The Bad taste
January 7, 2009
Back at home and feeling the cold more than most I think (got the usual sore fingertips).
Last night a friend emailed me a link to Mark Reeves Blog, where he talked about the Eiger trip, which has led to some interesting thoughts and emails.
here’s what Mark wrote:-
Just before Christmas Andy Kirkpatrick set off on to solo the Harlin Route on the North Face of the Eiger, leaving behind his wife and kids. Now whilst I find it hard to criticize someone for soloing hard and dangerous routes as a climber myself, it is important to remember that this wasn’t just a passionate climber out to test himself against nature; by offering an online blog updated via his phone, did Andy turn his ascent into a media circus. A death-defying stunt of Dave Blane proportions. The fact that people engaged with this type of media is a screaming indictment to our morbid fascinations.
Like Ice cube man Dave Blane though, Andy is a professional and with that comes a responsibility to prepare properly. Andy will have done this through years of experience and good judgement. Having soloed Big Walls in Yosemite, and winter climbed prolifically on paper he certainly has credentials. So surely as a professional Andy will have trained up mentally and physically for this trip, however from the outset it seemed a little over-ambitious. “Feel totally bolloxed after a real slog of an approach with 70kg of gear (did it in relays, breaking the load into 3 for the 200 metres up to the first real climbing).”
I have to admit that I am not the biggest Andy Kirkpatrick fan, mainly because of Dru stunt he pulled off a few years ago. Where if you are not aware the media declared his aided ascent of a route on a similar line to a route Jean Christophe Lafaille as ‘the hardest route in the Alps’. Now the claim probably came from the fact that JCL declared his route ‘the hardest route in the Alps’. Now my problem with that ascent is that to me it was misleading as whilst I certainly won’t be operating in the levels of hardest route in the Alps, as a climber I consider aid climbing a form of cheating. For instance, where Andy K might tell you the hardest route on El Cap is the old school A5 Reticent Wall, I might choose one of the many free climbs like the El Nino, etc… If you’d like a quote then I choose Stevie Haston who at the age of 52 has just climbed F8c+ who several years ago made a snipe at aid climbing by saying that ‘Anyone can climb A5!’, the same can’t be said of hard free climbs.
As such I see Andy as someone who is very adept at gain media attention for feats that really only show how much he is willing to suffer for his ‘Art’. I do however respect the man as someone successfully making a living out of climbing. Now personally have only seen him once live several years ago, and back then he had an air of comic genius about him, something that climbing desperately needs. However, as a climber, I am not sure that I can respect him for various media stunts.
In this latest escapade, he appears to have barely gotten off the ground, on UKC well know and probably one of the few Brits capable of climbing the real hardest routes in the Alps, John Bracey commented that the hard climbing doesn’t start until you reach the gallery window. Interestingly in Andy’s penultimate blog instalment puts him below this point where the going gets tough.
“Climbed 250 metres today. Boring/scary snow then 2 pitches of undrytoolable rock and thin 80 deg ice. Hauling my bag took a lot out of me and wasted a lot of time.
Finished in the dark below the gallery windows”
So I wait to see the spin that Andy Kirkpatrick puts on the outing and whether any media organisation picks up on the story that if it was me would ready. ‘Well known climbing comic Andy Kirkpatrick made a joke of himself by publically attempting to solo the Harlin Route on the North Face of the Eiger. Fortunately for those who like his stand up act, he came down before he hurt himself (ego aside).’
I am sure he’ll turn the whole experience into a very humorous aside in his act, and we’ll all be lining up to watch him. You never know he might be on Richard and Judy’s New Position next week.
Of course reading this made me feel a bit ill because I wondered if he was right! In fact, he probably is right in many respects, and good on him for taking the time to put his views across so well, and more importantly place it on his blog, rather than hiding behind a user name (I only wish some UKC posters could do the same).
I thought it went off some old ground, especially about the Dru - and so penned a very short email (even though I knew I’d regret it…)
Someone pointed me towards your blog. I think it does both you a disservice, and to that of people like Parnell and Lafaille (i don’t care what you think about me).
I suggest you try doing a ‘stunt’ like this sometimes yourself to see how it feels to be up there, or better still go and have a crack yourself - then you might gain some respect for some fellow climbers.
And so before I went to bed I got a reply from Mark, but being a wimp, and not wanting to go to bed with my head filled with thoughts, I left it till this morning.
I believe that it is entirely valid what I have said. Whilst I may tar both Ian and Lafaille (I actually say that you climbed a similar route to JCL, so can’t see how I do him a disservice) with the same brush as yourself when say that aid climbing is a form of cheating. That is simply my belief I feel I explained that reasonable in this short blog. I also say that that media coverage around that ascent wasn’t necessarily down to you. I remember it leaving a nasty taste in my mouth at the time, when I read it the newspaper articles I thought they were thick with bullshit.
