Andy Cave is an author, mountain guide, rock climber, mountaineer, doctor, boulderer, gritstone new-router, Himalayan expedition-er, sea cliff aficionado, ex-coal miner and general all round top bloke.
He has a new book, Thin White Line, which he describes in this interview with Jack Geldard, UKC Editor.
He then leaves us gasping for more with a heart-stopping extract from his book, focussed on a Scottish winter desperate, which he introduces for us at the base of this page.
You can learn more about Andy at his own website: www.andycave.net.
Jack: I read your first book last new-year out in the Alps, and I really enjoyed it. Is this new one as good?
Andy: Some people thing it's better than the first. I just sold the rights to an Italian publisher which is pleasing. It's a continuation of the first book, though it can be read as a stand alone work
Jack: Which did you enjoy writing the most?
Andy: I think there were sections in both that gave me a lot of pleasure as well as pain.
Jack: And which was the easiest to write?
Andy: It never gets any easier. You know more about the craft of writing, but your standards are higher.
Jack: Give us a quick run down on the new book then – what's it all about and what themes run through it?
Andy: It begins with me being unwilling to commit to big exploratory mountain routes in the greater ranges following the tragedy of Changabang. This story is the journey back. It has some detailed character studies of great climbers like Mick Fowler and Leo Houlding. Alongside these I tried to create a strong sense of place by flashing back into history; the life story of Patagonian gaucho 'El Jimmy' and the pioneering glacial pilot 'Bob Reeve' help make it much more than just a climbing book. This adds a little spice to the climbs we are doing in Patagonia, Alaska and Norway.
Jack: If you had to pick a favourite chapter, one that really means something to you – which would that be and why?
Andy: Very hard to do, but 'Chapter 6 Travels with the Fly' is a lot of fun. It captures the exuberance of young Leo Houlding and the confidence needed to go and try very hard new routes in remote places.
Jack: Do you prefer climbing or writing?!
Andy: A perfect day would have both, too much of either would destroy me. Like anything though, it is all about what you are willing to commit.
Jack: And how do you split your time between the two? And of course guiding?
Andy: There is no set pattern. If I am writing something chunky, such as a book, it is good to have a break after writing each chapter – get out into the wilds again guiding.
Jack: Been up to any climbing recently? Anything exciting?
Andy: I climbed Fitzroy earlier in the year with Adam Wainwright. I failed on it 10 years ago so this felt good. We had a very cold night on the summit without bivvy gear, brrr! I did some phenomenal big routes in the Taghia gorge in Morroco in May (with Sam Whittaker and co).
More recently I did some dead hangs off the lintel above number 10 Downing Street, (after the BMC reception), quite slopey and polished actually. Just been deep water soloing in Mallorca followed by tufa wrestling in Rodellar can climbing get any more fun?
I am looking at mountains for the spring; I'd like to do something special...
Jack: If you had to give a top ten of climbing and mountaineering literature – what would they be?
Andy: I change my mind all the time, but today it would be all about the Brits:
Touching The Void - Simpson, The Shining Mountain - Boardman, Against the Wall -Yates, Life and Limb - Jamie Andrews, The Villain - Perrin, The Next Horizon – Bonington, Slender Thread -Venables, Thin Ice – Fowler, Deep Play - Pritchard. Ok and one by a Frenchman; Rebuffat – Starlight and Storm.
Jack: Where do you see British climbing, both at home and abroad, going next – what are the big things, either good or bad on the climber's horizon?
Andy: The big challenge are the onsights, this is what counts for me. Indian Face onsight? Meshuga onsight? Parthian Shot, etc and then it will be taken to the next level. I think someone will emerge in the next few years and blow all this apart. Headpointing is fun, but it is important that these big routes get done in great style.
And hopefully great stylistic things will happen in mixed climbing and in the higher mountains – big ludicrous stuff in really cool style.
I hope people will remember to have fun too.
"Trying to pioneer difficult new routes in good style is what I enjoy most. It is extra risky because there is no guarantee of success, but the rewards are indescribable. This extract is from chapter nine, which describes the ascent of a desperate climb called Genesis on Beinn Bhan in Scotland. It was an important stepping stone on my journey back to big mountain climbing, which is really the premise of Thin White Line."
An Extract from Thin White Line, by Andy Cave
I peered at the fragile ice smear that ran up and out of view to the left. This will be the test, I thought. This is a line that has to be crossed, or not. I could hand over to Dave if it looked too dangerous.
"It's really good Andy."
"Ok keep an eye on me, this looks desperate."
I moved my shoulders, tried to warm them a bit and then worked up towards the ice. I felt my heart thump faster as I got established on the measly thin ice. I wished I had a description from a climbing guidebook that might help, or someone else's advice - "just keep going and it will get good again" - anything to place my faith into, but when I peered up all I saw was more of the same. The unknown. Fragile slithers of ice, half promises. I placed an ice screw, but the teeth hit rock after just two inches. I tied it off and clipped in the rope. Wouldn't hang my school bag off that, I muttered. And yet the act of placing it had briefly taken my mind off where I was and what I had got into. I moved precariously up to the steepest part of the ice. It was like climbing on the side walls of a broken wine glass. I tried to moderate my breathing, prayed that the ice would stay attached to the rock, for a little longer at least. In my mind the rope ceased to be of any use, it sagged towards Dave, worthless. A fall from here and only darkness remained. The longest sleep. The end.
Without warning the ice supporting my left foot collapsed. I stabbed my foot against the rock that remained, but it started quivering. I had to move somewhere, fast. This urgency gave me calm, a certainty within the chaos, control over the fear. I stabbed my ice axe and tore a tuft of turf from the base of a corner, smelt a whiff of earth and then stabbed again, the pick biting in the frozen dirt. I balanced the points of my crampons on a matchbox edge and rested my shoulder against the rock. I stared down, the blackness of the cave, all its disgusting evilness sucking at my arms. I was tiring, but I was too good for it, I felt it in my heart. I threw my leg up and rocked my weight onto a small ledge. I rested my head against the wall, a delayed surge of adrenalin racing in my arms, my heart thumping like a small angry fist.
I stared at the green of the moss and the clear veneers of water dribbles, frozen onto the wall. Miniature works of art, here today gone tomorrow. I arranged the belay slowly, drained. When Dave arrived he gave me a look, a silent nodding of the head. I had seen it before. I had travelled very close to darkness and survived. To understand the gesture you had to have felt the metallic taste yourself, the dry throat.