Andrew Earl – On top of the World by Steve Crowe
When three times British Bouldering Champion Andy Earl won the fourth round of the IFSC Bouldering World Cup at La Reunion in 2007 he was on top of the world but his most difficult challenge was yet to come, learning to talk and walk again.
Andy first started climbing with us in Northumberland in the early Nineties. He was 14, prior to that it was only an annual birthday treat and much against his mam’s wishes. He already had a homemade fingerboard in his garage which he used regularly. It was about 3ft by 2ft with a few footholds screwed to the garage wall. It wasn’t long before he could do moves on grips that I simply couldn’t hold. “I first got dragged out at the tender age of four and I’ve been a climber ever since. It was a harsh upbringing, climbing with my dad and the likes of Bob and Tommy Smith, always being told how crap I was!” Andrew. During 1993 John and Andy, Bob Smith, Karin Magog and myself revisited and redeveloped Whiteheugh. During this time Andy made the impressive first ascent a new E5 but it was not without incident hence the name Bones Don’t Bounce. Soon enough he was out in The County every weekend, bouldering in all seasons and in all weathers with an impressive repeat of Pete Kirton’s Pockets Traverse 7C under his belt by January 1995. “I suppose I was about 16/17 before I started burning my dad off, a combination of him getting older and me getting better, but I had to get considerably better before they started treating me as an equal.” Andy.
The early nineties also saw the indoor competition scene start to develop. Both Andy and Karin started with a few Yorkshire based leading comps, which were held on temporary climbing walls. Soon the rest of the Saturday squad were persuaded to take part in the Northern Indoor Bouldering League (NIBL) which ran for a few years. Andy and Karin both entered the National Leading Comps. However, it was in the bouldering comps where Andy started to excel. “I found the leading comps particularly frustrating because you only get one chance.” Andy. Bendcrete built the Berghaus Wall in 1991 for Newcastle City Council at a cost of £100k; they got their investment back in 18 months. Andy started some serious training with his good friend Mike Rudden as soon as the Berghaus Wall opened and Andy finally got his investment back in the 2003/4 season as British Bouldering Champion. Mike Rudden remembers climbing with Andy during the early 1990s.
“There was a gang of us who climbed a lot together in the 1990’s – myself, Andy, Dan Smith (Boza 1), William Cleaver (Boza 2), Richard Duffy and Neil Anderson (Fat Lad). Climbing was important but so was the banter. We’d be bouldering and the banter would often follow a regular pattern:
1. Boulder problem attempted by gang.
2. Andy would send it.
3. The rest of us would carry on trying to do it.
4. Andy would be only too pleased to ask us why we were not “pulling harder”?
Out of the hundreds of occasions we all climbed together, only once or twice did the boot end up on the other foot. One such occasion was with Born Lippy (font 7c at the time) at Bowden. Boza 1 and I could do it pretty easily but Andy always seemed to have real troubles on the slopers and heel hooks, his body would just sort of sag resulting in failure. This pleased us no end – “Andy – why you not pulling harder we’d say”. This of course was like a red rag to a bull, so off Andy went and decided to do something about his weak core. Two weeks of front levers and candlestick training sorted out this defect, Andy was no longer ‘saggy’!” Mike Rudden
Throughout the 1990s Karin and I joined Andy and John for regular visits to the Yorkshire Limestone where the tough Soft Option at Kilnsey became Andy’s first sport 8a. His hardest sports climbing redpoint was Dalliance 8b+also at Kilnsey. Andy was now a regular on the “Cream Team” Easter sport climbing trips and during the 1998 trip to Spain he flashed the short but very explosive La Cara Que No Miente 8a+ at Siurana. His ascent was significant enough to make the Scarpa advert on the rear of the 1998 Rockfax guide to Costa Daurada. His dad remembers an early visit to Trollers Gill “I was belaying a very young Andrew who was climbing Haslam at Trollers Gill. He was at the crux which is about 4 bolts up. He pulled the rope to clip the bolt but realised he was too pumped dropped the rope, jumped off and at the same time shouted take which I frantically did and managed to stop him but not until his feet were at head height. I am sure he still thinks his long fall was my fault” John Earl
For a few years the four of us all climbed and trained together on a Monday and Wednesday evenings. Initially the focus had been on repeating classic trad routes in The County but this later changed to bouldering and we were all heavily involved when Rothley and Shaftoe saw a massive surge of development in the mid to late nineties. At Rothley, Andy’s early first ascents included Well Hard Problem 7A+ on John’s Wall. Meanwhile at Shaftoe there are really too many to mention but two stand out from this early period: Power is Nothing Without Control 7C and of course Purely Belter 8A. Andy’s first attempt to climb the blank wall left of Incipient Crack on the Font boulder came with a big grade only for his dad to quickly repeat it with a Surprising Solution (an undercut hand jam) and a swift downgrade to 7A! So Andy followed up a little further left again with Purely Belter which Andy insists is 8A if climbed correctly.
