This interview is part of our Heroes Series.
An Interview with Jeff Bryan
Editor: Thank you for talking to us, Jeff. It is a true honor for our magazine. Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How old were you when you first started climbing?
Jeff Bryan: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. I grew up in Chagrin Falls, OH.
I started climbing everything when I was young. By 6, I would stem up the staircase. In middle school I walked the beams of the swing sets. 1979 was when I got my first introduction to ropes. I was attending an outdoor program in Jackson Hole. I did a lot of scrambling in the Chagrin Falls Metroparks and Nelson Ledges in high school.
In October 1987, I took my first vertical rope rescue class at Hocking Tech in Southern Ohio. I moved to Breckenridge in November of 1987 and did a lot of 14rs. I also did a lot of scrambling. I played on the wall Kurt Smith made for me in the parking garage of Beaver Run. We were bellman together. I only top roped before 1990. In 1991, I moved to Placer Valley in Alma.
In 1991 I also joined Park County Search and Rescue. A salty Trad climber named George Wallace from New Hampshire did our ropes classes. My friend Paul Darrah and I wanted to learn everything we could about climbing. George was ready and willing to teach us. I learned to follow Trad and Aid climb. I started leading my first year and I was hooked. Learning to Aid came in very handy. If I could not finish a lead, I aided through it. I learned with nuts, hexes and tri cams. My first cams (friends) were rigid stem. I owned 2. I also started ice climbing in 1990. I started on straight tools with a hummingbird. We used Snargs, Russian screws and pitons. I would say I really started in 1991. That's when it became an addiction.
Editor: Which locations are your favorites when it comes to climbing?
Jeff Bryan: I love granite. I love the South Platte. I spent a lot of time climbing at Lincoln Falls. While in Alma, I discovered the Platte. In 2000, I spent a year traveling and climbing. I was fortunate enough to climb in the Gunks, the Looking Glass in N.C, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington. I also hit Seneca Rocks in WV which was terrifying.
Other climbing trips included Japan, Spain, UK, Alaska and Sardinia. I moved to conifer in 2001 to climb in the Platte.It's too hard to pick a favorite. I seem to climb best on Granite. I have struggled on Basalt. I love the flat irons. In 2008 I moved to Cortez and started climbing all over the South West. My favorite Ice climb so far is Stairway to Heaven. My favorite destination climbing so far was Cala Gonone, Sardinia. I am most comfortable in the South Platte.
Editor: You worked as a career fire-fighter. What was that like for you?
Jeff Bryan: I started as a volunteer in Conifer. I returned to full active duty 3/7/15. I still love it. I work on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. I love to teach others and hopefully make a difference in people's lives. I was worried about returning but I trained constantly. Being out for a year was tough and it's good to be back. Like climbing Fire and EMS are part of my life.
I was a Fire Instructor and taught live Fire and of course Ropes classes. I was an climbing instructor at Colorado Mountain college in Breckenridge under Scott Egolf. Scott helped me hone my skills on the Ice. I also teach CPR, First Aid, First Responder and I just received my AMLS instructor. Being an Amputee Firefighter has its challenges. I find getting my leg on half asleep at 3:00 A.M can be frustrating but I have a system now. I have to be very methodical with my routine. I am having fun! I know a Volunteer Amputee Firefighter and Ice Climber Chad Jukes. I don't think any other full time Amputee Firefighters are in Colorado but if any exist I would love to meet them!
Editor: You have a great and positive attitude and that is amazing. Can you please share as to how you became an amputee?
Jeff Bryan: I crashed skiing in Breckenridge in 1990. I had a commuted fracture of
the tibia and fibula in my ankle joint. Dr. Janes in Vail pinned and plated it. I did not have any major problems until 2000. In 2000 they took out the hardware and drilled my Talus to keep the joint smooth. In 2011 I developed pretty severe pain. I had multiple broken bones off of my talus. They dug them out and the pain became worse. In Nov 2011 I had a total ankle replacement. I never regained my health or activity level.
I skied one time and lead a few climbs. In 2012 I started looking at dynamic bracing. I was told to go to the Denver Clinic for Extremities at Risk. Dr. Hahn sent me to Dr. Clanton due to my replacement. I did not have the replacement put in in Vail. I had a bone scan in Vail in February of 2011. I was on shift on a Saturday when I got the news. The Radiologist had diagnosed me with chronic multifocal osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) Dr. Clanton thought it was all fractures. A few weeks later, I worked a 72 March 18-20. I got off work drove to Vail and they aspirated my joint. No infection was found and my replacement could not be fixed. My best option was amputation. I spent the next 3 days in bed freaking out. I was prepared for amputation. At least I thought I was. Until you hear it will happen ASAP you are not prepared. I had an ERTL amputation on 4/22/14. I got out of the hospital 4 days later on my 50th birthday. I hit the ground training and never looked back.
