Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Architect

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Gili Keselman

Job: Architect

Gili in his Fortress of Solitude in Balfour, Canada. Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


1) What do you do?

I’m an architect who designs buildings and spaces in Tel Aviv and its surroundings while living in a van named “Air Force Bum” deep in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.

I specialize in 3D modeling and visualization. My work requires powerful hardware that I [carry with me] and move around inside robust pelican cases. When I go to work it looks like I’m carrying a sniper rifle. You’ll find me sitting in random cafes and bars at all hours of the day, which may or may not lead to some weird Halloween experiences. 


“Architecture doesn’t necessarily mean a life of adventure. I had to work hard and make scary choices to build the situation I’m in today.”


2) How did you first learn about a career in architecture? 

As a teenager I was curious by every topic possible. From economics to math and physics to computer science and art. It was impossible to choose only one thing, so I chose to study architecture which combines a bit of everything.

I studied at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) in Haifa for five years, and then worked in Tel Aviv for Bar-Orian Architects, a typical 9:00-19:00 office job.

Architecture doesn’t necessarily mean a life of adventure. I had to work hard and make scary choices to build the situation I’m in today; combining my passion for the mountain lifestyle with architecture, and most importantly, feeling free and in control of my own schedule and life.

Right now I’m in the process of building a company that will allow its workers the same freedom.


3) What are some of the perks of working remotely? 

I get to ski and climb mountains. Before being a “professional ski bum,” work took the majority of my focus. It would take over any discussion with my friends and it seemed to be the center of my life. We lived to work.

Today, work is just something I do between adventures.

I work to live, so the daily focus is shifted to discussions about epic adventures instead of salary and concerns about retirement. Working for 9 hours straight from a bar in the middle of the night seems like part of my adventure, and I love every minute of it. 

“This is how my little van house looks like on an average day for just over a year now. Best year of my life!” Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


4) What are some of the challenges?

I still have a full time job. Getting to choose my hours and location is awesome, but I still have to make sure all deadlines are met. Israel is 9 hours ahead, so often it means I need to work in the middle of the night. Living in a van means I have to work from the only place which is open at night – a bar! 

There might be a Halloween party going on around me as I struggle to finish a tight deadline, and my clients are counting on me. It’s serious enough that if you screw up once you might never get work again. These are multi-million dollar projects we’re talking about.

One time, a beer spilled on my laptop causing it to shut off for days. My little laptop shutdown caused delays, and can never happen again. Today, I have two super powerful laptops and several backup drives, just to make sure work never stops. And that’s part of the challenge: work never stops.

I need to be available and ready to work, without distinction of weekends or nights or overtime or the security net of being an employee. I’m a freelancer, so work [may be] good today, but might not be here tomorrow. All that said, it’s a small price to pay to be able to play in the mountains.  


“I didn’t want to wake up one day at age 80 to look back at my life and be disappointed by not going after my dreams.”


5) What motivated you to pursue this role? How did you decide to take things on the road?

I felt like life must have something more to it than security. I felt numb in the office and eventually got to a point where I chose adventure over security, and I paid for it with harsh results in the beginning.

I quit my job without having any plan other than going to live in the mountains and try to find a way to get by. I didn’t want to wake up one day at age 80 to look back at my life and be disappointed by not going after my dreams. This perspective helped me see life as a daring adventure and not as an experience to be cruised through safely.

I lost all my savings pretty quick without a job (not having the ability to work in Canada without a permit). I left the comfort of a house, a job, a routine, security, and I ended up tearing my ACL in a bad ski accident. I was left broke, injured, having to come back to Israel for surgery and a year of recovery. Despite it all, I kept positive.

Ice climbing in the Cline River Gallery. Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.


I remember thinking, “If this is the worst it can get… I’ve got this!”

There was nothing to really fear. I kept appreciating the fact that some people have cancer and I don’t. That’s a real problem in life, not losing a job or some savings. So after recovery, I did it all again!

This time, I had experience in regards to what to expect. I approached my old boss and asked to work remotely. I also got a van and transformed it into a home. Having the ability to sustain myself financially within my adventures changed my life. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was living life to the fullest.


