• Mayan Smith-Gobat: What I've Learned
  • Josh Lowell: What I've Learned
  • Steve Hong: What I've Learned
  • Steve House: What I've Learned
  • Daniel Woods: What I've Learned
  • Steph Davis: What I've Learned
  • Nick Duttle: What I've Learned
  • Thomas Huber: What I've Learned
  • Art of Freedom: The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka
  • Alex Megos: The Hatchling
  • Ryan Vachon: Top Ice Climber and Climate Scientist
  • John Long: What I've Learned
  • Topropers Unite!
  • Steep Learning Curve: Alex Honnold On His Early Free-Soloing Days
  • Andy Kirkpatrick - Words Like Morphine
  • Margo Hayes and the Power of the Mind
  • Snapshot: Michaela Kiersch - The Chicago Hustle
  • Out of Nowhere - Nathaniel Coleman Jumps Onto the Podium
  • Jeff Lowe: What I've Learned
  • The Cheater - Learning to Climb for Myself, the Hard Way
  • John Bachar: What I've Learned
  • Art of the First Ascent: The Bold Climbs of Marcus Garcia
  • The Professional: Hilaree O'Neill
  • The Inventor: Alan Douglas
  • The Advocate: Nicholas Rothenbush
  • The Guide: Kris Erickson
  • The Craftsman: Jimmy Chin
  • Curious Case: Brette Harrington Breaks New Ground
  • Stefano Ghisolfi - One of The World's Best Makes Time For Fun
  • Kai Lightner Reflects on Competitions, Bouldering and the Future
  • The Locomotive: Roy McMurtrey – 87 and Still Climbing
  • No Expectations: Joe Kinder Sends 6 5.14c's in Spain
  • Spotlight: Megan Mascarenas - The Logician
  • Alpine Warriors - History of Alpinists in Yugoslavia
  • Q&A: The Willpower of Mar Álvarez
  • Q&A: Ethan Pringle on Thor's Hammer (5.15a)
  • A Youth Wasted Climbing
  • Bouldering Bub - Isaac Caldiero
  • Spotlight: Alexander Ruchkin - Russian Locomotive
  • Alex Johnson - The Pro Life and Growing Up as a Climber
  • Rock Climbing Saved My Life: A Veteran’s Struggle with PTSD
  • The Beatnik of the Alps: A tale of FA's, Rescues, Love, and Suicide
  • Kev Shields – High Solace: Demons, Depression and Solo Climbing
  • Dean Potter On Laws, Modern America and Soloing Delicate Arch
  • Climbers We Lost in 2014
  • Spotlight: The Double Life of Chris Webb Parsons
  • What I've Learned: Sonnie Trotter
  • What I've Learned: Mark Udall
  • Heinz Mariacher: What I've Learned
  • The Sasha DiGiulian Profile
  • Chris Sharma: What I've Learned
  • The Seeker: Said Belhaj
  • Tommy Caldwell: What I've Learned
  • Reinhold Messner: What I've Learned
  • Sonnie Trotter's Favorite 5.10: Exasperator (5.10c)
  • Unbroken: The Alex Johnson Profile
  • Listening for the Echo: The Klem Loskot Profile
  • Climbers We Lost in 2013
  • Kilian Jornet Breaks Speed Record on Mont Blanc
  • Layton Kor Dies
  • Climbers We Lost in 2012
  • Life on Hold: The Ian Powell Story
  • Rope Jumping with Dan Osman
  • The Centurian: Ricardo Cassin
  • Mike Foley: Never Enough
  • Naomi Guy: What I've Learned
  • Hayden Kennedy: Superballistic
  • Dave Macleod: What I've Learned
  • Q&A: V15 Maestro Nacho Sanchez Unleashed
  • Francesca Metcalf: Meant to Compete
  • Maurice Herzog Dies
  • Mason Earle: Crack Ropegun
  • Kurt Albert: Free Wheel
  • Mayan Smith-Gobat: Climber for all Seasons
  • Nik Berry: Obsessive Crusher
  • TNB: Tony Scott, Climber, Movie Maker, Lived and Died Large
  • Charlie Fowler - American Alpinist
  • Jimmie Dunn
  • The Upstart - Colin Haley
  • Who's Next?
