R.I.P. Flyin’ Brian McCray

posted by dpm on 08/25/2014

This past weekend, “Flyin” Brian McCray chose to end his life peacefully on his own terms. He leaves behind uncountable friends and admirers that will remember him for his ceaseless drive, vision, and accomplishments in the world of climbing. While we work on putting together a much more in-depth celebration of Brian’s life and achievements, I can only recount my personal impression of a man that I had immense respect for.

Brian McCray in his "Sacred Cave," the most recent focus of his never-ending drive for new-routing. Photo: Porter Jarrard

Brian’s impact on New River Gorge climbing cannot be overstated. He moved to Fayetteville, West Virginia in the mid-90s, quickly progressed to climbing the hardest routes, and then set about equipping the routes of the Cirque with his then girlfriend Roxanna Brock. In just more than a year, Brian established over 20 climbs on the intimidating blank canvas including Proper Soul, the region’s first 5.14a. And then he was gone—off to the West to claim speed records on El Cap big walls, first ascents on the big walls of Zion, alpine walls in Alaska, hundreds of sport routes, and many more adventures.

What he left behind for us in the Cirque represented just a tiny fraction of his extraordinary vision for exploration and first ascents. Nearly two decades have gone by and the area is now regarded as the New’s showpiece crag for difficult climbing. His name is spoken often there by climbers impressed with his respect for the place which is evident in the quality of his work.

I worked closely with Brian while writing the New River Gorge climbing guidebook in 2009. He helpfully handed over scribbled old topos that were likely buried beneath dozens of other topos documenting the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of routes he’d established. In return for his help, he requested just one thing—a photo of the Cirque to hang on his wall.

I rapped in and shot from the right, from the left, from the ground…yet every time I’d send him a photo, I’d get the same reply in different words, “Nice shot man! But can you get one that shows the colorful streaks and steepness a bit more?” I just couldn’t capture in a photo the way he remembered one of his sacred places. It became apparent that I never would because his memory of the wall was more magical and cherished than reality.

I hope that Brian has now found the peace that, in life, he could only find high above the ground, eyes always upward, working hard to leave something beautiful behind.

Rest in Peace Flyin’ Brian.


The Cirque. Photo: DPM