6) How has your life changed since you started this?

I could die tomorrow, and I’d be okay with it. Because I feel like I’ve lived.

Every day of the past 3 years has been the best day of my life. I found love in the mountains, I got permanent residency in Canada, and now I’m building a life of adventure here. Looking back, there was no risk. There was nothing to lose and a life to gain. Taking risks pays off. 


7) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

It’s hard to find a typical month these days. Life keeps evolving, changing and moving places. I’ve spent the last 6 months living in a dry cabin in Alaska with no running water or a toilet, but with fast Wi-Fi that allowed me to work.

Now I’m in Canmore, Canada, living out of my van as I combine work alongside rock and ice climbing. In two months, I’ll be in Golden, BC, for ski season. Living out of a van in winter is pretty extreme up here, where temps get down to -40C. Me and my girlfriend live together in my tiny van and have this tiny wood burning stove we named “rusty.” We [make sure to] find time to chop wood, to keep us alive during the freezing nights. And we have to cuddle to survive. I think it’s very good for any relationship: forced cuddling.  

To answer your question, in a typical day we might start by skiing or climbing and then get back to working from a bar. It’s pretty simple actually. 


8) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

I wish I knew about Van Life! It’s the single greatest adventure and way to live cheaply anywhere. 


9) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

Big risks pay off. Whatever you think you have to lose, is nothing really. You have your legs, and your immune system, and your eyes. Those are the real valuable things in life. Anything else is just a story. And why live in a boring story?

Every day I work to make my story an epic adventure, and it got me to places and people who will be in my heart forever.

“Home is where your heart is ❤️” Photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.

Thanks, Gili!

You can follow Gili and his van-based adventures on instagram @freegili.



Feature photo courtesy of Eva Capozzola.

Josh Cook: On Developing Crags, Self, and the Next Generation

The drill whirls about in place, boring into the soft limestone. Fine grit clouds kick out at the edges of the hole, puff, puff, puff. The walls echo with the ricochet of millions of years of solidity grinding back into individual particulates. Water droplets sizzle on stone from sweat trickling down forearm and dripping off at the wrist. 

The man at the helm is Josh Cook and he is bolting new sport lines. He’s an English teacher at an international school and he’s developing the first sport crag in Škaljari, Montenegro. 

Škaljari, Montenegro
Škaljari, Montenegro. Photo courtesy of Josh Cook.


Josh never thought he’d end up in Montenegro as a mis-fit kid in Denver, CO. 

When he told people he was thinking of going, the response was generally the same: “nobody knows where it is.” He continues, “That’s already cool. Anytime you hear of a country you don’t know anything about, then it’s very enticing. You know there’s something special there.” So off he went.

This type of adventurism is easy for him now—motorcycle trip across the Himalayas? Backpacking in the Andes? No problem—but things were different when he was young. It’s not that he was a misfit, it’s more like he felt mis-placed. 


Josh grew up as one of the few white kids in school. Not that he had a problem with it, he just stood out. Then he got a scholarship and was one of the few lower-income students in a fancy private high school. Not that it was an issue, he just didn’t quite fit in. Then he wanted to be a climber. Not that it should have been too difficult, but there weren’t many of those around.


At last, climbing was a place where he felt he belonged. He started when he was 6 and was obsessed by 16. Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: Morrison bouldering area. You know the drill.

At 18 he took a year off to travel the country and climb. He started in Yosemite. To boulder. Mis-fit as he was.

Josh in his element from a young age
Josh in his element from a young age. Photo source: On The Move


If you’re wondering how an inner-city kid from Denver ends up in Montenegro, you have to start with Yosemite. 

Yosemite Valley is an international port of call for climbers. In 2018, over four million visitors came through from 33 countries. Most come in the summer and it can be a madhouse. Especially for an 18 year old out on his own for the first time.

