British climber, mountaineer, author and speaker, Andy Kirkpatrick, is visiting the SoHem in October for the Australian Climbing Festival, and while he won’t be laying siege to Mt Kosciuszko he will be spreading some words of wisdom for the Climbers of Oz. VL spoke to Andy recently to find out a bit more about one of climbing’s funniest characters
Can you give us the Andy Kirkpatrick elevator pitch for those of the VL Massive who may not be familiar with your oeuvre?
I was once described as the world’s worst all-round climber, having soloed A5 walls, climbed Scottish VIII mixed routes, soloed hard alpine faces as well as climbing the ‘hardest route in the alps’ and tough routes in Patagonia, Alaska, Antarctica, Norway and the Alps – but I’m rubbish at rockclimbing. The reason is that I’m a bit of a binge climber, and can go six months without tying on, this is because I’m interested in other stuff as well (plus I’ve got two kids). The binge nature of my climbing, as well as the routes I try (often solo) leads to a lot of funny and scary stories, and I guess that’s what I’m best known for.
Without giving too much away, what can the People of Australia expect from your show at the Australian Climbing Festival?
I’ve spoken all over the world and the one thing people say is that they’ve never heard any other speaker talk like I do about climbing, as it’s both very funny (it’s not meant to be), honest and scary. I don’t take myself very seriously, so I think that should work well with an Aussie audience.
On your Wikipedia page it describes you as a ‘British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist.’ When it comes to monoligising what tradition would you describe yourself as coming out of?
I spotted that too, and had to look up what it meant. When I was a kid I remember watching the film Swimming to Cambodia where Spalding Grey talks about his life on stage, and I found it amazing someone could hold my attention by just talking. It sounds corny but I try and take the audience on adventure, which is ‘a journey where the outcome is uncertain’ – not the typical ‘we went here, and the following year we went here’ style talk.
Who is Ray Mears and why do you make him look like Paris Hilton? And who is Paris Hilton?
Ray Mears is our version of the Bush Tucker Man, and Paris Hilton is like Kylie only with zero talent. I’d have preferred it to be Bear Grylls rather than Ray, as I like and respect Ray Mears, but as for Bear…
Why write books?
Someone once asked Lou Reed why someone may be a transvestite and he replied ‘It’s something to do’ – writing books is like that, plus for some reason people seem to like what I write.
In your award-winning, much translated book, Psychovertical, you write a lot about the pressures of having a family and the guilt of leaving them behind to go on expeditions. Do you have any advice for assuaging guilt for others who have partners and children yet still feel the call of the mountains?
Don’t make the mistake of standing with one foot in both worlds – the real world and the world in the clouds (or in the sea, the road or anywhere you want to be when you’re in the real world). If you do this you are never ever really in the place you are and people can feel it. When at home be at home 100 per cent and when away be 100 per cent away, as then you will be the most effective in that place. To put it another way, I once asked my daughter Ella what the secret of a good relationship was and she replied ‘to be in the same place at the same time.’
Do you feel a correlation between the learning difficulties you had as a youth and your climbing?
I definitely have something to prove, probably more to myself than anyone else. My childhood left me with pretty poor self-esteem, and it’s taken me 20 years to get to the point where I perhaps should have been when I left school. I guess we are all pretty much on our own, and we need to make ourselves the people we want to be.
Since you are also a motivational speaker, can you please provide our readers with some motivation to continue on day after day in a life that is utterly meaningless?
Motivational speakers are by and large narcissistic, selfish self-obsessed hustlers, reselling repacked experiences for cash. What most have to say (I’ve seen a lot of talks!) is overly simplistic and I think anyone holding down a normal job, keeping a family together, bringing up kids – and having some kind of adventure – has more to offer in advice on how to live.
We all know mountaineering is a cold, deadly, uncomfortable pursuit of suffering, poor hygiene and failure, what else makes it so funny?
I once soloed El Capitan and found myself busting for a piss on my portaledge, but couldn’t go as a speed team were climbing up below me. I sat there all evening, my bladder bursting, until I couldn’t take it anymore. So I ate a tin of stew and pissed into it (the piss coming up the rim). But now I was sat with a tin of piss, and thought that this may look a little odd (I considered saying I was doctor), so I began tipping it out one tiny drop at a time. The leader was only 20m below me now, so I sped up a bit, not wanting to be found with half a tin of piss (he’d wonder what I did with the other half). In my haste I spilled a little too much and it hit the guy, who shouted at me to stop pissing on me. Now I had a really big dilemma, as when he got to my ledge he’d find me with a tin of piss, and think I was pouring on him on purpose. In the end I wrapped the tin in gaffer tape and hid it in my haul bag and neither of us brought it up.
I guess stories like that are funny.