Explorer Spotlight: Kyle Obermann

Name: Kyle Obermann | Age: 24 | Location: Beijing, China.

What’s your day job? 

I do corporate security and intellectual property protection work with a US company in China. However I'm leaving in July to pursue environmental photography in China full time!

What are your favorite things to do outside?

Run up mountains and star gaze with friends!

What first drew you to the outdoors? 

Growing up my family never had a TV. But we always had a big, forested backyard full of ravines, wildlife, and adventure. We also spent two-and-half years living near the Swiss Alps. I didn't appreciate it so much then, but now I see these experiences as one of my greatest blessings growing up. Still don't own a TV!

What’s your favorite hometown adventure? ...and, almost as important, where’s your favorite spot to get a beer after? 

I'm a native Austinite, and there's a little known 200+ acre reserve hidden in north-central Austin called Bright Leaf Preserve. When I was a kid we could get there with a 10 minute walk down the street. It's full of hills, waterfalls, gullies, and probably too much deer. Now there's a fence around it and you can only access the reserve with guided hikes. In my mind some good BBQ is just as important as beer, so get me to Franklin or Stubb's BBQ first and then I'll take the beer.

What’s your essential gear that never gets left at home?

It would have to be either my Canon 70d or a nice flannel.

What’s your favorite trail snack?

NZ Braeburn apple paired with some Edam cheese. Hard to get outside NZ but one can dream!

Any go-to soundtracks when you’re hitting the road?

Wailin' Jennys or Ellis Paul.

What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened while you were adventuring? And/ or funniest? 

Last fall, at the end of September, I was doing a 3 day backpacking route with a buddy at Mt. Xiaowutai in the backcountry near Beijing. After spitting rain the entire first 24 hours we found ourselves immersed in a wall of cloud the second day as we navigated the grassy, but sheer ridges between peaks. Visibility being low, rain starting to fall again, and evening approaching we had no choice but to pitch our tent on the exposed ridge for the night. That's when the Mongolian cold front came in. The poles of our tent were bending in slapping us in the face all night as we became encrusted in a shell of ice outside and inside the tent. We were the only two people on that mountain and to this day I'm not sure how our poles didn't snap. We spent all night with our backs huddled to the windward side of the tent to add support, praying we had done our stakes and guylines well. Turns out we did, but I learned a lot about respect for mountain weather that night. The next day when a weather gap came we took down our tent and the frozen pole cords disintegrated in our hands. We got off the mountain as fast as possible. By the time we were down, the sun was out and it was clear weather for the next three days.

Who’s your number one adventure partner-in-crime? Who inspires you?

Besides my brother, all my closest hiking buddies seem to be variations of the name "Andrew." There's Andrew and Andy from Minnesota, Andrew from Maryland, and Andy from England. I've hiked with some Chinese with the English name Andy as well. I just hiked with another guy named Andrew in Hong Kong last weekend. Kind of strange.

My cousin Eric Obermann inspires me. He died of ALS six years ago but was one of the greatest fighters and adventurers I've ever known.

What are your top destinations for adventure travel?

China. This place is just as big as the US and half as explored.

What's on the top of your must-do adventure list right now?

There's a remote 9 day trek in China's western Xinjiang province which traces an ancient trade route above 3500m with 5000m+ peaks on every side. It's called Xiàtè Gǔdào (夏特古道). Nat Geo once listed it as one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Anyone down to join?

Show us your most memorable photo, and tell us about it!

I shot this at Enchanted Rock, Texas right before I moved to China two years ago. The park is only a wonderful 1.5 hour drive from my home. I spent the better half of the night shooting the stars and finally ended up sleeping sans tent on top the volcanic dome. The stars were so bright it was hard sleep. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to home and welcome on the adventure that China has been so far. Being under the stars has always been one of my favorite things - and I'm happy to say I'm preparing to come for a month this summer to do an article about the Texas Dark Skies Program for Chinese National Astronomy to share the the joy of these kind of views with my Chinese peers - many of whom have never had (or will never have) the privilege to see the sky like this! You can't take these things for granted. 

And last but not least…What’s your personal motto?

"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ole' buddy... let's go exploring!"

Ok, so this is not my quote and I've never met someone named Hobbes. This is from Bill Watterson's last Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and I think it encompasses what adventure is to me. It is magical out there; exploration is the mindset you bring to a place, not what that place is; life's too short to not do it with great people by your side!

Mt. Laozhai


Mt. Wakefield

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.