Andy Kirkpatrick: ‘Polar Poodles’

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Don’t you just hate when someone brings you down to size. When someone bursts your bubble. I do it myself – in fact I relish in giving a kick to an overblown ego. My primary vehicle for this is the language of the extreme. When someone makes a big deal about climbing Everest, I joke that there’s no climbing, and that it’s more like DIY, as whenever there’s a hard bit ‘someone puts up a ladder’. Another bubble I like to prick is the self-proclaimed ‘polar explorer’, a breed that has not existed since the first mapping satellites went into orbit, yet seem to be breeding in the fashionable parts of London. I like to point out that what they are are ‘polar scroungers’ – as any trip down South, or North, is going to set you down 50k each, and so the best leverage on the corporate wallet is the word ‘explorer’.

Unfortunately I’m not immune to this kind of thing, such as when my son recently said “Dad, you’re really not that good a climber are you. You’re just well known because you’ve climbed some hard routes”,or when I turn up to do a talk at a theatre and the staff ask when “Andy Kirkpatrick will be arriving”, thinking this bloke with ketchup down his T-shirt must be his roadie.

Last winter I had perhaps the biggest extreme bubble burst of all time. I was in Norway and it was January, there with my partner Karen and two mates, the aim to practise for skiing to the South Pole. Conditions seemed quite warm in the Ruyken Valley before we set out, the plan to do a circular 100km ski tour, in fact we were all very disappointed at how un-grim it was. To make matters worse we’d based ourselves at the Climb Inn, a hostel with the best food you could ever wish for on a trip away, making it even harder to get psyched up to get out in the hills. Eventually, and with trousers straining after a few days of good food, we got the small cable car up onto the edge of the famous Hardenger Plateau, made famous by the Heroes of Telemark of World War 2 (and Ray Mears’ programme about them). Up on the plateau things were much different, with a strong bitter wind blowing hard as we pulled our pulks up out of the trees and out into a white-out. It was no normal trip as Karen can’t walk, and was using a cross country sit ski, the rest of the team carrying the other kit. With our heads buried in our hoods we pressed on, the arctic wind cutting into our faces. Now we were polar explorers – at the limit.

And then ahead I spotted something in the white, something moving – no, two things – moving slowing across our stubborn polar path. Was it a Norwegian hard man, or the ghost of a Telemark Hero? No – it was an old woman walking her dog.

Andy Kirkpatrick is one of Britain’s leading climbers, with sidelines as an award-winning writer, speaker and stand-up comedian. Read more at

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