  • Tom Patey: The Tiger of Yesterday
  • Todd Skinner: The Renegade
  • The Stonemasters Climb at Pirates Cove
  • Patxi Usobiaga: The Bionic Man
  • Michael Reardon
  • Max Turgeon and Louis-Philippe Ménard: Alpinists and Ice Climbers
  • Kurt Albert: The Climber Who Invented Redpointing
  • Josh Wharton: The Alpinist
  • John Rosholt: Climber and Gambler Disappears in Las Vegas
  • John Bachar's Last Interview
  • John Bachar Remembers Michael Reardon
  • John Bachar Remembered by Duane Raleigh
  • John Bachar by Henry Barber
  • John Bachar by Doug Robinson
  • John Bachar and the Bachar-Yerian First Ascent
  • Colin Kirkus: Climbing's Greatest Unknown
  • Alex Puccio
  • The Prophet
  • The Guy Whose Nuts Revolutionized Climbing: R.P.
  • Randy Leavitt
  • Galen Rowell: The Vertical World
  • Brian Kim Spotlight
  • Rob Raker
  • Ueli Steck - The Swiss Machine
  • Kemple and Lindner Almost Free El Nino
  • Crack Attack
  • Climbing World Mourns Todd Skinner
  • Ammon McKneely
  • A Tour of Magic and Mystery
  • Tanja Grmovsek
  • Rob Miller
  • Climber Hugh Herr Honored by Esquire Magazine
  • Climber Eric Brand Dies
  • Chuck Fryberger, Climber and Filmmaker
  • Chris Schulte Profile
  • Beth Rodden: What I've Learned
  • Joe Kinder
  • Hazel Findlay
  • To the BASE Layer
  • Pete Ward
  • Mad Max
  • Chris Boskoff
  • Bradford Washburn
  • Revenge of the Nerd
  • Chris Lindner
  • Tim Clifford: Escaping the Quantum Hole
  • Renan Ozturk
  • One-Track Mind
  • Traveling Light
  • Colette McInerney
  • The Banner Years
  • Pakistan: The Big and Free
  • Kris Hampton
  • Jules Cho
  • Extreme Eleven and Beyond
  • Bob Bates, 96, Takes His Final Journey
  • Jody Hansen
  • Home Girl
  • An Encounter with Fred
  • The Average Hero Sir Edmund Hillary, 88
  • More Than One Trick
  • Dave Graham
  • Red River Sugar Mama
  • Phillip Schaal
  • An Advanced Beginner
  • The Last Samurai:
  • Sonnie in Scotland
  • Offwidth Hombre
  • Moonlight Solo-Nata
  • Jasmin Caton
  • Crag Clown
  • Unlikely Candidate
  • Lone Star
  • The Calculator: Alex Kordick
  • Rise of the Machines
  • Dave Waggoner 1955-2009
  • Blood Spider
  • The Audacious Legacy of Tomaz Humar
  • The Original Desert Rat: Kyle Copeland | 51
  • J-Star
  • Italian Legend: Lino Lacedelli | 83
  • Committed: Matt McCormick
  • Cold Justice Paul Cormier
  • The Suffer King
  • The Need for Speed
  • Nick Martino Gives All
  • G-Money
  • Climbing Out of Academic Trouble
  • Charles Houston, 96
  • Bobby Model, 36
  • "Open Bivy" Willy
  • The Genius - Jeff Lowe
  • The Gamer
  • Shock Rock
  • Ryan Triplett | 31
  • John Bachar and the Cosmic Surfboard
  • Hand Crafted
  • Return of the Verm
  • Amped
  • Regime Change
  • Man vs. Snake
  • Living Legend
  • Layton Kor honored by AAC
  • Cold Justice
  • Cowboy Anguish
  • The Rock Jester
  • Mixed Rehab
  • Laura Fletcher
  • Bill Stall
  • Benjamin Strohmeier
  • Joe Six-Pack
  • Freedom Path
  • Manboy
  • Up and Down
  • The Duelist
  • A for Achiever
  • Paul A. Duval
  • Kelly S. Bell
  • Close But No Cigar
  • Video Spotlight
    Mt. Saint Elias - A Sea to Summit Expedition
    Mt. Saint Elias - A Sea to Summit Expedition
    Whipper of the Month
    Weekend Whipper: Chris Sharma's 100-foot Pont d’Arc Deep Water Solo
    Weekend Whipper: Chris Sharma's 100-foot Pont d’Arc Deep Water Solo

