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The Lowdown: Psycho Vertical & Andy Kirkpatrick

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Yogi and writer Sophie Lewis delves into Jen Randall's latest film, Psycho Vertical, and the man that inspired it. 


“It was no longer about the joy of climbing, but simply the struggle of it”. Andy Kirkpatrick brought his award-winning film Psycho Vertical to the Royal Institution lecture theatre in central London on the 5th of February.

Based on his best-selling autobiography, this is a unique film about an extraordinary, yet very ordinary man. Directed by Jen Randall, the documentary tackles complex issues of fear, obsession, identity and cost of living the dream.

Born in 1970’s Hull, Kirkpatrick is more an anti-hero than a typical climbing super wad. In Psycho Vertical, there is no glistening, muscular torso or power screams of super human strength on the wall. Instead, the raw, montage style narrative explores his upbringing and psyche juxtaposed with filming his eighteen day solo of El Captain, Yosemite. The fragmented images successfully capture the struggle of a man driven to explore nature alone.

Having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan thirty plus times, including five solo ascents. two one day ascents, and skied across Greenland, Andy is surprisingly a very down to earth man.

Andy begins the evening with a humanistic and often graphic talk about the absurdity of solo big wall climbing. He is funny, loud and unapologetically brash. There is a lot of reminiscing about toilet conundrums, “You can piss on people as long as they don't catch you up!”. He revels in telling the audience about his unsuccessful attempts, such the mighty Troll Wall in Norway. Though not a man to be defeated, he later returned to finish it conditions of minus twenty degrees. He gives the sense that through failure and persistence, your dreams can be realised.

Andy is a man who does not like being told what to do. “Even by myself”, he admits. Heat stroke, rationing food, even running on half a litre of water a day. Andy reminisces with a smile and twisted humour, one which probably pushed him to keep going in the face of pain and danger. He says of soloing, “it is better than a partner, you crack on with it”. He also talks about pushing his ‘fearometer’. The film captures these moments, such as Andy shifting his entire weight onto a skyhook placed on a crystal edge.

Long takes of him pulling up haul bags on the brink of exhaustion exemplify the laborious nature of solo aid climbing. The determination on his face shows that one person’s pain is another’s pleasure. Bringing in an experimental style of film making, the poetic editing gives the sense of a deeply driven and often troubled explorer. An absent father during childhood, losing his first marriage to climbing, we see a man who knows his path yet remains lost.

Psycho Vertical is not your typical climbing film. It is honest, brave and at times dark, much like the man himself.