Wednesday, May 1, 2013

British Style - 1000 Climbing Tips by Andy Kirkpatrick

A long time ago I went to an Ian Parnell lecture entitled: British Style. To set the scene he started the talk with a picture of the late, great Jean Christophe Lafaille, dressed up to the nines, in his lime green, Gore-Tex suit, adorned with his sponsors' logo. That's not British style. Then he put up a photo of a large team of Russian climbers forcing their way up a big mountain. That wasn't British style either. Finally he put up a picture of a climber wearing a checked shirt, wonky glasses caked in grime and a knackered old helmet. He was chalk climbing on the White Cliffs of Dover. This was British style. Ian the recounted a tale of this guy, I forget his name, making the first solo ascent of the Colton MacIntyre on the Grandes Jorasses. He was roped soloing and climbing very slowly, inching his way up the huge face. Some French climbers viewed this from the hut with binoculars and decided that they didn't want a Brit to make the first solo (after all it was bad enough that two of them had made the first ascent!) so they set off early the next morning and free soloed past him in their fluorescent Gore-Tex. A day or so later the lone Brit topped out. I have no idea if this story is true or not, but it makes a good tale.

Anyway I digress.

I've long been a fan of Andy Kirkpatrick and over the years have probable devoured every word he has ever written. I can remember reading an article on ice tools in the first climbing magazine I ever bought. A copy of High Mountain with Kenton Cool climbing the Moonflower Buttress on the cover - Magazines never seam to be as interesting these days.

Kirkpatricks latest book is an ebook containing 1000 short bits of advice for climbers on all aspects of climbing. Each tips is at most a page long and some are only a single line. Written in Kirkpatricks humorous style they cover every aspect of climbing from the first steps tieing on and indoors, right through to expeditions and big walling. It also has top tips for taking photos, getting free gear and airport luggage allowances. The only aspects that aren't covered are sport climbing and bouldering, which is probably a good thing as it isn't what Andy does.

The tips are well thought out and easy to understand and written from Andy's hard won expirence. I like Andy's systems approach to climbing, using his gear as a tools to try and get the most of out. Most of the book is plain text, with the occasional photo to illustrate a point. I've been climbing for quite a long time and although I already knew plenty of the tips, I've learned plenty from reading this book and it has made me reflect on my apporach to climbing.

What I didn't like:

There are a few anecdotes throughout the book, but I was hoping for more. I used to love the humorous tales about Dick Turnbull, Jule Cartwright or Andy Perkins that Andy's old columns in High or Climb were littered with.

Some more photos to illustate tips would have been nice. One of my favourite books is Mark Twight's Extreme Alpinsim and the thing that makes that book is the high quality well captioned photos throughout the text. If this book was to appear in real-book format it would ace if it had photos.

The spelling is awful, but I found it didn't detract from the reading. Andy is dyslexic and I'm not much better. I'm sure this blog post is littered with errors.

The table of contents is a bit vague and at the back of the book. It would be better if it was a bit more detailed (more subheadings) and at the front of the book.

Finally it would be ace if it was an actual book. A small paperback that I could keep by the loo or throw into my bag for expeditions. I've taken the Mark Twight book to 14k Camp on Denali and read and re-read it whilst planning and psyching myself up for the Cassin. However I accept that it would be more expensive as a book, probably £15 a copy, and Andy probably wouldn't get anymore money. I'd still like to see it though.

In conclusion it is good book full of hard won expirence. Well worth a read for both beginners and experienced climbers a like. I can't imagine there are many climbers who would learn nothing from it. Pretty good value at £6.65 a copy. I would have probably paid up to £10 for an e-book copy and up to £16 for a print copy.

Top top it off I've written ten of my own tips that I've learned from expirence. Hope they are interesting.

Tip 1 - Take spare socks. The photo above shows Tom Livingstone sleeping halfway up the Cassin on Denali. We stripped everything down to the bare minimum and didn't take spare socks figuring we could dry our on our chests overnight and wear our over mitts on our feet to keep them warm. This didn't work and the next morning we put on very soggy socks. By the summit my feet were freezing and I was super worried about my toes. Thankfully the stomp down to 17k warmed them back up. In future I'd take a spare pair of socks.

