Andy Kirkpatrick: the boss at the bottom of the world

Posted by Claire-Jane Carter on 24/02/2014
Andy Kirkpatrick: in his element.
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Over Christmas, Andy Kirkpatrick summited a new route on Ulvetanna, a formidable 2,930m mountain in eastern Antarctica. During the ascent, Andy had to train the Norwegian team of a skier, two base jumpers, a sports and ice climber, and a camerawoman in big walling techniques. We caught up with him to find out more.

Can you describe living in Queen Maud Land?
It’s like the golden hour, 24 hours a day, and there are massive spiky mountains sticking straight out of the ice, so it’s weird, but do you get used to it, and being on expedition is so easy compared to being in the real world, you have no demands apart from the climb.

You wake up, start melting water, have breakfast, have a meeting, work out what you're doing that day, go and do it, come back, melt more water, eat, sleep, do it again. Quite a bit of chat goes on but it’s so cold that once you turn the stoves off it’s like ‘Right, I better get in my sleeping bag!’. Towards the end it got down to minus 40, so if you got boiling water and threw it in the air it turned to snow immediately.

How difficult did you find the expedition?
It was hard at points, working non-stop for 24 hours, keeping it together, as I was the only one who knew what was going on. I had to teach the base jumpers to haul and jumar, and the guy I was climbing with wasn’t confident on the terrain as he’s a sport climber, so I had to work around it with occasional tellings-off.

People think it’s odd that I go climbing with non-climbers, but it’s much easier to train someone from scratch than build on what they think they know. Like on El Cap, Ella just had one job and I really trusted her to do it. I’m always trying to improve my own ability and that means finding simpler climbing systems. I’m so incompetent at normal life it’s nice to be competent on expedition!

What’s harder, being on Ulvetanna or Christmas at home?
Christmas at home, definitely. On Ulvetanna I only had six people to please!

Why did you call the route ‘Zardos’
It’s my first new route, so the first I’ve got to name, and I really like films, I’m always referencing them. In this crazy film ‘Zardos’ there’s a giant big-head that floats around telling everyone what to do, so it was the idea of me being the big-head bossing the whole team about.

How did you grade the route?
I’m terrible at grading things, I’m usually just like, ‘Oh, I got up it, it’s A1’, but on this route I thought that, if we made a little mistake my climbing partner would die, and if we made a bigger mistake I would die, and if we made a really big mistake we both would die, so then I was like, ‘Ok, then I’ll call it A4’.

Would you recommend anyone repeats the route?
It was quite good actually. The rock is tortured and twisted with lumps sticking out, so it’s really trippy and it’s super, super loose. If you like climbing on Gogarth you would love it.

You lost 15 Kilos in Antarctica, what are your diet tips?
We ate less then 1000 calories per day, and some days we expended 8000. We only had dehydrated food as the meat we took went rotten, and on expedition after breakfast I don’t eat until I finish work, it’s very intense climbing so it’s hard to stop. Tea is my main thing, lots of tea, that’s the way forward. Before the trip I put on 5 Kilos in preparation, and that’s quite fun. You feel like a fat knacker but you get to eat everything.

Why do you want to go and climb on Ulvetenna in minus 30 conditions instead of going to Stanage on a Sunday?
Because it’s not busy! And rock climbing makes me feel trapped. The type of climbing I do, you have a set of skills that don’t degrade very quickly, whereas rock climbing, if you don’t go for two weeks you just hit rock bottom, and that’s so depressing. Though I do like climbing on Stanage.

I always make analogies with relationships and climbing, and my kind of climbing is like stalking someone, you get an unhealthy relationship with this mountain, and you return again and again, but eventually, because mountains are like women and your persistence is rewarded, you’ll climb it. But Stanage is like a lover you have an easy relationship with, it’s comforting.

It’s 15 minutes from my house and it makes me feel really reconnected with my 19 year old self, when I used to cycle out and go soloing before work. Now I just do binge climbing. Last year I climbed the Troll Wall in winter, did about five VS’s on Stanage, climbed El Cap three times, tried to do the hardest route on the Eiger, and that was it, I didn't do any other climbing. But I am still as addicted as was as a kid. You always think that the mountain you’re on will be the one, after Ulvetanna I won’t have to climb anything else, but it’s never true. You get to the top and you’re like, ‘Ah that wasn’t quite hard enough’.

Andy is currently touring the UK with his new talk ‘Inappropriate Climbing’. You can read more about his adventures on his website, or follow him on twitter @psychovertical.

WATCH: See Ulvetanna in this extra from The Last Great Climb on BMC TV:

 



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