Andy enjoyed an amazing run of form which started in 2000 with the first ascents of Masterclass and Masterblaster Arête two poorly protected E7’s at Rothley and The Young an extremely bold E8 challenge at Callaly that waited 10 years for a repeat by Dan Varian. Chris Graham compares the differing beta used by Andy and Dan “Having seen Andy on it, he was certainly playing to his bone-crushing finger strength by making a cross through to opposing, shallow pockets and moving up from there whereas Dan ended up making a long move from one of these holds and could just get his fingers onto the poor sloper above. After matching on this, it’s a series of tenuous, balancy moves on some weird looking ‘pancake’ features to the top.”
During a trip to The Frankenjura with Mike Rudden, Andy made a very rare onsight of The Bastard 10-/10 (8a+). This short and powerful route was put up by Jerry Moffat in 1989. “I couldn’t do the hard move, much to his surprise and obvious disgust!” Mike Rudden.
I retired in December 2001 to concentrate on my climbing, photography and route setting. We did a lot of route setting together for Andy’s sponsor Rockworks. We set the original routes at Sunderland Wall when it opened in 2003 and then along with Chris Graham we continued setting together with new routes going up every week until Andy left to build his own successful wall Climb Newcastle in Byker. Before his Rockworks sponsorship deal Andy had worked for Entreprise to help build the popular outdoor boulder at Whickham Thorns. He was also involved in setting the Scarpa hardcore circuit at The Works. “Yesterday me and Springer popped down to Climbing Works. Meeting up with Percy the aim was to set a hard circuit for men and women 10 problems each. Sounds easy, well check out what happened here.” Andy.
In April 2003 Karin and I got the call to go to Kyloe In with my cameras, and Karin’s new bouldering mat. Along with Rich Duffy we watched in awe as Andy coolly climbed the blank looking arête of The Prow E9.
In October 2003 Andy was encouraged to climb Dark Side by Bob Smith who had already climbed some of the line. Andy cleaned the finish and top roped the line with John Earl a few days before the ascent but didn’t quite manage to link it. In those days Andy Earl would come with Richard Duffy to train in our garage once a week to use our campus board. I would photograph Andy on many of his hard ascents and sell them to the climbing magazines. So Andy, Karin and me went to Back Bowden with maybe 3 or 4 mats and a rope. Andy brushed off the line and quickly linked it all on top rope once then decided to climb/lead it solo to the break then place a cam for the “easy” finish where Karin would belay him while I took pictures. It all went smoothly, me hanging on ab rope taking photos (another camera on a tripod & motor drive, click click click) then suddenly… Andy was barn dooring, somehow he reeled it in dropped a gear and exploded up to the break. Phew but no “Shit!” he was wrong handed with his hand in the slot where his only cam should go and the cam was now out of reach on the wrong side of his harness. Karin, a tiny thing, way below holding a rope that wasn’t clipped into anything yet was wondering wether to run or spot Andy when he fell. Somehow Andy got a hold of the cam and rammed in where it didn’t really fit and freestyled an untested sequence and thankfully made it to the top. Meanwhile John Earl was a work, nervously waiting for a phone call from Andy to confirm that he had survived the ordeal. “When I eventually got a call from Andrew to say he had succeeded the relief was tremendous. As a climber I knew how serious these routes were and right at the cutting edge ” John Earl. I asked Andy how hard it felt but he didn’t really commit to a grade just said it was “Hard!” Since I was writing the guidebook and selling pictures I came up with the grade and since he used a rope we settled on a trad grade. These days he would have solo’ed it above a mass of mats but back then we climbed everything with only one layer of mats. I knew this was a hard line because we had two layers of mats this time!
The crags in The County have suffered at the hands of increasing traffic, even the hardest routes have been affected. Not long after Andrews ascent of The Bitch 8A+ at Back Bowden Doors the hold on the lip which was a smear when he did it became a finger jug. Despite this it still went on to frustrate many strong climbers until his good friend Martin Smith got the second ascent in 2006.
