Touching the Void is the heart-stopping account of Joe Simpson's terrifying adventure in the Peruvian Andes. He and his climbing partner, Simon, reached the summit of the remote Siula Grande in June 1985. A few days later, Simon staggered into Base Camp, exhausted and frost-bitten, with news that that Joe was dead.
What happened to Joe, and how the pair dealt with the psychological traumas that resulted when Simon was forced into the appalling decision to cut the rope, makes not only an epic of survival but a compelling testament of friendship.
Joe Simpson is the author of the bestselling Touching the Void, as well as four subsequent non-fiction books published by The Mountaineers Books: This Game of Ghosts, Storms of Silence, Dark Shadows Falling, and The Beckoning Silence. The Beckoning Silence won the 2003 National Outdoor Book Award. The other three published by The Mountaineers Books were all shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Award.
Joe Simpson had a remarkable experience - totally of his whole making, but nevertheless the way he survived was pretty amazing. Sadly, reading about it is a far less remarkable experience. To enjoy the book, you may need to really know what a 'col' is, what a 'moraine' is and the dangers and qualities of three types of snow and countless types of ice.
Essentially, it's one hundred pages of very, very detailed descriptions of climbing up a mountain - who belayed when is covered in full detail, as is when they stopped to make a brew. Then on the way down, there's a bit of a cock up and one fella breaks his leg. You then get fifty pages of one chap lowering another down a couple of cliffs - in very full detail. Finally you get another hundred pages of the one fella crawling back with a broken leg - every fall, every boulder, every bout of incontinence is painted in absolute detail. After that, there's a postscript, an epilogue and every other excuse possible to drag the book out.
Don't get me wrong, Joe Simpson completed a fantastic journey and survived against all of the odds. However, there were times when I was ploughing through this book when I would have much preferred to be dragging a broken leg across the 'scree' at the bottom of a mountain and pissing my pants.
Long, long ago, I used to play pool in the Broadfield pub in Sheffield. I used to play another bloke regularly, nice guy - if a bit irascible at times - and, one day, he asked me what I did. "Writer," I said, "but unsuccessful."
"Oh," he said. "I've written a book too. Published. It's not doing too badly."
He seemed like an interesting bloke, intelligent, given to philosophising, had seen a bit of the world as a mountain climber, so I thought I'd give it a shot - as much out of politeness as anything.
The next time I went to the Broadfield I found myself, once again, playing pool with the bloke. Conversation had come easily with him previously. Not now. "I read your book," I said.
"What did you think?" he asked.
"I think I'm a bit too freaked out right now to even talk about it." I meant it.
Later, he told me I'd got an unnamed-check in his autobiography. A single line. He knew how lucky he was when he met me, apparently, given he'd cracked it as a writer and I'd hacked away at it and got nowhere.
I got my revenge. He came in the Broadfield one day plastered up all over the shop. He'd fallen off another mountain.
This tale of a bloke with a penchant for finding large geological constructions to fall off is intense in the extreme. You don't get a feel for the balls of this bloke from reading it any more than you do from meeting him - at least not directly - but balls he has. Much of the tale consists of him crawling back from the place he fell to his base camp with the hell battered out of him and, in it all, he is all too human; a wreck of a man just trying to survive in his confusion, and in his dogged determination. It's an intensely personal book in that respect. Joe holds nothing back, strips himself naked in his predicament and shows us the man behind the challenge. There's no heroism here, no 'Didn't I do great', just that sense of someone pulling himself on little by little rather than just give up everything and die.
I heard a story some time later about Joe going into a television interview and tripping over the steps. A useless mountain climber, clearly. But one hell of a writer, the bastard.
It feels like this is a book everyone has read (and seen the film), yet up until now I had done neither. I guess even if you haven't seen or read, you will at least know the outline of the story: Two men climbing a remote mountain, one falls, injures himself badly, other man must decide whether to risk his own life to help him or leave him to his outcome; then once he has decided to assist, it goes even more wrong and the rescuer must decide whether to cut the rope (sending the injured man to almost certain death) and prevent himself from being dragged down the mountain. Well Joe Simpson is that injured man, and spoiler alert - he survives, and writes this book!
