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Community Connection: Brandon Riza on Climbing, Sporks, & Being a Skate Punk’s online community comprises a passionate group of wanderers, adventurers, Gearheads, athletes, and guys and girls who make mincemeat of that 5.12b you’ve been eyeing. Community Connection profiles outstanding individuals within the Backcountry herd.


Meet Brandon, a 3D Visual Effects Artist based in California with a passion for climbing and mountaineering and an uncanny talent for photographic arts. Brandon started out as a young skate punk and gradually flourished into a multi-continental alpinist.

Brandon, would you rather spend your time bagging summits or ice climbing?

I’ve had this similar conversation with lots of people. There are some rabid opinions out there regarding which shard of the main gem is “cooler.”  I view all that stuff as irrelevant.

Maybe I’m WAY old school (early 1900s…) but to me climbing is, “Hey that looks rad. I wanna go up there.”

And that’s it.

People ask me what I lead at.
I say “One”.  If I can climb it, it’s a 1. If I can’t, it’s a 0.

The first guy who looked up at a big glaciated peak and decided he wanted to stand on top had a whole ton of obstacles to overcome. Hiking, staying warm, glacier travel, acclimatization, nutrition, fitness, movement on rock and ice, high-altitude management, judging objective hazards…
The list is very long and exciting. To me, that is climbing.
I think just saying “alpine climbing” is enough. To maintain a reasonable safety margin you have to know pretty much everything there is to know about every other form of climbing. And that’s why I like it so much; it’s a worthy goal to strive towards, and the sequential steps along the way are very rewarding.

You’ve somehow managed to meld your love of photography and climbing.  Good work!

I loves shootin’ me some pics of rocks and chunks of ice while people or I do stuff on them. 

So simple, yet it has failed to become boring.

Photography is a necessary tool for what I actually do for money, and it’s the easy part, so it’s a fun and mellow visual creative outlet. I’m based in L.A. and I do 3D Visual Effects for movies, TV, and game trailers. I also use the photos as a point of reference for creating 3D Effects. Sounds brain-bending, but we can actually use the HDRi interactive panoramas I shoot to produce 3D scenes. It helps to correctly illuminate environments, sets, and characters as they would be lit in real life, so we can accurately render them with our software to match shoot sets.

As far as climbing goes, I’m just a skate punk who decided I wanted to start climbing huge mountains and shooting photos of them. It’s been a very interesting and fulfilling nine years and there are so many intense moments and little flashes of memories that will forever be imprinted onto my brain.

It’s one of the things I love about climbing.

The progression from skate punk to alpinist makes perfect sense to me.

I’m confused. Skatepunk to alpinist is nonsensical to me.

I don’t know if you’ve ever youtubed “skate bails and fails” but:

We are a rather masochistic lot … same as climbers.
Stubborn … same as climbers.

High pain tolerance … same as climbers.

We have enhanced spatial awareness … same as climbers. (You can’t take falls like that for two decades and not die if you don’t.)

I basically did that to my body for 25 years, suffered multiple catastrophic injuries which would have left me an invalid were it not for modern science, and I had TONS of fun. Basically, I climb mountains because it’s just safer that way, and nowhere near as scary … and it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling the same rush as skating. When I was younger, I always wondered what my “retirement age” would be.

I never could have imagined I’d willingly transition to wondering if I’d still have toes next week after descending from an icy summit.  Or be alive.

Best. Retirement. Ever.

Climbers are notorious gear junkies. Name your favorite piece of gear.

Some items, through time and use, escape from the mundanity of simply being “gear” and become transcendent relics, imbued with the bottomless power of good vibes. These items more closely resemble valued friends that can lift a spirit. You dig this gear out of your pack and say “Yeah! It’s my little spork buddy!” (maybe only to yourself, lest your REAL friends think you’re insane), and that makes you feel better when freezing your ass off at 14,000 feet.  
I think everyone can relate to this in some way with some piece of gear that preserves stories and legends like a sort of Alpine Excalibur. My Black Diamond trek poles have been with me since day one. I am illogically and emotionally invested in them. The Snow Peak Titanium spork is number one though.

Read Brandon’s hilarious account about illogical attachment to a Snow Peak Spork here.

What is your most memorable alpine summit?

Denali was a big one for me, but I think all the peaks we climbed in Chamonix and Zermatt collectively meant more to me. Mount Whitney is an old friend now. If I moved away from California, I would miss that place. My Denali trip was huge for me and represented a big step in my progression as a climber.

I made some great friends, learned a ton, and it was the last of my guided trips with Alpine Ascents … sort of like graduation from the Harvard of mountaineering schools.

I keep journals of some of my bigger climbs. I hack them out into Notepad on my iPhone while I lie in my sleeping bag. Going back and reading them always brings back a flood of memories, which is of course why I write them.



06.04.2011 … Saturday.

Day 15

Tent walls flap violently.
The inside of my sleeping bag has become moist … clammy.
I don’t want to move, but it’s time to get up … heading back down the ridge today to 14k.
We got stormed off the ridge during our attempt down yesterday, mere hours after summiting.
Had to climb back up to 17k and set up camp. Again.
It was brutal … disheartening … tiring … cold … I want to make it DOWN.
I want this multi-trillion ton frozen Sword of Damocles removed from its tenuous perch above my head. I can hear it creaking.
Raging headache … fumble for med bag.
I find the bag … find the pill bottle inside.  Open it … spill its contents.
Advil, Aspirin, Acetazolamide and NoDoz are everywhere.
They fall into creases of gear, nylon and Gore-Tex crevasses … lost.
Where’s the lid?
Head feels like lead.
Find the Advil … down 4.  Is that 600mg or 800mg?
Where’s the lid?!
Wind rages outside. Gotta get packed … tear down the tent …
… what was I doing?
17 thousand feet on Denali.
I hate 17 Camp.
I’ve never wanted down off of a mountain as much as I do right now.
Dig out tent … use ice axe to liberate tent stakes from their tombs of blue ice.
Pack tent … pack bag … heavy!!
I grow more and more concerned as I prep to descend.
This mountain is burly, man … burly.
Rig harness … two biners … hardpoints…
Fix crampons to boots … another task that makes me want to quit.
Who used my ice ax as a tent anchor?  Who’s ice axe is this?
I feel like I could just die here.
It’d be way easier.
I can honestly say that I didn’t take a single misstep the entire time on the ridge traverse.
I was a Zen Master with the bomber footing and ax placement.
I had accidentally taken 4 hits of NoDoz…
Sometimes my mental acuity comes in milligrams.



Check out Brandon’s amusing gear reviews for equipment he used on Denali

That I still have my fingers is a…
Inside the ping-pong ball…
Follow Brandon within the Community: Brandon’s Profile.
To view additional photos of Brandon’s alpine objectives, visit his website


Here's what the community has to say.

Ryan Conklin

Ryan Conklin

I had found your site a few weeks back and was totally intrigued, so it's nice to get to know you a bit more. My fav bits:

"obstacles to overcome. Hiking, staying warm, glacier travel, acclimatization, nutrition, fitness, movement on rock and ice, high-altitude management, judging objective hazards?" -- Yup

"accidentally taken four hits of no-doz" -- Yowza