Tip 2 - Recce the approach the night before. This photo shows Hamish and I stood beneath the Petit Dru North Face the night before we climbed it. We spent several hours figuring out the complex approach from the Grand Monets. The time paid off and the next morning, familiar with the approach, we arrived at the base of the route without issue. A couple of weeks later we heard on the grapevine that Kenton Cool had gone to do the route a few days after us and gone the wrong way on the approach, which caused him to bail before he even got to the route. More recently Ollie and I got disorientated on the approach to the Cullin Ridge, which played a big factor in our failure.

Tip 3 - Learn your route. Spend a fair amount of time memorizing where the route goes. It is well worth photo-copying and laminating a good photo topo and route description for a long route Each climber should have their own copy that way if one gets lost it isn't the end of the world. The photo shows Pete Graham bailing off the Eiger North Wall in good conditions, chiefly because we wasted too much time getting lost looking for the Difficult Crack.

Tip 4 - Practice climbing in your big boots. With a bit of practice you should be able to climb a couple of grades lower than your limit in big boots, which is a good skill for alpine climbing. If you have small feet (smaller than UK 10) you should be able to get away with using B2 boots for most summer alpine climbing. If you feet are bigger you might want something a pair of B3s as B2s in your size will be pretty bendy and a poor choice if you need to front point. The photo is me leading Eliminate A, the finest VS in the Lakes.

Tip 5 - take photos when you don't want to. This is a photo of Hamish very cold and pretty pissed off at the base of the crux of the Central Pillar of Freney. I snapped this while we were waiting for Luke to frigg his way up it. Taking this photo probably angered Hamish even more at the time, but looking back at it four years later it brings a smile to my face.

Tip 6 - Know when to stop. If it is cold, dark, you're knackered, scared and unsure of where you are then don't be afraid to stop and wait for dawn. The photos shows Hamish somewhere of the Dru's west Flank in our Bothy Bag. By this point we'd be on the go for 23 hours and had been abseiling blind (I'd dropped the guide book early on the descent) for a long time. One of us said, "stop" and the three of us sat in bothy bag for a few hours and waited for dawn. When dawn came a quick traverse round on ledges brought us round to the Charpoa Glacier and we were eating Midnight Express by midday. A bothy bag is worth it's weight in gold, having  spent unplanned nights out in the mountains both with them. I'd much rather have one for the sake of 500 grams.

Tip 7 - Go climbing with your mates. Go climbing with easy going, but driven people that you know, like and get on well with. Climbing is supposed to be fun and the right people can be make or break that. My first trip to the Alps nearly ended in disaster I didn't have a proper partner and spent the summer playing partner roulette, trying and more often than failing on routes that were too hard for me. The following summer I came back with two psyched and capable friends and we had a brilliant summer ticking our way through classic routes in reasonably good times. A good rule of thumb is to always climbing with people who are better than you!

Tip 8 - Your life is worth more than you gear. No one likes doing it but if it comes to it leave gear. In my younger days I abseiled off all sorts of mank to save a penny or two. These days I always have several old/found biners on my rack, which I have no qualms about leaving. The more I climb the more gear I seem to find. Always carry a nut key, mine must have paid for itself twenty times over!

Tip 9 - Have a good system for abseiling. On long abseil descents create a lanyard by larks footing a 120cm sling through your belay loop. Tie an overhand knot at half way and clip your belay plate into this. The extends your belay plate out of the way, which I find more stable when abseiling with a pack. Clip a second screwgate to the end of your sling and use this to clip into anchors. Whilst abseiling clip the screw gate into the rope you are going pull so you don't forget which one. Instead of clipping your prussik to your leg loop use a short prussik larks footed into your belay loop. Wrap it around the rope three times and then clip it back to your belay loop with a krab to create a French prussik. This way it can't be dropped. It is important to note that taking a factor 2 fall on to a dyneema sling can snap it. With this in mind some climbers would choose to use a nylon sling, which is slightly more dynamic, for this purpose. However I am happy to use a Dyneema sling but am careful not to stand slack on the abseil station.

Tip 10 - Get the beta.
Talk to other climbers who have done the route. Ask them what they took, what they wore, where it was hard, where they went wrong. When packing for the Cassin we tried to strip our kit down to the absolute minimum. It was handy to talk to Colin Haley who was camped next to us. He'd climbed the Cassin a couple of times and gave us an idea of what gear we'd need. We'd have probably taken a fair bit more rack otherwise, which we wouldn't have needed and would have made us slower.