Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

A Climber We Lost: Brian Carey

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.


You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Brian Carey, 83, September 6

Brian Carey was a climber, adventurer, artist, and architect. He was a key figure in Shawangunks climbing in the 1960s; a part of the legendary Vulgarians who were forging a new approach to rock climbing. Carey’s adventures took him around the world, having traveled four times to the Arctic and once to the Himalaya. He was also passionate about his career in landscape and architectural design, working in some capacity until his final days. He died on September 6, 2022, at the age of 83.

Carey resting during a long day in the Arctic.

Although Carey wasn’t physically able to climb for the last 20 years of his life, he remained a climber at heart, and felt a deep connection to wild and inspiring landscapes. Carey designed and built a home for himself and his longtime partner, Valerie Tomaselli, in the Shawangunks. Raised on steel peers in a grid-stone quarry, surrounded by the quartzite conglomerate that drew Carey and other climbers to the Shawangunks, it serves as a symbol of his love of the region.

So we have been ‘laughing all the way to the sarcophagus… Reveling in the fuck up aspects of our adventures. Downplaying or overlooking entirely what would normally be deemed the success part.

“His life in landscape architecture and design was connected to his love of climbing,” Tomaselli said. “A lot of his excitement about landscape is reflected in his passion about climbing and going to these places that profoundly moved him.” This inspiration can be found at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, the masterwork of his career, for which he designed all the landscapes as well as the buildings. 

Tomaselli continued: “Brian was at least just as interested—likely more so—in the landscape of exploration as he was in the physical challenge,” Tomaselli said. “It defined him—his appetites, interests, his professional work, how he looked at the world.”

In the 1960s, a cohort of rabble-rousing, rule-breaking, anti-authoritarian climbers who dubbed themselves the Vulgarians emerged onto the Shawangunks scene. Preceding the Vulgarians were the Appalachian Mountain Club members (Appies), who had strict rules regarding who was qualified to lead or follow certain pitches based on difficulty and the climber’s supposed ability. The Vulgarians stood in direct defiance of the Appies, believing that climbing was a form of freedom that needn’t be restricted or controlled by some governing body. 

“He lived the Vulgarian ethos,” Tomaselli said about Carey. “They did what they wanted. He was like that until the end. Rules didn’t really mean anything to him.”

The Vulgarians took the hard skills they developed in the Shawangunks to larger, more foreboding arenas across the country and around the world. Carey and fellow Vulgarians Claude Suhl and Dick Williams made an ascent of Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite; he climbed the East Buttress of El Capitan with Layton Kor.

Carey at his beloved Grounds for Sculpture, in New Jersey.

In 1963 Carey headed into the Canadian Rockies with Suhl and Al DeMaria. The team of three first attempted the Kain Face on Mount Robson. Approaching the climb, Suhl fell into a crevasse. As Suhl tells it, it seems as though Carey casually sauntered up and offered him a rope and belay. “Until just a few months ago it never quite hit me this way: Brian had saved my life,” Suhl said. “But that’s part of the climbing partner bargain, ain’t it.”

Bad weather and scary climbing forced them to retreat off Robson. Later, attempting the first traverse of the Howsers, a tempest forced an epic upon the trio. “On the summit of the North Tower of Howser the weather started rancidifying alarmingly,” Suhl said. “We barely escaped with our lives, downclimbing rapidly and blindly in a white out towards the Vowell Glacier, finding a narrowing of the ‘schrund, then groveling safely towards the base of the West Face of Bugaboo, along the edge back up to the col, then down to our camp at the Meadows.”

Suhl reflects that some of the most treasured experiences with Carey have been the fiascos. As they’ve grown into old men, the stories they’ve told time and again rarely involve an uneventful summit, instead favoriing self-deprecating and bombastic tales of hard days and good humor.  

So we have been ‘laughing all the way to the sarcophagus,’” Suhl said. “Reveling in the fuck up aspects of our adventures. Downplaying or overlooking entirely what would normally be deemed the success part.”

Brian Carey lived a life punctuated by exploration and adventure. He went on climbing expeditions to Baffin Island, the Himalaya, and more; he embarked on month-long open-ocean research trips with his brother, Frank Carey, a well-known oceanographer; he was a visionary architect; an avid consumer of classical music; a varied and voracious reader; and a legendary storyteller. 

In the words of Tomaselli: “He didn’t waste time.”

Brian Carey
Brian Carey

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

—Bennett Slavsky