Noel Craine had been based in Newcastle and often joined us during the development of Rothley and Shaftoe and when he returned to North Wales he was involved in the resurgent interest to develop the boulders around Llanberis. Andy, Chris Graham and myself enjoyed a great weekend bouldering in North Wales in October 2003 ticking off many of the new classics despite some indifferent weather.. Personally I enjoyed Porth Ysgo the best. Proper blocks, strong lines, unusual rock and sunshine! The highlights included Jerry’s Roof 7C, Tide of Dreams 7C and Lou Ferrino 7C+.
In January 2004 Andy enjoyed a short trip away from home which meant that he went two days without climbing or training for the first time in years. The next day he went to Kyloe in the Woods and made the second ascent of Monk Life 8B+, it still ranks as one of Andy’s hardest and best ascents. “Andy’s involvement in Monk Life ended up being the reason I did it. I’d been trying jumping straight up to a crappy pocket. Andy showed me the way and it was to jump further out left to a better hold, obvious really. Once I knew this method it didn’t take long.” Malcolm Smith.
I must admit I was a little disappointed when Andy climbed Endless Flight Direct E8 at Great Wanney in July 2004 because it made my slightly less direct start appear superfluous. I have tried Andy’s start and it involves unprotected Font 7C+ compression climbing directly above a sturdy fence. Too hard, too serious for me!
Around the same time Andy added two thin crimpy 8A’s at Bowden Doors, Growlers and Antihydral. He repeated them so that I could take some photographs. Andy usually graded his new boulder problems but he never graded any of his routes. (The Prow he gave highball 8A.) As the Northumberland guidebook editor that was left for me to decide!
I was recovering from knee surgery in January 2005 when I got the opportunity to join Andy for a bouldering trip to Cresciano and Chironico in Ticino. It was a strong team which included Ian Vickers, Gaz Parry, Jamie Cassidy and Percy Bishton, I was there just to take photos but I did take my rock shoes with me. There was soon much to photograph, so many impressive problems getting dispatched in super quick time. Unfortunately Andy had a bad cold but he still came away with some impressive ascents including Dreamtime Standing 8A+ and Soucoupe LH 7C+.
In November 2006, Andy made two very significant ascents in the space of one week. The third ascent of Cypher 8B at Slipstones, then the following week he made the fifth ascent of The Ace 8B at Stanage
2007 saw many first ascents climbed and many hard problems ticked. Andy returned from a short trip to Switzerland with two 8B ticks Vecchio Lane and High Spirit, then he and Chris Graham spent three days trying the outrageous prow just left of The Plumber at Ravensheugh. Andy quickly followed by Chris climbed The Magician an unprotected E7 7a or highball 8A. Andy commented “The name came after Chris proposed a possible sequence and I asked him if he thought I was an effing magician.” Andrew. The first ground up ascent of Careless Torque 8A at Stanage stands out as does the quick ascent of High Fidelity 8B at Caley.”Anyway so we get to Caley, Andy brushes the holds and sets off, not expecting to get too far on his first go. Undoubtedly inspired by my awesome spotting ability he waltzed straight past the crux to top it out first try.” Chris Graham. Andy describes his trip to Parisella’s “Clyde 8A+ after some good beta off Gaz Parry I did it pretty quick, nice problem. Then I did Trigger Cut 7C+ first go, then it took me a couple of attempts to do Halfway House 8A+. Then I tried Director’s Cut (8B), which I would hope to get done by the end of the summer but it’s a bit of a pain with the 5 hours driving to get to the cave, but all the same nice day.” However I think Andy was especially pleased with the ascents of Sloppy Ploppin 7C+, Vorsprung Durch Technik 8A and of course Blood Sports 8B on his home patch at Shaftoe. Suz and Andy enjoyed a fun summer trip to Targasonne in 2008 where Andy collected an impressive tick list: Nazgul 7C 2nd go, Clem rit 7C, Sing while you may (du fond) 8A 2nd go, I shot Sarzonazy 8A Flash, Psoas Hole 8A+, Tarite de demonologie 7C Flash, La beaute de la chose 7C+ 2nd go, La beaute de la chose (da) 8A+ Flash, Black bloc 7C 2nd Go, Black bloc 8A Flash, Orgasm Machine 7C+ (a jump), Flagellun Daemonium 7C (another jump).
