|Andy Kirkpatrick as a child|
Andy Kirkpatrick was brought up on a council estate in Hull, one of the UK’s flattest cities. He was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at the age of 19 and left school with no qualifications. At the age of 40, he is now one of the UK’s top mountaineers, an award-winning author and an acclaimed motivational speaker.
Kirkpatrick claims it was his father, Pete Kirkpatrick, one of the longest-serving team leaders in the RAF mountain rescue, who motivated him to start climbing. When he was six years old, his parents got divorced and he moved with his mother and siblings to Hull. He remembers his father visiting often to take them climbing and walking in the Peak District. “So I feel like I always had a connection with the outdoors,” said Kirkpatrick.
When Kirkpatrick left school he began working in outdoor shops. It was then that he met other climbers who inspired him to start big wall climbing and winter expeditions. “Andy Perkins was one of my heroes, he is an all-rounder who does Scottish winter climbing, big wall climbing and expeditions.”
Kirkpatrick has climbed the 3000-foot El Capitan, in Yosemite over 15 times and in 2010 he attempted a one-day solo ascent, climbing it in 30 hours. In 2002 he undertook one of the hardest climbs in Europe, a 15-day winter ascent of the west face of the Dru, Chamonix. He has also took part in four winter expeditions to Patagonia and climbed El Capitan with his girlfriend, paraplegic athlete Karen Darke.
|Kirkpatrick on the west face of the Dru|
Kirkpatrick says that his most memorable climb was when he climbed El Capitan with Darke, with whom he has been for 5 years. “It was such a mad idea, to climb with someone who hasn’t climbed in 16 years and can’t walk and then you’re there, on El Cap without a lot of training or preparation.”
Darke is training for the London 2012 Paralympics in handcycling, as part of the British Cycling Team. We’re both quite obsessed and focused,” said Kirkpatrick musing over how seldom they see each other. He said that he tried to show this in ‘Cold Wars’, “My book shows the reality, there are a lot of downsides to this kind of lifestyle, and I tried to be honest about it.”
Jack Geldard, chief editor of UKClimbing.com said in his review of ‘Cold Wars’, “The running theme in both Cold Wars and in Psychovertical is that of the tormented husband, to-ing and fro-ing between the strains of normal life…juxtaposed with the complexities and simplicities of big wall life and seemingly constant 'near death' climbing.”
Kirkpatrick believes that ‘Cold Wars’ won’t necessarily appeal to all climbers. He said that ‘extreme’ climbers often don’t have family or kids. “They are yet to see the reality of these things, for them I am just whining.” Kirkpatrick has two children who live with him in Sheffield; Ella aged 13 and Ewen who is 10 years old.
He explained, “A very good climber gives 100% so there is nothing left for anything else, even relationships. For me writing is as important as climbing, so I’ll easily put aside six months just to learn to be a good writer.”
Kirkpatrick believes you can only do two things well, “So I do things in binges and sometimes I have to be a crap climber or a crap father.”
Geldard also observes, “Kirkpatrick's style, which both in writing and in climbing, is that of the underdog, the wannabe, the have-a-go hero.”
Kirkpatrick acknowledges this self-deprecating tendency, “It’s because I never give climbing 100%, I just dip in and out of it, so I’m never in a position of being really strong, I always know I’m not as good as I could be.”
He also believes that this tendency to ‘flagellate’ himself comes from having a working class background. “Working class people are like that. Which is why they are working class, because they think they’re shit at everything.”
Pushing the boundaries
|Kirkpatrick, mixed climbing in Scotland|
However, Kirkpatrick believes that it’s all to do with your parents, “My mum was never an academic, but she always said ‘the world is your oyster’.” Whilst Kirkpatrick admits he never really knew what that meant, he believes his mother inspired them to go further afield and be ambitious.
Kirkpatrick’s reputation for pushing the boundaries goes beyond his climbing, “As a comedian you have to push beyond what people expect, that’s what makes it interesting,” said Kirkpatrick. He said he finds it hard to take himself seriously, “You know your mates will just laugh at you for saying something like ‘I climbed the hardest route in the UK’.”