“I do dangerous things but I don’t die doing them”
Survival is about experience, says climber Andy Kirkpatrick.
Survival is also about knowing when to hold back.
Andy brings his show Mind Your Head to Horsham’s Capitol on Sunday, November 14.
He is one of the top British mountaineers, a big-wall climber and winter expedition specialist who has soloed several of the most difficult routes in the world.
Andy has scaled Yosemite’s El Capitan – one of the hardest walls in America – 34 times, including three solo ascents and a one-day ascent (18h) as well as climbing it with a paraplegic climber, his teenage daughter and a blind friend.
One of these ascents was a 12-day solo of the Reticent Wall, viewed at the time as perhaps the hardest climb of its type in the world, and the subject of his award-winning book Psychovertical.
“I am 50 years old and I have been doing this for 45 years. I do very dangerous things but I don’t die doing them.
“I fail sometimes, and that’s the thing.
“I retreat back.
“I would say that I have lost upwards of 50 people in my life through climbing, people who have died.
“I think you always have to focus on the small things, just look after the details.
“It is not about falling into a huge crevasse or being caught by an avalanche. You have to build up experience over a long time as a climber and that makes you more aware of the dangers.
“It’s like if someone is looking after animals, wild animals and then the danger is when they get complacent, when they turn their back on the lion and that’s when they get caught.
“That’s what you have to do, just keep focusing.
“I have climbed El Cap 34 times but every time I tried to keep myself aware of just how dangerous it is.
“I often think of my children crying just to keep me focused.”
Andy cites another trip where things just did not feel aligned, where he reckoned his chances were 100 per cent of getting to the top but only 50 per cent of getting back down again, and that’s when you have to take the sensible decision.
“In those moments you can think about all the likes and all the adulation on Facebook if you did manage to do it but then you think about your children crying if you died, and I have seen the effects of people dying on other people.
“Climbing is an incredibly selfish thing to do but dying is ten times more selfish, the destruction on other people’s lives.
“It is very hard to stop doing what you are doing but it is better at times not to be heroic.
“People will say it is better to die a lion than a sheep, to live like an lion and die like a lion rather than just be a sheep all the time, but that doesn’t really do it.
“I think you are just convincing yourself that it is better to live like that but I think it is better to be a 50-year-old sheep rather than a dead lion.
“I think you should be judged by your failures and also your fantastic successes.
“But I think it is better to have a few successes and a lot of failures than a lot of successes and one big death.
“But anyway it is more like a job.
“It gives me something to do and to talk about and to write about... but I would never think that I am a great climber.”
Tickets for the show are avaialable from the box office at The Capitol, Horsham.