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Brian Teale was everyone’s friend. Sometimes I think he might never have met a man, or woman, he didn’t like. “BT” moved through his life with charm and grace, calm and friendly, and up for almost any adventure, whether it required crampons and ice tools, sticky rubber and chalk, or boat and paddle.
Born in Colorado Springs, “BT” belonged to a phalanx of core Springs climbers, including Harvey Miller, Jimmie Dunn, Bryan Becker, Danny Morrison, and Earl Wiggins, and he pioneered routes in the Black Canyon and elsewhere, including, with Dunn, the famous Whimsical Dreams (5.11) at Turkey Rocks, the South Platte, in 1975. Two of that group, Morrison and BT, independently abandoned Colorado’s Front Range for Alaska, where in 1980 BT settled in the oil terminal town of Valdez.
His explorations over the next few years allowed him to pioneer a handful of classic WI5-rated routes, such as Tortilla Flat, with Evan Smith and Andrew Embick; Royal Ribbons, with Smith, David Millar, and Martin Leonard; Secret Journey, with John Weiland; and Fudgesicle, with Weiland and Charlie Sassara; and make early ascents of a plethora of others. An avid paddler as well, he piloted his kayaks down IV and Grade V across Southcentral Alaska, often in the company of his friend Andrew Embick, a pioneering Valdez ice climber and paddler. The two did a number of significant first descents in Southcentral Alaska. Brian was a longtime mountain skier and adventure biker, and he was still establishing ice climbs as of last winter. A community person, he volunteered for numerous events and served as festival director for the historic Valdez Ice Fest.
I climbed with BT a number of times over many trips to, and long residencies in, Valdez. He and I shared a number of local ice routes, and partnered on Ham and Eggs, the Mooses Tooth, in 1985. I had taken a long fall only seven months before that should have killed me, and Brian handled my nerves with understanding and aplomb. I was not ready to return to such terrain. We bivied somewhere on the lower half of the route, and on a sunny, restful day for me, BT soloed the rest. It was a good day for both of us.
Jed Brown noted this about Brian in the 2007 American Alpine Journal:
“Brian Teale, who has been putting up hard ice and mixed routes in Valdez ever since it became Alaska’s premier ice climbing destination, completed the first route on [Mount] Moffit’s north face with Harvey Miller in 1989. They climbed a 2,300-meter ice line to the right of the huge rock wall in the center of the face. The lower third of the route was a frozen waterfall to the left of the fall line of seracs high on the right side of the face. The upper part presented a choice between sustained but objectively safe ice and mixed climbing to the left or somewhat lower-angled ice, threatened by seracs, to the right. After the lower part of the route, they were eager to find more moderate terrain. With reluctance, they went right. They reached the summit after spending more than a day under the seracs. Brian’s only comment was, ‘It was like playing Russian roulette with only one chamber empty.’ Although their route was certainly one of the biggest in Alaska that year, they stuck with the local ethic of the day and did not report it.”
Brian had a laid-back manner that belied his incredible drive and ability on all types of climbing and whitewater, and the entrepreneurial ability to live well in Valdez, using a hammer, skillsaw, and front-end loader. He was a master builder and carpenter. Additionally, he was a snow-removal wizard in an area of record amounts: Brian persistently and efficiently allowed schools, commercial outlets, ice climbers, and backcountry skiers to go about their business, regardless of the rates of accumulation. He was also, during the 1990s, a mountain guide, founding his company Chugach Mountain Adventures (CMA).
Brian never married, and over his life had a plethora of romantic partners; seemingly all of them remained in BT’s sphere as fond and respectful friends. BT had a kind of magnetism that other bachelors might have thought unfair. I once bumped into him as he stood in line for a camp site in Camp 4, and by the time he’d pitched his tent, he was in a new romance.
Small towns are often visited by big troubles. When Andrew Embick went missing amid his constant, and occasionally vitriolic, efforts to deter motorized use of Valdez’s nordic ski trails, it was BT’s intuition that led him to paddle along Valdez Arm, where he found our friend, lost to suicide. Somehow, Brian knew.
Relocating to Valdez had led to Andrew’s personal suffering and self-inflicted death, while the same move led to BT’s grounding and acceptance.
Brian, age 66, died June 8, two weeks after a brain injury resulted from his fall from a scaffold, at work for his company Crystal Creek Carpentry. Room number 536 at the hospital saw so much noise and activity that the Sisters of Providence Hospital banished us, at least allowing his wonderful and caring sister, Charla Teale, to remain with Brian, while our energetic and compassionate friend Kirsten Kremer covered the wee hours.
Kremer, a mountain and heli-ski guide, posted this about her friend of 27 years: “I met Brian Teale when I first came to Alaska from California for the World Extreme Skiing Contest. He was one of the many amazing volunteers who put the event together. We became good friends and climbing partners. I’ve enjoyed so many great adventures with him in the mountains, on the rivers, and just hanging tough at the Hanagita [Street] house. He always opened his doors with kindness to me and so many others. … He worked hard and played hard. I can’t say enough good things about him.”