In Memory of Brian Lee McCray
Brian was a colossal figure not only as an elite athlete in the climbing world, but he was also a complex and caring individual who held a wide range of interests. Brian was a miner of rare gems and minerals, an artist and art collector, a purveyor of rare books, and of course, a pioneer in the climbing resole industry when he started Fly'n Brian's Resoles in 1994.
In his lifetime he resoled over 26,000 pairs of climbing shoes. He started his craft in the New River Gorge of Fayetteville West Virginia, in the back of Hard Rock Climbing Services shortly after moving on to the dank basement below Water Stone Outdoors. Brian's attention to detail and excellent craftsmanship on his resoles went hand in hand with his climbing career. He spent years at the New honing his cobbling skills and establishing hundreds of the hardest sport and traditional routes, including the NRG's first 5.14, "Proper Soul" bolted by his mentor Porter Jarrard. Along with Jarrard, Brian established countless first ascents at the Red River Gorge and to the surprise of some, he discovered the Motherlode.
Like many East coast and Midwest climbers though, Brian couldn't resist the call of the West, which lead him to Las Vegas where he continued to push his climbing and continue resoling. This move brought along the start of his career in the entertainment rigging industry where his nickname also went hand in hand with his agility and speed in the high steel of the local arenas where Brian soon became known as one of the most experienced and well rounded riggers in Las Vegas. He also quickly earned his IRATA Level 3, the industrail rope access industrie's highest certification. He soon went on to work in the oilfields of the arctic as well as offshore oil platforms. When he wasn't resoling or pursuing other work, Brian was out pushing the boundaries of big wall speed ascents, multi-pitch free climbs, hard sport routes, and establishing hundreds of first ascents across the Southwest as well as mining for rare gems and minerals in remote mines across the West.
Brian spent years refining his skills as a free climber and getting some El Cap routes under his belt, including a ground up almost free attempt on "Freerider "with Matt Childers. In 1999 he flew off to Alaska on his first expedition to establish the first ascent of The Useless Emotion (VII 5.9 WI4 A4, ca 1430m) on the East Face of the Bear's Tooth on the Buckskin Glacier with Jim Bridwell and crew. Jim later told me that Brian led almost 90% of the route. It was his first time ever alpine or ice climbing.
Fueled by his newfound love for big wall alpine climbing, Brian ventured to the majestic peaks of the Karakoram in Pakistan, where he established the first ascent and first free ascent of For Better or Worse (VI 5.12a WI3 ca.1050m) on Hainabraak East Tower with Roxanna Brock, Steve Schneider, and Heather Baer. Years later he would again return to the Karakoram, this time to the Masherbrum Massif where he made an attempt on the then unclimbed magnificent Shingu Charpa.
McCray and Brock later competed and placed third in the International Mountaineering Trophy Big Wall Competition in Russia. Together they made the first ascent of Stars and Stripes Forever a.k.a. Free Willy (VI 5.9 A4 ca 4320M) on the beautiful Asan Tower as well as a repeat of the Sarkharov Route on Peak 4810 weighing in with 47 pitches of aid and free climbing.
Back at home in Vegas, Brian focused heavily on Red Rock's crown jewel the Rainbow Wall. Again with Roxanna he free climbed Sergeant Slaughter (IV 512.b), aid soloed the first ascent of Brown Recluse (III 5.12b) later free climbing it with Brock. He also established Red Rock's hardest aid route to date, Sauron's Eye (V 5.10d A4+), with the great wall climber Warren Hollinger. Hollinger took a lead fall resulting in a helicopter rescue and broken back on an attempt of this route. Warren credited Brian in saving his life, and Brian later returned to complete the climb solo.
In the early to mid 2000's Brian made numerous groundbreaking speed ascents on some of El Caps hardest aid climbs with long-time partner Ammon McNeely. These ground up, onsight, bold ascents of El Capitan aid routes was impressive to say the least. Pushing the limits of safety and breaking speed records was the name of the game. His El Cap records include but are not limited to: Flight of the Albatross 14:50, Muir Wall 19:56 ,Wall of Early Morning Light 23:43, Atlantic Ocean Wall 23:38, Aurora 23:55, Lost in America 18:04, Plastic Surgery Disaster 21:37, and Get Whacked 12:49.
Brian was quickly recognized as one of the best big wall climbers in the world. His torch in this seldom visited realm of hard aid speed carried on by the incredible Dave Alfrey. Brian also established dozens of hard aid and free routes in Zion. Most of these with his climbing partner Kurt "Burt" Arend. Tall tales of free climbing 5.11 sand onsite in Guide Tennies and pitches festooned with strings of beaks and hooks for days were the norm for Fly. None of his aid routes in Zion routes have been repeated to date.
Brian pioneered multiple hard free climbs on the monster untrodden walls of the Vermillion Cliffs with Albert Newman and Brian Bowman, including the beautiful and sustained Albatross (V 5.13a 13 pitches) and The Monster Mash (V 5.12c 14 pitches).
Brian established more Nevada limestone single and muti-pitch sport routes than I care to even try and tell about. The most recent were his multi pitch sport routes on the beautiful and accessible Universal Wall at Mt. Charleston. These include The Crooked Path (5.12c 7 pitches), Yog Sothoth a.k.a. Black Flame (5.13b 6 pitches), and Holy Diver (6 5.11b 6 pitches). He thought this wall to be a unique gem as it holds excellent rock and only a 15 minute approach time.
While most only knew Brian as a sometimes gruff, bad ass climber, there was a side to him that only his close friends and loved ones knew. The side of which was genuinely loving and full of optimistic youth. He wore a cheshire cat smile and had a laugh that you could hear from a mile away. He was compassionate in the needs of his friends and he was always quick to teach a newbie the crafts he mastered so easily.
Brian was a true climbers climber.....He will forever be remembered as a solid and bold climbing partner, patient mentor and above all... a loving and caring friend. You will always be remembered and sorely missed.
- Chad Umbel