    Andy Kirkpatrick - Words Like Morphine

    By Andy Kirkpatrick

    This article originally appear on Andy Kirkpatrick's website, andy-kirkpatrick.com.


      Last week I deleted all my Facebook accounts, both my personal one and my ‘fan’ page. Before I did I wondered about downloading the archive of messages and comments, of which there were many hundreds if not thousands, giving me a digital bunch of letters, from friends and enemies and lovers. But then why would I, what would that be? It’s not like my grandchildren would find in a draw after I’d gone, to take off its ribbons and read, or a box of medals, or faded photographs, just a zip file. Fuck it, I thought. Just more junk I don’t need. Just move on and bin the joyless lot, throw it into the fire. But then as I hovered over the kill-switch, Facebook doing its best HAL impersonation of asking why I’m killing it, I hesitate. I go back one more time to my messages, scan through them, look at the questions, the ‘best wishes’, the ‘minor threats’, like I thought, nothing worth keeping. Then I saw his name, his avatar, his account still live although he was not. There were our parting words, that final message. They looked like all the others, but they were not. These words had saved my life.

    I know no one who has died of cancer who is my age, yes I must be lucky. I’m forty-five and I guess my friends and the people I know are a healthy bunch, and I’m sure this is not representative of most people. And yet I can count ten men who have killed themselves, probably double that if I wanted to dwell on numbers in order to justifying what I’m writing here, double that again if I included people who didn’t want to live but whose deaths could be construed as in some way noble and heroic.

    “Did you hear…” is often how you find out, or an ambiguous news piece, how they died left blank, this strangest thing, this self-murder.

    Then I saw his name, his avatar, his account still live although he was not. There were our parting words, that final message. They looked like all the others, but they were not. These words had saved my life.There is a link with cancer here I think, in that suicide is viewed like we view the dreaded C, that it’s an aberration, a short straw, a bad hand, when really it’s not, it’s as common as life and as old as death. Like cancer it is something we are scared of, the spiders and snakes that lurk inside us, unsettling and upsetting, like anything that goes on behind closed skin, it becomes something ‘other’, only to be dealt with when we have no other choice and can’t look away—or comes knocking. Suicide remains a taboo, made taboo because it was once so popular, a way into heaven taken up by Christians to such a degree the church had to decree it a sin. What is heaven? Is it not the bribe to stick around, to tough it out, to remain un-self-murdered. Consider then the power to combine the two, the murder and the heaven. Is the terror of the suicide bomber the bomb or the suicide?

    The reason why the people I know killed themselves, by rope, by water, by bullet, look varied: a broken heart, a seemingly unfixable future, drugs, money. For some it came as no shock, while others it came like a bolt to everyone, a bolt so common you’d think such bolts would be rare. The reasons for going, and going with no warning, no histrionics, but just like that, may sound varied, but they are not. Their deaths were not the inability to imagine things couldn’t get better, that this trauma would be short and fleeting, but rather the raw understanding they could not wait. To be that man on the edge is to be a man whose skin is flayed down to the muscle. You cannot bare the wide expanse of raw pain it would need for it the grow again. You jump from that skinless pain. For those who remain left behind, with the pieces, left by that most selfish curse, they most often need a narrative simple and easy, skin to their own pain: “He was depressed” and that’s it. Maybe only someone who’s been flayed alive, flayed by others but often by their own choices, can know three words don’t do that murder justice.

    The first time I got a message from this man on Facebook, his avatar popping up, the man’s name well known to me, a hero of mine, a legend, I was shocked. No stories were ever his, no great images, yet he was often a key player, his name meaning more somehow due to his reticence to do more than simply participate. He was also a man out of the past, old now and broken down, breaking down further. His message was a simple one, braver than you’d imagine at first glance, about how what I was writing about at the time was helping him during a hard period in his life, helped him understand and come to terms with things. Only now, as I write this I wonder why he would tell me that?

