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Book Review - Psychovertical by Andy Kirkpatrick

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John McNamee · · Littleton, CO · Joined Jul 2002 · Points: 1,690

Psychovertical – Andy Kirkpatrick Product Description
Climber Andy Kirkpatrick’s book is, by turns, gut-wrenching, entertaining and challenging. It will appeal to the adventurer in all of us.


Metro magazine recently wrote that Andy Kirkpatrick makes Ray Mears look like Paris Hilton. Words like boldness, adventure and risk were surely coined especially for him. As one of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers and big-wall climbers, he goes vertically where other climbers fear to tread.

For the first time, this cult hero of vertical rock has written a book, in which his thirteen-day ascent of Reticent Wall on El Capitan in California — the hardest big-wall climb ever soloed by a Briton — frames a challenging autobiography.

From childhood on a grim inner-city housing estate in Hull, the story moves through horrific encounters and unique athletic achievements at the extremes of the earth. As he writes, “Climbs like this make no sense . . . the chances of dying on the route are high.” Yet Andy, in his thirties with young children, has everything to live for. This is the paradox at the heart of the story.

I can barely string a few words together to form a coherent sentence so I'm not going to write a comprehensive review on a book. To provide some depth, I've included a rewiew by another reader that eloquently provides insight into the autobigraphy.

Psychovertical is a personal look inside Andy’s life from the early days of growing up, climbing in the European Alps and Patagonia, interspersed with his solo of Reticent Wall in Yosemite. The chapter’s alternate throughout the book which kept my interest to say the least.

Andy had a tough childhood owing to poverty coupled with a learning difficulty (dyslexia) that remained undiagnosed until after he finished school; I really felt for him. His enthusiasm, tenacity and overwhelming belief in himself shines throughout the book.

For example, his early route selection in the European Alps is pretty astounding, starting up hard classic routes in the winter with only a minimal amount of experience. He would simply look at routes in guidebooks (during down time whilst working in a gear shop) and decided he was game to try if the route looked good. Usually he and his sorry partners, who didn’t know what they were getting in to, pulled it off; though sometimes just barely

I found Psychovertical to be a real page turner. I couldn't put it down. I hadn't experienced that with a book for some time, the last most likely Touching the Void. There were many things I could relate with on a personal level as I attended "special" education during most to my schooling and left at age 15, so I suppose it struck a cord with me. I would think anyone reading it would find it pretty inspiring.

If you are looking for a riveting read that is different from most of the other climbing autobiographies out there, I would definitely recommend it. I hope to order his latest book, “When hell freezes over” soon.

I purchased my signed copy (thanks Andy) of the book directly through his website listed below. I paid 16US dollars and some change, included postage. The book arrived about a week later. Both the soft and hard cover versions are available from as well.

Reticent and Revealing, 27 Nov 2008
By D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria)
Though far from conventional it is pleasing, after a couple of years with conceptual winners, to have the 2008 Boardman Tasker Award presented to an uncomplicated climbing book telling terrifying tales of epics in the mountains. `Psychovertical' is a welcome addition to the ever expanding legacy of literature left by leading climbers. It is a gripping read with perhaps the only disappointment being its high proportion coverage of aid climbing.

Andy Kirkpatrick covers what is expected in an autobiography, embracing literally his birth in 1971, his deprived childhood, his early climbs initially with more failures than successes, and some of his world class exploits in the Alps and Patagonia, and particularly in Yosemite - all with continuing failures amongst many magnificent achievements. Difficulties when growing up were not helped by dyslexia not being addressed until Andy's schooldays were over; yet within a few years he set himself to write a story on his first escapades. He aspired to match the quality of writings by the likes of Joe Simpson and Jim Perrin - he hasn't! However Andy Kirkpatrick seems able to inveigle readers into sharing his moments of doubt - but then to support his `up-or-off' commitment as positive rather than recognize anything as insane or suicidal. Though his raw writing style may be limited and his storyline includes minor mistakes and some repetition, Andy Kirkpatrick's descriptions are graphic, his sense of humor shines through, his mood is self-effacing, and any shortcomings are offset by an innovative approach.

As an author Andy interweaves sections of `my life' with `my climbs', and within these he uses italics to insert queries, to construct commentaries, to deliver homilies, and to direct the reader to specific issues. Also interspersed are references to family, particularly to his wife's fears - readers may ponder how `psycho' climbers choose to risk their own necks but it is relatives and friends who are left to grieve. His unusual intertwining technique continues with an ongoing chronicle serializing a frightening solo ascent of Reticent Wall on El Capitan - then reckoned to be the most difficult and dangerous route ever soloed by a British climber. Reticent Wall is at the heart of `Psychovertical' and if individual parts of the ascent had been delivered together the story may have been somewhat tedious, but slipped cleverly into the narrative it adds vigor and becomes alive. The book is further animated by introduction of hand drawn topos for various pitches - a flip side of Andy's dyslexia is an ability to draw, and in addition to customary blocks of color photographs his delightful black and white sketches are scattered throughout to identify mountains/routes and to explain gear/techniques.

Andy Kirkpatrick has survived and evolved to become one of Britain's top mountaineers with emphasis on wild big-wall climbing, yet he admits to "a scary and fraught learning curve". `Psychovertical' confirms he is lucky to be alive. It reveals an urge to extend his limits, but on many occasions this means courting disaster as he exhibits a form of blind confidence and he deliberately punches above his weight. But Andy's book is not just a jumble of hair-raising accounts; it is an open and conscientious assessment of what his climbing is about and what drives him on to break barriers and to grasp for greater and greater rewards. From start to finish `Psychovertical' is an inspiring and thrilling read - but even so some readers may feel relief when he tops out from Reticent Wall.

Paperback: 288 Pages
Publisher: Arrow (August 31, 2009)

PS: Who is Ray Mears ?

PSS: Likewise Paris Hilton
Robert 560 · · The Land of the Lost · Joined Mar 2008 · Points: 570

I read and enjoyed this, this past spring. It's well written and gripping. I've got to say Andy is FAR braver then I will ever be.

Jonathan Morgan · · Boulder, Co · Joined Sep 2009 · Points: 5

Well worth reading and much more serious then Andy in person.

If he ever brings his lecture tour over to the US make sure to go down - it's part climbing, part stand up comedy. Hilarious stuff!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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