I loved Andy Kirkpatrick’s book, Psychovertical. I always enjoy his blogs and talks. So the prospect of a film about Andy’s life is intriguing.
Andy is working with Jen Randall, who always makes interesting and beautiful films, to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the film. I asked Jen to share some thoughts about the project…
I met Andy Kirkpatrick in 2012. My friend Jackie and I had travelled from Glasgow to Yosemite to climb El Capitan – our first big wall experience, our first trip together. On reflection I can see that the odds were stacked against us from pretty early on. The Scottish summer preceding our trip was wet, wet, wet, so the bulk of our training took place in the bouldering wall we both worked in, running around doing ‘turkey workouts’ to get fit, trying to learn and replicate the process of lowering out hanging from gymnastic rings, learning to haul at our local crag, Dumbarton, oblivious (or choosing to remain so) about how heavy our haul bags would really be as we read from a book how to haul in the first place. We put a lot of effort in – and I mean a lot – into getting fit, into learning the systems we’d need to use, into psyching ourselves up for a leap into the unknown.
Needless to say when we got there and tried these systems for real, hundreds of feet up, gallons of water in our bag, the climbing harder than we expected, the suffering real, the heat claustrophobic, the walls big, the teams coming up from behind impatient and pushy, we struggled. We failed, or should I say, chose to abandon each and every practice route we tried, and we chose to give up big walling altogether, which was embarrassing because we’d told everyone, everyone, all about our plans, even promising to put them in a film.
That’s when Andy appeared, filming with his thirteen year-old daughter for the BBC. He didn’t know us, but he seemed to think we could do what we’d set out to and casually swept us under his wing. He suggested other routes, he leant us an extra haul bag, even offered a portaledge. With a new wave of confidence, maybe hopefulness, we set off for The Nose. We were slow and ran out of water and got sunstroke and bailed after 8 hours of wrestling. Egos more bruised, skin and throats parched, we got on the tourist bus and drank 2 litres of Gatorade (each) without taking a breath or saying a word.
Andy told us to be more business like and get on with it. His energy and continued confidence made us think twice and we reconsidered our options. ‘Your whole body will tell you to come down – don’t’ was the piece of advice that sticks with me most – the acknowledgement from some one so tough and experienced that even his mind and body tell him to retreat from those walls, the understanding that what it really comes down to is a (seemingly) simple choice not to. Even we were capable of that.
We sat down in Camp 4 and showed Paul Tattershall, part of Andy’s big wall team, the topo for the route we’d honed in on – Triple Direct. There was a ledge we could sleep on every 4 pitches, meaning that without a portaledge we only had to do 4 pitches a day and would still have somewhere to sleep that night. He said it looked good. We watched Andy and Paul and their team as they tackled Tangerine Trip. And as they topped out, knew the next day it would be us inching our way up that wall, miniature figures in the binoculars of other people like us, watching on from the meadow, plucking up courage.
And sure enough we did become that little team, visible from the road and the tour buses yet operating on a different planet. And the teams that passed gave us nuggets of advice and helped us move faster. And my nose exploded with blood on that first day of hauling from the sheer effort of trying to drag it all up behind us. And it was most terrifying as we belayed each other, when we had time to consider the void, the expanse right there, pulling at all the things you were terrified of dropping. As we slept restlessly each night we’d put a hand out to check how close the drop was, and would continue to do so long after we’d got down. And voices drifted to us from the meadow, and champagne awaited us on our return, and we did it. And it was 4 years ago but I still think about it every day.
There’s a satisfying sense of full circle then, as I prepare my filmmaker self to make my 5th long-form film project about Andy who helped us up that wall, about the book he wrote that I read long before ever imagining myself as a big-waller or real filmmaker.
So here’s to more straining and struggling, and here’s to being able to share something special at the end of it all.
You can support Andy and Jen here. Have a look at their trailer, too…