In June 2008 Andy, Chris Graham and Darren Stevenson signed the lease for the Old Pool at Byker, Newcastle. Close friends Andy Long and Rob Lambey were drafted in to build the wall. Climb Newcastle opened on the 23rd October 2008 and continues to be the most successful indoor wall in the northeast. Enjoying a break from work, their 2009 Rocklands Trip was great. Suz Dudink (Andy’s partner) did her first 8A+ Tea with Elmarie and Andy did loads of hard problems quickly up to 8B including Armed Response 8Band Green Mamba 8B.
Andrew sitting (left) sporting a black eye after a disagreement with a GriGri while route setting, Malcom Smith (centre) and Chris Graham (right) went on to share the podium after the A5 BBC first round at Ratho. Looking back, I can remember I was in Preston back in 2004 to watch Andy and Karin competing at the final round of the British Bouldering Championships when Graeme Alderson was explaining to Andrew that parts of the bouldering wall were just paper mache and must not be kicked! Andy was leading on points with two second place results at both Ratho and Blackburn counting. He won the final round at West Park Leisure Centre, Preston to become British Bouldering Champion and fortunately the climbing wall remained undamaged. Andy retained the title for three consecutive seasons from 2003 until 2006.
Perhaps his proudest moment was taking second place, against a very strong field, in the 2004 European Championship at Lecco, Italy. Third place in the World Cup at Fiera di Primiero in Italy followed in 2005, before finally standing on the podium for first place in the fourth round of the 2007 World Cup at La Reunion. “I went to La Reunion to compete in the 4th round of the World Cup, I found temps of around 26 in the night and up to 38 in the day, it took some time to get used to. I qualified for the semi finals and then qualified for the final in first place by doing 4 blocs in 4 attempts. I thought that things could only get worse. In the final I felt good, doing all the blocs up to the last bloc. This left me in second place before the last bloc with Killien and Jerome having done the last bloc I was in the position where if I did the last bloc I would win and if I took a walk up Henman Hill I would end up out of it in 4th place. Well to cut a long story short, I came out to the last bloc, focused and somehow I flashed it, all my friends in the crowd went crazy. What a feeling having competed for 4 years, I have finally achieved what I had always wanted.” Andy was camping in a small tent after winning at La Reunion and he didn’t know what to do with the trophy other than to carry it everywhere he went!
What happened in Alnwick could never have been anticipated but how Andrew pushed himself throughout all the rehab was not unexpected. Following 5 weeks treatment in the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s Neurology Unit, Andy spent a further 9 months in the excellent care of the dedicated staff at Walkergate Park Centre for Neurorehabilitation and Neuropsychiatry. The more determined Andy was to complete all his therapy the more challenges the staff at Walkergate found to set him! “Andy had to relearn everything, even the simplest things like swallowing, holding up his head, and making a sound.” Suz. The story of Andy’s recovery from his massive brain aneurysm is best described by Suz Dudink and Nick Brown in the digital feature on UK Climbing: In the Bubble.
As I write this final paragraph I am still aching from another tough workout at Climb Newcastle. I could only manage about half of the problems on the new circuit which was set as usual by Andy, Suzan and Chris. I found this set especially tough but Andy’s words of encouragement are still ringing in my ears “Pull harder!”
E9 (The County Climbing Company)
Andy was sponsored by E9 and Beta Climbing from 2004. He liked the brand so much he wanted to import E9 products himself. The County Climbing Company Ltd was formed in September 2006 by Andrew Earl and John Earl. Based in Newcastle it is the sole importer into the UK of E9 clothes and accessories. “Like most things that have happened in my life it was more a reaction to a situation. I had already retired and Andrew was sponsored by E9 and loving the brand when Beta Climbing decided not to import into the UK. We thought we would look into the possibility of setting up a company to take on the franchise. Simon Berry of Beta Climbing provided us with advice and information and because of Andrew’s relationship with Mauro Calibani the owner of E9 was prepared to trust this embryo company with his product.” John Earl
Scarpa UK (Mountain Boot Company)
It is over 21 years since Andy joined Scarpa UK. ” I recruited Andy as soon as we formed The Mountain Boot Company in January 1995. Andy was the ultimate sponsored hero. He was “the brand”, he would do anything we asked of him with a smile. He helped us test and design products, he sold to shops, he helped us recruit other athletes including the likes of Malcolm Smith, he even drove forklifts ( badly) in our warehouse!. Andy has been and continues to be a massive contributor to the growth of the Scarpa climbing brand in the UK. His black and white view of life always made it easy to understand his view. His testing and feedback was invaluable and fun!. A great shoe would be stroked and purred at, a bad one could be thrown an enormous distance!. Despite the tragedy that hit Andy, we are still so privileged to enjoy his input as a customer and partner, but above all as a friend” Steve Roberts Scarpa UK/Mountain Boot Company
Following the fantastic success of his popular indoor bouldering business at Climb Newcastle Andy and his team have plans to open an new centre during the autumn of 2017. Both centres will run side by side with complementary activities and events. The Valley will be twice the size of the existing centre and Andy promises that “The Valley will be a bouldering centre of the highest calibre, we will include all the state of the art features that you would expect from a modern indoor climbing business.”
