see a small fraction of them, though, because of their inaccessibility. Places like Red River Gorge and Joe’s Valley are in the middle of nowhere, far from any public transportation. The only way to get out to them is to drive, long-term car rental is prohibitively expensive, and purchase is risky.

You can probably guess where this is going.

What would the ultimate American cragging trip look like? East Coast in the fall, South in the winter, desert in the spring, mountains in the summer. Which crags? Somewhere in Vietnam I started putting a list together. What would you need? A passenger van, a trailer, and some camp equipment. Pretty soon I was running numbers, estimating expenses, and setting a budget. Then I started building a website, writing code. It just kinda snow-balled. I’m one of those if-I-talk-about-it-enough-I-have-to-do-it people. Well, folks got tired of hearing me talk about it. A big German-American kid finally convinced me to follow through.

So the secret project has a name now, a mission, a Facebook profile, and a website. If we can get our acts together we’ll be driving a van full of international climbers around the US starting in September. I’m pretty excited about it. What do you think?

~br

Sichuan Province, in western China, has seen a number of remarkable first ascents in recent seasons, all on beautiful alpine granite. Changping Valley, in particular, offers dramatic new-routing opportunities like the Miyar Valley, Greenland, and a few other places in the world. Therefore, it was with great excitement that I recently initiated a plan to leave Thailand and return to China for the summer, with the specific intent of putting up a new line in Sichuan.

Unfortunately, I now find myself without a climbing partner. After more than a year of climbing in remote Asia, my partner decided that it was time to go home. I support her in this decision. (One can both “support” and “hate” at the same time, after all.) Still, I would desperately like to follow through with my plan. I therefore write this in the hope that someone with a beefy trad rack and a taste for Asian granite will want to fly to China in month or so and join me.

It is my intention to return to China with or without a climbing partner; I expect to have an amazing travel experience regardless. Still, alpining in Sichuan has become an important objective to me, and I would gladly finance the effort if someone is willing to come out. My schedule is absolutely flexible, though climbing conditions are most favorable in the early summer. I am currently hauling everything (yes, EVERYTHING) that we’ll need, except the trad rack.

If you are interested and available please let me know. I’m also keen to hear about other expeditions that are planning on being in Sichuan in May and June.

Thanks,

~br

I was reminded of this missive by a friend who also finds his life in transition. The reader will note that the tone is lighthearted. In hindsight, I think myself foolhardy for my cavalier play. Some two years after I wrote this a very real, very serious crisis of purpose overwhelmed me and left me reeling for months. It was far worse than anything hinted at in the following:

Friends,

I just thought that I should write and give you fair warning that as of today I am officially having my midlife crisis. Today is a better time than any to start, it being my 23rd birthday, and I want to go ahead and get it out of the way rather than waiting around for it to come to me. 23 is the beginning of the end, after all, and certainly a much better time to have a crisis than say 35, when the Wife and Kids will just want to get in the way.

So you may be wondering what to expect from me during these difficult times. Well, basically I am going to do my best to recapture my failing youth. This may include, but is not limited to, acting out in the following ways: shirking my responsibilities, associating with young men of questionable character, working it with the ladies, playing video games, dressing like an over-aged hipster, pointing and shouting, growing a mullet, riding a scooter, zealous competition in sports, writing overtly cryptic poetry, spending freely, listening to loud music, etc. In general, you can expect an inflated self-concept that borders on narcissism. The faint-of-heart be warned: I WILL BE CYNICAL, especially toward the bourgeoisie Establishment. But please, what ever you do, DO NOT interfere when I go to the Pottery Barn or buy Martha Stewart wares for my apartment! The important thing here is that I recapture the illusion that I am “hip” and “with it” and “a modern cat” even at the extravagant cost of my dignity.

DO NOT BE AFFRAID. I have been planning this crisis for some time now, and if everything goes smoothly I expect to be back to my usual self in 2-3 years. By that time, the somber events of the world will certainly have put a damper on my fun. One morning I will find myself in a strange hotel room in New Jersey with several bottles of Malibu and a Furby, at which point I will pray to God to turn back time so I can have my dignity back. He will decline and I will be forced to reconcile. At this point, I will be the most sober and lucid person I can be and you will all flock to me for wisdom, wishing you had taken your midlife crises early too.

And finally…
HEY LADIES, WANNA PARTY? LOOKING FOR A GOOD TIME? Short-haired girls preferred.

Contact details omitted.

Rock on in your Trans-Am,
Brian

Dated 21-Sep-2001.

Teresa “T” Conalty was a wonderful person. She had just returned to the UK after ten months of climbing and trekking in Asia and the Middle East.

From the BBC.

From the BBC.

The fact is that things have gone a little flat lately. I’m not having the rich, compelling travel experience that I was a few months ago. I guess anything can get monotonous after a while, even visiting amazing places with amazing people.This is the natural cycle of things, really. I can’t expect to move at a breakneck pace for months on end and feel that special WOW! every morning when I poke my head out of my tent.

It’s time for me to slow things down, to spend some time reflecting, to revalue. To this end, I’ve decided to stay on Cat Ba Island, Vietnam, for the next month. I’ll be spending my time climbing and developing new lines with the guys at SloPony. They’ve been gracious enough to put me up in their staff housing, and are quickly becoming good friends. Long before I got on the plane to join HotRock I’d decided that I wanted to take some time with Vietnam, so all of this makes a lot of sense.

HotRock will continue on to Laos tomorrow without me. I’ll see them again, though, in six weeks. We’ll meet in Thailand in mid-February to finish out the winter on the crags at Tonsai. A brief recap of my schedule, then:

  • January to early February – Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
  • mid February to late March – Tonsai, Thailand

If any of you kids back home are looking for a winter climbing destination, I’d love some visitors!

visual transitivity

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