04 December 2008


Category: Descent

Note: Many of these articles are very old, and although the technical information is still relevant the equipment mentioned may not be (for example a Stormy cooker was state of that art in 1995, but not in 2020).

Someone once said that you could measure a climber not by what they have climbed but by what they have failed to climb. If this is true then I must be the best climber on the planet! In order to illustrate just how good I am, take the fact that weighed against every successful metre I’ve climbed to a summit, there have been at least double the number leading me in the opposite direction. Having endured more retreats then the Italian army may seem harsh, but my motto has always been “If you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough!”, and I view some of my more epic climb downs as real defining moments for me.

All this down time has taught me some valuable lessons in the art of looking after myself, because very quickly I realised that this was the most dangerous faze of a climb: not only staying healthy, which is a good thing, but also staying positive in the face of danger. Having the confidence in your skills to know Knowing that you can turn and go down is a crucial part of pushing the limits, whatever those limits may be, testing where these limits are and allowing me the opportunity to back off if necessary.

Remember you’re never really retreating - you’re just coming back.

The real skills of descent, although overlooked until the time comes to turn and run, and condensed into a short chapters in most instructional books, although unglamorous, are as important as any skill of ascent, after all what’s the point of trying so hard to get to the top if you can’t find your way back down again. As the old adage goes, ‘at the summit you’re only half way there’.

These pages are an amalgamation of all the skills and tricks I and many others have learnt during these retreats, and I can confidently say that a great deal of nervous energy went into the fifteen years research behind what you’ll read in the following pages.

These pages are written for any climber, no matter what grade or type of climbing they do, after all, unless you’re climbing on the moon, gravity effects us all the same.

This is not a catalogue of every technique in decent but the bare bones of what it takes to make it home. The techniques are what I think work best, and I have out what may or may not work in order to keep things simple. Althjough I attempted to , an amalgamation of everything I’ve learnt over countless descents. I’ve left out much I don’t think is relevant for today’s climber and included much that won’t seem important until the day you need it. I wrote this pages because I feel that this kind of knowledge isn’t being passed on to enough climbers, and through it lives will be saved.



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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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Books by Andy Kirkpatrick
Unknown Pleasures Higher Education
Me, Myself & I Nutcraft - The Climbing Nut Bible
Aid Basics 1000+ Tips for Climbers
Cold Wars Psychovertical
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