    What was I writing about back then? It was about that skinning of a human being, about hanging on as the skin grew back, to bare the unbearable. We struck up a Facebook friendship, and I was honoured to even talk to this legend, like Bob Dylan typing a simple “How are you today dude”, but more I felt privileged he had read my words, that somehow they’d had the leverage to lift some weight. Feeling privileged I took the time to try and understand who this man really was, to look at his posts and pictures, to look in between the words, where this struggling man was going. What did I see? Well if I had to write an algorithm to trigger intervention for the suicidal or those at risk I would input the age of the user with the number of posts and likes they make each day. Happy people do not hang out on Facebook. You know that right? You need no calculations for that. Those are not shares, or likes, or comments, but a trail of lonely misery, a sob of tiny packets of data telling you the world that they are alone. To even sit in car, on a settee, on a plane, and to visit that wicked place is to be self-isolated, to murder all that is living all around you.

    This man, my hero, was a man who felt at the end of things, you could tell, his words were staggering. He was looking back at summits knowing he’d never be up there again. His body was a mess, bones shattered over and over by the stones that had build his legend. I told him to write more, that he needed to move into himself, a place that I’d often retreated into, but he said he couldn’t do it, this one-hundred-percent physical man. He was beast, lion, his world one of sunrise and storm, of pine needle and sastrugi, the snap of biner and binding, not the click of a mouse or rattle of keys. What do you say to such a man, a stranger a thousand miles away.

    How do you save such a man?

    Worse still, we see it but don’t have the time to step up, we have things to do, our busy lives making us somehow callous, that the dying man won’t die on this busy today. “If only I’d known” people often say, but I think often we do know, think back to it. But we just can’t make that leap from the idea to the doing, perhaps we to will be drawn if we become involved, just wait for the professionals, the therapist, the psychiatrist, the police, the undertaker. This is another curse to this wicked age, that we outsource, we leave it up to third parties to fix, people who clock on and off. What happened to ringing their mum and dad, brothers and sisters, friends? Give them meds, give them cells, give them lonely rooms with just two chairs, a cup of tea and a stranger to talk to. What about love? Worse still, we see it but don’t have the time to step up, we have things to do, our busy lives making us somehow callous, that the dying man won’t die on this busy today. It can seem hopeless to intervene, most times impossible.

    What can you do?

    And then one day there it was, the story of his death, written in the beautifully respectful way that kind journalists and police officers can sometimes muster, from a small town to a friend, a neighbour, a human being, not a stranger, of his great life and deeds, of his passing, but not how he passed. The lion walked out.

    And there was that small curse, easily banished by nothing but ‘he was stranger, what could I do’. But it lingered that I had somehow failed him. I thought how like cancer we shy away, make ourselves a smaller target when its close. Like hail Marys we say things like “he had so much to live for”—but we don’t know. We cannot judge the kind of pain someone is feeling, so intense they give up their divine gift, no easy thing, no doubt the hardest they ever did.

    What does it take to save a life? For me it was a stranger’s e-mail, asking if ‘to not go would be the brave thing’, words that had more meaning, where more anchoring, more soothing then even the arms of my children. When you are flayed you are not thinking straight, you only want it to stop, and worse still you feel those that love you will be spared your screaming. And yet it is the little things we do, the calm words, the hand on the shoulder, to steady, not the handcuffs, the pills and needles, the blunt probing into the past. When you hug someone tight and tell them not to go, you leave an imprint. It takes a lot to take a life, but it can take very little to save one.

    But as I stayed my finger about to kill this Facebook virus, and wipe our words away forever, I read that first message one more time, that message that came like a bolt into the dark. I had not saved him, he had saved me. My words, my screams to him had been music, had let him know was not alone, and in writing back to tell me this—that I had value to a lion like him—his were words like morphine.



    Self styled anti-hero, Andy Kirkpatrick describes himself as a "highly functioning narcissist with notions" and someone "who often loses the run of himself". Two-time winner of the Boardman Tasker prize for his books Psychovertical and Cold Wars, he also sometimes climbs, and when not climbing, resides in Dublin, Ireland.

    Reader's Commentary:

    Don't want to use Facebook, but still want to comment? We have you covered:

    Add Your Comments to this article: