A young boy sits watching television at his grandparents house. Suddenly, a commercial appears of majestic burros shaking their heads free from desert dust. “Are you interested in adopting one of these burros?” the voice asks.
He scrawls down the phone number displayed on the screen.
Days later, a thick packet of information arrives spooking the parents who have no idea of a young Brian Pidduck’s desire for a free burro to roam around the hills with.
In many ways, this childhood anecdote illustrates Mr. Pidduck’s adventurous spirit.
While he is the manifestation of the outdoors program for many Thacher students, and a man known for his stoic characteristics and his brutal workouts, few know the man who lived before settling down at Thacher.
A seventh generation southern Californian, Brian Pidduck CdeP 1992 was born in 1974 and grew up in Ventura County. His childhood consisted of “being at the beach . . . swimming and surfing . . . in addition to exploring and playing on the family avocado and citrus ranches.”
Mr. Pidduck learned to shoot early on, hunting squirrels and rabbits as a kid with his .22 rifle. He would get paid to roam ranches and help control the rodents who were damaging crops.
He also learned to backpack, going on his first trip in the Los Padres National Forest.
According to him, “My favorite thing to do is explore, try to have an adventure” — a trait which was certainly reflected in his childhood.
After being cross-country captain and graduating Thacher in 1992, Mr. Pidduck enrolled in a University of California class in the Sierra Nevada for a quarter. After the Sierra Institute, he apprentice guided in Bolivia and then took a year off to guide in Jackson, Wyoming.
I started at Exum [Mountain Guides] when I was 18—I was the youngest guide that they’d ever had.
It was a great experience for Mr. Pidduck, as climbing legends like Alex Lowe, Rolando Garibotti, and Mark Newcomb surrounded him.
It was a wonderful group of guides. To be amongst some of the best climbers – some of the best mountaineers in the US, arguably in the world – was really exciting. I just feel so indebted to those people, especially the directors at Exum who took a risk [on me].
The wilderness of Wyoming offered Mr. Pidduck opportunities to test his adventurous spirit. Sometimes though, he would find himself pushing his physical limits and getting into situations that weren’t ideal.
I could remember several times when, after work, after guiding in the Tetons, and it would be late, maybe I wouldn’t be done [guiding] until after dinner, and I [would] think, ‘I want to go for a run’.
He would run up from the Jackson valley floor (elevation: around 6,500 feet), to the top of Rendezvous mountain (10,455 feet). At the summit, wearing only a T-shirt and light sweater, the conditions were not ideal. Standing there, “the sun’s gone down, it’s just totally dark, the wind is blowing, it’s really cold… And I [would] think ‘I’m pushing it right now.’”
After descending the mountain in darkness, he would lead clients up the Grand Teton (13,770 feet) the next morning.
Although he doesn’t do it anymore, Mr. Pidduck would also solo climb in the mountains — rock climbing without a rope. The allure was that after working he could climb so much. With no gear the time spent climbing is maximized. Yet, solo climbing is dangerous as there is an obvious risk of huge falls.
The attitude you take in something like that is so serious, and in my mind has to be so logical and pragmatic.
Today, Mr. Pidduck practices restraint and emphasizes caution.
The kind of attitude of just enjoyment in [the activity], can get you into situations where you think ‘this is not such a good idea.’ One needs to be careful.
After his time in Wyoming, Mr. Pidduck traveled to Colorado and South Dakota to rock climb before attending Whitman College in Washington. While studying at Whitman in November 1996, Mr. Pidduck went to Pakistan for a geological research grant his college advisor had acquired from the National Science Foundation. They were tasked with re-mapping Lake Tanawal and Tarbela Dam, the largest earth-filled dam in the world. Pakistan was relatively peaceful at the time, though a few skirmishes were present in areas under tribal rule.
Still, armed guards accompanied him everywhere, and his group “could hear machine gun fire around [them].” Possibly the most unnerving part of the trip for Mr. Pidduck however, was the nonchalance with which those locals carried their guns.
Yet, though Mr. Pidduck has had such an eventful life, the most perspective changing event occurred at home — getting married and having children.
Although Mr. and Mrs. Pidduck were in the same class at Thacher, they didn’t talk much.
She was in all the musicals, very gregarious, outward…[while] I was a little shy.
However, after he went to Whitman and Wyoming and she attended Amherst and Harvard, both returned to work at Thacher at the same time. After Mrs. Pidduck left to teach in Los Angeles at the Viewpoint School, the two started dating.
Mr. Pidduck also commented on his seventeen-year position as Director of the Outdoor Program.
I really believe in [the program]. It’s meaningful to me. I love teaching, and I love working with young people. So, to me, [the outdoor program is] just a great way to explore and to learn. And if I can inspire or help others appreciate the outdoors, then I feel that that’s a really great thing for me to do. I feel so powerfully about the environment, and it’s an opportunity for me to practice that. It’s kind of like taking the environmental science and applying it.
For most of the student body however, the most intriguing aspect of Mr. Pidduck lies within his name.
“How exactly does one pronounce ‘Pidduck?’” is a timeless Thacher question that begins in the mind of each freshman. The answer evolves with time for most — beginning with a pronunciation like it is spelled, and changing to an articulation with a stressed first syllable and an “i” sound where the “u” is after realizing that everyone else pronounces it that way. Some even manage to pronounce it with an “o.”
But today, the quest is over my friends.