The US magazine Climbing once described Andy as a climber with a “strange penchant for the long, the cold and the difficult”, with a reputation “for seeking out routes where the danger is real, and the return is questionable, pushing himself on some of the hardest walls and faces in the Alps and beyond, sometimes with partners and sometimes alone.”
Andy's speciality is big wall climbing and winter expeditions, which involves pitting himself against a vertical climbs of over 1000 metres (that’s two and a half world trade centres), often in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees. Andy has scaled Yosemite's El Capitan - one of the hardest walls in America - over twenty four times, including three solo ascents and a one day ascent (18h), as well as climbing it with a paraplegic climber, his thirteen year old 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.
In 2002 he undertook one of the hardest climbs in Europe: a 15 day winter ascent of the West face of the Dru. This 1000 metre pillar pushed him and his partner to their limits and was featured in the award winning film 'Cold Haul'.
In 2014 Andy made the first ascent of the South Ridge of Ulvertanna, Antarctica, viewed by climbers as the 'hardest mountain in the world' - spending 14 days at minus thirty and colder to reach the top. One month later, battling frostbitten toes, Andy lead the TV presenter Alex Jones up Moonlight Buttress in Zion for Sports Relief, raising £1.5 million pounds.
Andy has also taken part in many expeditions, including four winter expeditions to Patagonia, a crossing of Greenland, first ascents in Antarctica, and to many nights spent suffering to mention. The stories that Andy has brought back from these expeditions have become modern classics in the climbing world and have brought new meaning to the words 'epic' and 'cold'...
It is perhaps Andy's journey from remedial student to successful climber, writer and speaker that interests his audience most. Brought up on a council estate in one of Britain's flattest cities, Hull-born Andy suffered from severe dyslexia which went undiagnosed until he was 19. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to talk about his life and his climbs in a way that is totally accessible to the non-climber and allows the audience to experience the risk and tension of big wall climbing.
Andy also works in film and TV, as a stunt safety advisor and this plays a part in many of his talks, which take you from the heights of Patagonia to the chocolaty depths of Charlie and the Chocolate factory!
As Britain's only 'stand up mountaineer' I've toured most of the major theaters in the UK – as well as some of the smaller ones – with my one man shows. Mixing humor, tales of fear, and a show tune or two, these shows have redefined the traditional 'climbing slideshow', and making climbing talks mainstream.
What can a business or organization learn from a climber who's only focus is going on holidays? Well the lesson learnt on trips with others, and solo adventures, can be used to share ideas and tools in problem solving, risk taking and self management that are far more memorable than any textbook.
They say a child's attention span is their age in minutes plus two, so talking to young people is always a challenge I relish. Being a father, and someone who struggled at school, I always try and entertain, inform and leave young minds think that nothing is beyond them.
When I first started climbing it was all about the joyful selfish pleasure of it all, the summits only shared with partners - well sometimes shared with no one but myself - the terror of dangerous places, and the thrill of making it back home again, the only proof it really happened; a bag of undeveloped film, and a brain buzzing with stories to tell my mates.
Then, first through my writing, and later through speaking about my climbs, I began to find the excitement of passing on the things I’d seen ‘up there’ to others, finding it almost as thrilling as the climb itself - and sometimes just as terrifying.
Like most climbers I began talking about my trips around the tables of pubs and mountain bars, keeping friends entertained as we waited for storms to pass, psyching ourselves up for climbs to come. Soon I found myself talking not to just my friends but to the room itself, only this time having the prop of a slide projector and screen. Back then I’d probably have one or two slides to cover an entire climb, so learnt early on that words could fill in the blanks - a useful skill many years later when I forgot my slides and had to do a two hour lecture with only a white screen behind me.
Audiences grew, from climbing clubs to climbing walls, from local climbing events to international gigs in places like New Zealand, Canada and the US. Where once there had been an audience of one of two, in the space of five years it grown to thousands.
“You’re so funny, have you ever thought of doing stand up” was something many people asked, and I realised you didn’t have to be a climber to “get it’, so I landed a tour in the Picture House cinema chain, a bit of a crazy idea, a guy standing up next to the screen and talking about his holidays. But it worked. People came, and people laughed at the funny bits and went quiet at the scary bits.
And so in 2006 I took the terrifying step of going main stream, with my first proper UK tour, with my one man show Psychovertical, visiting thirty theaters and telling my strange story, a mash up of soloing the reticent wall in Yosemite, skiing across Greenland and working on Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Many theaters were sold, and by the end of one of the hardest expeditions of my life I told my story to over twenty thousand people.
It had been a long journey from those pubs and mountain bars, but in many just as exciting, scary and ultimately rewarding as the climbs I stand and talk about.
What does it take to solo one of the most intimidating climbs in the world, pushing through fear, self doubt and the knowledge that you had already failed the same climb three times previously. Andy examines the fine line between adventure and obsession.TED