The first Andy Kirkpatrick book I read was ‘Psychovertical’ (winner of 2008 Boardman Tasker Award) where I found it strange that so much emphasis was given to aid climbing, and then ‘Cold Wars’ (winner of 2012 Boardman Tasker Award) which concentrated on only a short period of Andy’s career. The first attempted to answer the question: Why do we climb? and the second asked: What is the price? These left an autobiographical gap that is now filled by ‘Unknown Pleasures’ referring to his evolving beliefs, raising questions about his limitations, and acknowledging feelings about being at the edge of himself.
Andy Kirkpatrick is an accomplished, world leading, obsessive climber who thrives on difficult and demanding routes, and as a natural raconteur he has made a name for himself being an entertaining and inspirational speaker, and an analytical commentator on many matters. The sub-title of ‘Unknown Pleasures’ says it all: ‘Collected Writing On Life, Death, Climbing and Everything In Between’. The book is made up of thirty-two entertaining, exciting and enlightening anecdotal pieces, interspersed with three musings Andy describes as ‘Bad Poetry’. Andy confesses to his restricted education and to diagnosis of dyslexia, yet his writing style is raw and full of humour. He acknowledges he doesn’t know much about grammar, but this is compensated by an ability to draw and his writings are supported by his own excellent graphic black and white sketches. In addition there is an introspective epilogue with decidedly unique insights, and there are helpful ‘Notes’ presenting background to Andy’s accounts, and providing a revealing study of the man.
Andy Kirkpatrick is renowned for enduring epic winter climbs and for tackling big walls, but perhaps the extent of such activities is not fully appreciated. It is not easy to link Andy’s survival of freezing bivouacs to pleasure, yet numerous instances of repeated attempts on the likes of the Eiger or the Dru are embraced by ‘Unknown Pleasures’. Also it may come as a surprise to some readers just how much big wall climbing Andy has experienced. In a particularly nerve wracking courting of disaster in ‘Edge of Myself’ he climbs a route that at the time was his thirty-fourth route up El Captain! It is not practicable to comment in detail in a review of collected writings but it should be noted, as with other of his accounts, that Andy did this solo. A further matter of note is Andy’s choice of climbing companions, where often he climbs with novices, combines with non-climbers, or takes a TV personality, or his thirteen years old daughter up El Cap! His rewards from climbing are not merely from risky achievements; they seem to intensify by creating difficulties for himself, and certainly this makes good reading.
However ‘Unknown’ Pleasures’ is not just a collection of tales for climbers. Andy expands from the book’s main section on climbing to recount various stories, homilies, myths and dreams with regard to relationships, propaganda, news, internet and the like, and he incorporates subjects including death, war, conflict, helplessness and disobedience. From embracing family and personalities with commentaries on many issues Andy ends with an epilogue: ‘What I’ve Learned’, where he exposes his principles, attitudes and thoughts, ranging across the likes of hopes, beliefs, honesty, love, happiness, anger and fear. Always Andy writes with frankness, and he displays a knack of addressing non-climbers to pull them, along with climbers, into his world of risk-taking and to share moments of doubt, together with extending limits and discovering pleasures. I award a 5-star rating for ‘Unknown Pleasures’, and I wish Andy Kirkpatrick all the best for a third Boardman Tasker Award.