“I’m driving in and it’s just packed. There’s one way traffic, all these cars, rangers everywhere. I’m looking for Camp 4 and I can’t find Camp 4. At that point, it was briefly named Sunnyside Campground so I’m not seeing signs for Camp 4. I finally pull over then realize [I’m here and] you have to have to wait in a long line to get a campsite, and you have to share it with other people. I’m learning trial by fire, this whole rigamarole,” Josh recalls.

He continues, “I squeeze into Site 17 and there’s these scruffy, complete dirtbag-looking climbers. The youngest was maybe 5 years older, the oldest was probably 10 yeas older. I go, ‘oh, uh, I have to share this site with you guys.’ And they just stare at me.” The climbers were non-plussed but helped him unload nonetheless. 

Josh stayed a month and they got to know each other. They became friends. Turns out they were die hard trad climbers from the Welsh tradition. As they would go off to climb big walls, away for days at a time, Josh would be there wrestling pebbles. 

They couldn’t believe he was in Yosemite just for bouldering. Josh couldn’t believe they were climbing those walls. They opened his eyes to a larger world.

Josh's friend, Tania, bouldering in Kashmir
Josh’s friend, Tania, bouldering in Kashmir. Photo source: On The Move


One day, one of the guys hung back. 

“Neil goes, ‘I’m gonna take a rest day and boulder with you,’” Josh reflects. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘oh trad climber, he won’t know anything about bouldering, hopefully he can keep up with me.’”

Josh continues, “We’re at Curry Village, warming up on opposite sides of the boulder. He walks around to where I am, and I present what I’m working on. I was just flailing on this thing, it was like a V4 or something. When he got on it he flashed it. And not only that, he did it with such grace and ease that my jaw dropped.”

“I realized at that point my world of climbing had been all about the media and the value of recognition. [Basically,] you were a nobody if you weren’t in the magazines or at the competitions or whatever it was.” 

Of course, Neil wasn’t in the magazines.

“No one knew who he was,” Josh laments. “But he was the best climber I ever met, ever seen climb.” Back home he was known as a Dark Horse. “The best climber you’ve never heard of,” he says.

Neil still pops up from time to time in mentions, but not features.


That interaction changed everything for Josh. Neil and friends loved climbing for all that it was, and they climbed all that was available around the world. They didn’t seek notoriety, they simply did it for fun and self-improvement. 

“I really came to respect that, doing everything to the best of your ability, climbing all the different styles and disciplines, and to do it humbly. Not trying to seek attention,” Josh shares, admiration ringing in his voice.

“That shifted how I thought about my goals: to become more about being the best that I can be, and to not let it be about ego… I want to know that I can dedicate myself to challenging tasks and become better at them through the learning process,” he sums up.

Josh applies much of his lessons learned in climbing to his teaching pedagogy. 

He explains, “Teaching fits a lot of the same characteristics: constant problem solving and decision making, performance under pressure, mentorship, refining weaknesses, measuring growth and skill development (in the students and in myself), the list goes on.” 

And he teaches because in his words, “I influence the lives of youth, hopefully for the better. I help make them critical thinkers, lovers of literature, and attentive writers. I give them opportunities to be good people and work with them through the process of creating their own paths.”

He encourages that the beauty is not in the big send, but the progression towards the goal: “I describe this process to my students as: attempt, failure, reflection, refinement, and attempt again (repeat… forever). The signs that we have done that well, that we are conscious and attentive to our experiences, are what we call improvement. That awareness of our experiences is also just good living, I think.”

Josh motorcycling through the Himalayas
Josh motorcycling through the Himalayas. Photo source: On The Move


Josh has bopped around, having taught in Peru, Bhutan, Japan, Montenegro, and soon, Colombia. Wherever he goes he welcome new people into climbing, develops a local area, and finds connection through the sport.

“As you live this itinerant lifestyle, intentionally drawing away from people, it [can] prohibit you from being a part of community,” Josh says.

He goes on, “I found recently, because I’m always living everywhere, my community is climbers that I meet. It helps me feel connected to something larger.”

Climbers tend to be roamers and travelers, perpetual motion in new lands. It sounds like he’s found where he fits in.



You can read some of Josh’s writing on his blog, On The Move.