Editor: How are you feeling now?
Jeff Bryan: I feel 20 years younger. I am back to my ideal weight. Can't is not an option. It's adapting and overcoming any and all odds. I had some difficult times along the way but I never lost sight of my goals. I have no regrets and look at my amputation as a new beginning. I have a great team including Amputee Services of America and Rebound. Prosthetics. Tras with rebound really dialed me in.
Editor: Who are the climbers that impress you most?
Jeff Bryan: Disabled climbers and the climbers who spend time working with
us. Personally I am blown away by the Ouray Community. Mark Miller may
he RIP. Chris Folsom, Dolgio Nergui and Mike Gibbs to name a few. Disabled Climbers like Pete Davis, Maureen Beck, David Poole, Steve Baskis and Chad Jukes. The elite climbers who donate time to help disabled climbers.
At the Ouray Paradox sports event I was fortunate to work with Jay Smith and many others including Dolgio. My wife has a fused neck and neurological problems. Kitty Calhoun was beyond kind to my wife. This group of people inspires me to share my knowledge with others. Malcolm Daley inspired me when I saw him lead Lincoln Falls as an amputee in 2007. I am not impressed simply by a great climber. I am impressed by a humble talented climber that really sees the big picture in life. One who embraces the beauty of life and is willing to share the gifts they have.
Editor: Please give our kindest regards to your wife, what an amazing person to have by your side. Jeff, what are your thoughts on climate change?
Jeff Bryan: I know it's happening and I know we are seeing routes that are disappearing due to climate change. I am not really up on my data on this. I just hope the experts can figure it out. I know we need moisture and we are in a critical fire situation in the SW. Praying we get a lot of rain! Our reservoirs are so low. In short we need to be kind to our planet.
Editor: Well said. Can you share some climbing tips with our readers so that they can improve their climbing skills?
Jeff Bryan: I think it's super important to cross train. Climb, bike, yoga, strength train, core and more core. Cardio is key to all sports. Train for elongated muscle and stay flexible to reduce injury. Always scout your lead well before you jump on the rock or Ice. Protect against the zipper (ALWAYS). I put a second piece in to protect out and up. Rest at the spots you can.
Always scout ahead when resting. If you get in a jam down climb and reassess. Learn to rest on your bones. Learn to Aid climb. It can make a terrible lead a fun Aid. I always carry a few leave behind pieces just in case. This pro I will rap off of but I don't want to lead fall on it anymore. On ice use small steps. Climb in your triangle.
To pull overhangs on ice monkey hang and move your feet up. As always stand up and bring your hips in. Have fun! Be safe! It's not a competition unless you want it to be. Watch others and don't be afraid to ask questions. You can always learn. Even the best crack climber can learn from a sport climber or vice versa. When rappelling always tie a knot in the end of your rope. Complacency kills.
Editor: Wonderful advice and excellent tips indeed! What has climbing given to you emotionally? What place does it have in your life?
Jeff Bryan: It is the only sport that takes my mind away from everything else. It is very therapeutic mentally. It helps with stress, anger, insomnia, PTSD, you name it! I have been very fortunate that I did not work a traditional schedule which allowed climbing to become a very intricate piece of my life.
Family, work, climbing! It's pretty high on my list. I don't sell my old gear so I have a little museum in my garage. I want to climb in my 60s and hopefully my 70s.
Editor: And you most definitely will, Jeff! Thank you for sharing your powerful story with us, I'm sure it will inspire many. It was an honor to interview you.
Jeff Bryan: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story. With age we hope to gain some humility. With a disability comes humility. We can't change yesterday but we can change the future.
Every day I wake up I say to myself be positive and try to perform a random act of kindness. As climbers we need to show others the positive impact we have not only on the environment but on society. Next time you see that climber struggling offer sincere advice. Whatever you do don't tease them or make fun of them. The climber you are watching may even have MS. One of my partners has MS. Take a child, troubled youth, friend or someone who asks you to go climbing and change a life. Peace.
On the Cover:
Jeff Bryan - Fire-fighter & Climber
Cover date: May 6th, 2015