Climbing books are boring. I’m not a climber so I don’t care about someone jumarring up an F7 grade hammering pitons in with their teeth as certain death looms large. Terrifying for the author, impressive, epic and all that sort of stuff, but I don’t particularly understand it or empathise with it. And that is one reason I have really enjoyed both of Andy Kirkpatrick‘s books. They are climbing books that appeal to non-climbers. Cold Wars follows on from his successful debut, Psychovertical.
Anyone who has heard one of Andy’s lectures will know to expect chaotic hilarity, dubious political correctness and self-deprecation in equal measure. Cold Wars is very, very funny in parts. It is also very sad.
Andy appeals to his readers as an everyday hero. He puts his balaclava on backwards then thinks he has gone blind. He always forgets or drops some vital piece of equipment. The odds are against him and he frequently fails. But he plugs on stoically, huffing and puffing his way up all sorts of scary sounding mountains.
I was impressed by the climbing chapters, as I always am in climbing books, but I wasn’t hugely interested in them (I never am). What gripped me was Andy’s wrestling to balance personal fulfillment and ambition with the compromises and obligations of “real life”.
As in all climbing books, lots of people seem to die. I sympathised more than I often do when reading climbing books because much of the book documents Andy’s acknowledgement of his own mortality. His marriage is falling apart, he has two kids whom he adores. In the circumstances, climbing difficult and dangerous mountains is probably not the most sensible activity. But mixed in with the difficulties in his personal life, Andy is driven by the urge to be the best climber he can be and to try to generate both self-respect and the respect of his peers. It is almost impossible though to be a superstar adventurer with two small kids waiting for you at home. Andy articulates well the frustration of compromise, the feeling of charging forwards with the handbrake hard on.
Cold Wars is a funny, poignant read and I enjoyed it very much.