An Impressive Ticklist – The Highlights
|Bones Don’t Bounce||E5||Whiteheaugh||1993||first ascent|
|The Pockets Traverse||7C||Back Bowden Doors||1995|
|La Cara Que No Miente||8a+||Siurana||1998||Flashed|
|Learning to Fly||7C||Kyloe Out||1999|
|Masterblaster Arete||E7||Rothley Crag||2000|
|Power is Nothing Without Control||7C||Shaftoe||2000||first ascent|
|Purely Belter||8A||Shaftoe||2000||first ascent|
|The Young||E8||Callaly||2000||first ascent|
|The Bastard||8a+||The Frankenjura||2001||onsight|
|The Prow||E9||Kyloe in the Woods||2003||first ascent|
|Lou Ferrino||7C+||Parisella’s Cave||2003|
|Patch’s Arete||7C+||Porth Ysgo||2003|
|Rock Attrocity||7C||Parisella’s Cave||2003|
|The Dark Side||E9||Back Bowden Doors||2003||first ascent|
|Tide of Dreams||7C||Porth Ysgo||2003|
|Crocodile Arete||E7||Ravensheugh||2003||first ascent|
|The Ayes Have It||E8||Raven’s Crag||2003||first ascent|
|The Bitch||8A+||Back Bowden Doors||2003||first ascent|
|Antihydral||8A||Bowden Doors||2004||first ascent|
|Growlers||8A||Bowden Doors||2004||first ascent|
|Monk Life||8B+||Kyloe in the Woods||2004||second ascent|
|Endless Flight Direct||E8||Great Wanney||2004||first ascent|
|European Championships||Lecco, Italy||2004||Second Place|
|British Bouldering Championships||2004|
|Dreamtime Standing||8A+||Cresciano and Chironico||2005|
|World Cup||Fiera di Primiero, Italy||2005||Third Place|
|I Want You Bad||8A||Varazze||2006|
|The Ace||8B||Stanage||2006||5th ascent|
|The Magician||E7||Ravensheugh||2007||first ascent|
|I Shot Sarzonazy||8A||Targasonne||2007||Flash|
|La beaute de la chose (assis)||8A+||Targasonne||2007|
|Careless Torque||8A||Stanage||2007||Ground up|
|Check Out Me Pipes||7C+||Ravensheugh||2007|
|Never Never Land||8A||Fontainebleau||2007|
|Tigre and Dragon||8A||Fontainebleau||2007|
|Halfway House||8A+||Parisella’s Cave||2007|
|Trigger Cut||7C+||Parisella’s Cave||2007||first go|
|Blood Sport||8B||Shaftoe||2007||first ascent|
|World Cup||La Reunion||2007||First Place|
|High Fidelity||8B||Caley||2007||Third Ascent|
|Les Beaux Quartiers||8A||Fontainebleau||2007|
|Vorsprung Durch Technik||8A||Shaftoe||2007|
|Roadside new 8a||8A||Shaftoe||2008|
|Northern Territory||7C+||Kyloe Out||2008||first ascent|
|New problem left of Blood Sport||8A?||Shaftoe||2008||first ascent|
|Unknown Name||7C+||Above Earl Crag||2008||flashed|
|Unknown Name||8A||Above Earl Crag||2008|
|Arc Royal||8A+||Queen’s Crag||2009|
|Armed Response||8B||Rocklands, SA||2009|
|Green Mamba||8B||Rocklands, SA||2009|
|Jeux sans Frontières||7C||Hangman Rock||2009|