I not sure I would like to try doing a ‘Stunt’ like you have just done. I have to know doubt it was a real hardship. I would normally say I’d love to try that however I can’t afford to drive up the pass let alone Scotland, the Alps or Yosemite. My blog is simply my opinion, an opinion that you would get down the pub or at a climbing wall. However, by putting my opinion down in words it often offends. How many people do you offend, take the piss out of in your stand up act? A few words went in a second, just for a laugh? You are possibly missing the humour of the situation, as you are too close to it. I have re-read the posting and really don’t find anything there that does me, ian or lafialle a disservice.
You obviously feel aid climbing is a valid sport, I despite not being very good prefer to free climb, and rate a free climb over an aid climb every time. I don’t see how you can expect not to be criticised even slightly, when even by your own admission you weren’t ‘fit’, and you set yourself up a treat by publicising it. Whilst I read your reason for doing so there is a difference between long-distance slog across the arctic, where you can phone in air support by the phone your blogging on, to something way more serious on a north face in winter.
Would an experienced climber like Ian Parnell, John Bracey or Nick Bullock say that you are doing the mountains a disservice by your approach to them?
Anyway, I am looking forward to reading your book BTW.
Like I say at the end of my blog i am sure you’ll get a few comedy moments out of the escapade. Maybe not a second book though?
I knew reading this that Mark was a tough cookie, and was standing his ground - while showing like a real gentleman that it was nothing personal, and so I penned my reply.
Yes I agree the Dru left a bad taste in my mouth as well, but that was no different than this will, but if you’d seen me and Ian giggling at the very idea of turning up and trying to repeat what was billed in Pari Match, Vertical etc as the ‘Hardest route in the alps’ then you’d know that were and remain simply climbers biting off more than I could chew, and getting chewed up in the process.
But I think with all these things you need to question why you feel the way you do about something like this.
For example, I take the piss out of Bear Grylls, not that I hate the guy (well I probably do, to be honest, but that’s my fault not his), but because fundamentally I’m jealous. Sure I can say he’s just a tourist, a fake, a pretty boy, but at the end of the day he communicates something that people want to hear and they love him (I’m sure there are hundreds of smelly men living under logs and boulders grumbling that he’s not the real deal and only gets attention for his stunts).
I can either let that jealously eat me up, and make me think what’s the point. Or I can think “right I’ want some of that!” and try and play that game, after all I’d rather make a living from climbing in some way (like you), than have a proper job.
BUT and it’s a big BUT - I don’t want to sell out what climbing means to me in order to get on that gravy train; I wrote a book the way I wanted my book to be written, I speak about climbing the way I want to speak about it, and I make films that portray the reality of what climbing is to me.
Also on the subject of aiding I’d always much rather free a climb than aid one, and although everyone’s entitled to their opinion you have to ask yourself if it’s not the person doing the aiding that you don’t like rather than the style - for example, would you have the same grumblings if it had been Paul Pritchard, Noel Crain, Steve Long, Twidd, Silvo Karo etc doing a big aid route?
Anyway, I have never portrayed myself as anything but a rubbish climber, but perhaps it’s because such an apparently crap climber can haul his ass up some hard routes, and get some free kit and sponsorship, and sell books and fill theatres talking about such trips, that hurts more worthy climbers, who feel much more deserving.
The problem is that most top climbers are as dull as ditchwater because all they do and think and see is climbing. They are also generally kings of the steep but paupers of the flat, because climbing requires so much, that everything else must come second (relationships and jobs). I think if you want to be good at anything else than climbing (writing, photography, film making, basket weaving), you have to throttle back on your climbing and let others do the hard stuff.
Climbers by and large are extremists, and they view everything in such a way and imagine for example just because someone blogs about going on the Eiger that that’s a big deal. But it’s just a big deal in their heads, not mine. Do you think Ellen Macarthur bitches about Micheal Pallin, saying “look at him, he goes around the world staying in hotels and cheating while I have to sail by myself?
What I’m saying is that I’m the not a Mike Tyson of climbing, more Mike Harding, and I’d be happy for ‘real’ climbers to do me out of a job, but I suspect they’re too busy climbing to have the time, and so it’s left to people like me (and Ed Douglas, Jim Perrin, Colin Wells), to hold the fort and try and tell it how it is - something I think we do a pretty commendable job at really.
Climbing is just a canvas. And climbing is also only climbing. And you know none of this means anything when you’re up there doing it.
Andy AKA the Benny Hill of climbing
British climbing is nothing without debate.