On September 30, Eric Brand went into the home he shared with his wife, Carol, in Silver City, New Mexico, lay down on the couch and never woke up. Throughout his 50 years, Eric followed his own path with intensity and determination, and it is difficult to grasp that someone with so much passion for living on the edge could leave in so peaceful a way.
For much of his life Eric lived in bucolic Marin County, California. At an early age, he wandered the foothills of the coastal range, developed a love for the outdoors and began a lifelong interest in reptiles. During his high school years he struggled with the rigid curriculum, but throughout his life he never stopped learning. Largely self-taught, he developed a comprehensive knowledge of herpetology, especially venomous snakes and lizards. Visiting Eric, close friends were often rewarded with a tour of his latest acquisitions, usually poisonous. If you were really lucky you might witness a feeding.
Eric’s passion for climbing developed in his early 20s, mostly on the local crags around Marin and the East Bay. From humble beginnings he became accomplished at all aspects of climbing, but it was his particular determination that saw him putting up first ascents in the United States and abroad. Some of the longer and more difficult routes involved climbing measured in weeks, not days, without touching terra firma. He had an innate sense of his capabilities, and could confidently push difficult and poorly protected leads at his upper levels, both free and aid. At a time when many felt that new routes in places like Yosemite had mostly been done, Eric, with various partners, discovered and climbed Heartland (VI 5.10 A4) and Genesis (VI 5.11b A4) on El Capitan, and Ten Days After (VI 5.9 A3) and Saddam Hussein (V 5.9 A4) on Washington Column. Difficult and technical for their time, all of the routes required many days of nervy aid placements and sometimes difficult free climbing. Heartland, for one, took 18 days.
Eric also joined and organized expeditions to other parts of the world. In 1985 he traveled to Baffin Island with John Bagley, Tom Bepler and Earl Redfern to attempt the huge west face of Mount Thor, a climb that had already rebuffed several international teams. Climbing difficult and crumbly rock and hauling hundreds of pounds of gear, including a double-tiered portaledge they had designed and built, the four climbers spent 33 days slugging out one of the world’s few Grade VII climbs. In later years, expeditions followed to Nepal and Pakistan. Of particular note was the first ascent of the North Face of the Trango (Nameless) Tower via Book of Shadows (VII 5.10 A4 WI 4) in 20 days with Willie Benegas, Jared Ogden and Kevin Starr in 1995.
The climbs only tell part of the story. For Eric, the history of the sport he loved was as important as the part he was playing in that story. Recognizing that many of climbing’s pioneers had either died or grown old, Eric set out to record the stories of those still surviving with video interviews. These tapes, along with historic still and motion pictures, were collected with the intention of producing a comprehensive documentary on the history of the sport. Although he was not able to complete the project, much of this valuable history has been preserved. He also involved himself in local conservation issues, and served as the chairman of the Sierra Nevada Section of the American Alpine Club. Later, when he moved to New Mexico with Carol, he not only continued climbing and developing new routes, but became an active member of the Grant County Search and Rescue.
Eric was larger than life. He approached all things with passion and honesty, and it’s hard to believe he isn’t still here. Donations to continue work on the preservation and creation of films celebrating the history of climbing can be made in Eric’s name to: The American Alpine Club Library, c/o Gary Landeck, 710 Tenth Street, Suite 100, Golden, CO 80401.