The writing contains some technical bits, although there is a glossary at the end; and a lot of the description of the climbing and the terrain was lost on me, but this isn't really relevant. This book is more about the mental capacity of Simpson to overcome his physical condition and to literally just continue. I can't imagine that one in 100 or 1 in 1000 people would have the ability the author did to continually take the hard option over the easy option (stopping, giving up, sleeping, crying, etc), and continued to hop, crawl and drag himself down a mountain to the camp where he hoped (against the odds really) that his friends still remained.
The action occurs in 1985, when Joe and his companion Simon Yates tackle the Western face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. At 6334m, its no easy pickings, and the complete the first successful summit. the return to base camp, however was less successful.
For maximised enjoyment, brush up on your moraines, seracs, verglas, belays and bergschrunds. Also an ideal book if you want to terrify yourself into not taking up mountaineering.
okay. i am still not going to climb any mountains, at least not any that are covered with glaciers and are over 10K feet. but what really got me about this story, what deeply deeply moved me to a new understanding of human endurance, was not that he climbed the peruvian andes, suffered sub zero temperatures huddled in a dugout snow cave, got frostbitten digits, put his life in his climbing partner's hands, or alternately held his climbing partner's life in his own hands, or that he shattered his knee, got dragged through the snow for 2 days, fell down a crevasse and had to climb out with a mashed leg, dragged himself half delirious and starving for 3 more days across rocky moraines, but...that he did this without taking out his contact lenses. geez. that must've sucked.
There are very few words to articulate to the feelings in which one human can relate to this scenario. In all life’s ordeals, survival is one of the most finicky of questions. Not one life will have the same results when it comes to survival.
Touching of the void sets the perfect notion for Darwin’s, “survival of the fittest.” The pure measurement of the human nature to bare down and move on. As the saying goes, “trust your instincts”, survival is the impediment answer to this idiom.
We are are built to survive, but until you are challenged with it you never know what you are made of. I challenge everyone to push yourself in this life to the limit. Find your strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses are a strength, because to know your weaknesses, is to find the strength within to overcome it. We fear challenges and change. Joe feared the inevitable but kept moving forward. The thought of self suicide is one thought we all are scared of. Despite knowing we will never make it out alive, we all fear the end.
The end is silent and lonely. It is dark, unknown and something we as humans never want to face. As a human, we all can be scared of the unknown. Most of us need to know what is going to happen so we can prepare. We cringe at the thought of insecurity.
To challenge those fears, challenge Mother Nature, is to accomplish the inevitable. Joe has done something only people in war can talk about, and some may never get their voice. Survival is never self inflicted, but when it is, we are the ones who should never pity ourselves for allowing the chance of disaster to happen.
Invite change, invite a challenge; enjoy the little things, and be grateful for the biology of you natural instincts.
Amazing read, and i invite you to the challenge to enjoy it as much as I did!
Joe Simpson and Simon Yates were young, fearless and a little too careless when they attempted to climb a 21,000 peak in the Andes. They were tired of their climbs in the Alps with all the traffic and thought a secluded climb in a beautiful setting would be a welcome change. They were enjoying their seclusion on the mountain until disaster struck.
Joe Simpson suffers a serious fall and breaks his leg on the top of the mountain. He is completely helpless and wholly dependent on Simon to save his life. The cocky, confident Joe suddenly has to face the terrorizing prospect of death and he's not ready to leave this earth just yet.
Simon Yates is a true friend as he attempts to lower Joe down the mountain. Due to their carelessness they were out of food, water and were now in danger of frostbite without warm drinks. It was imperative that they climb down the mountain in the dark with flashlights before they succumbed to dehydration and cold.
Joe suffers from agonizing pain as Simon lowers him down the mountain and has plenty of time to think over all their mistakes with regret.
Surely their luck can't get any worse?
Simons lowers Joe off a cliff and into a crevasse unknowingly in the dark. Joe is too far down the mountain to explain to Simon his precarious position as he hangs by a rope over the crevasse. Simon doesn't have too many options left during a bitter snow storm as he is slowly being dragged down the mountain to his death. In desperation he has to cut the rope as Joe plunges to his death into the crevasse.
Miraculously, Joe absorbs the shock of falling 100 feet by landing in snow and lies helpless in the dark contemplating his end. With the arrival of the morning sunshine he is able to assess his situation and form a plan. There is no way he can climb out of the crevasse and no chance of rescue from Simon.
In desperation he begins to carefully lowers himself deeper into the crevasse as his only chance to survive since he can not face the prospect of a long, slow death.
What happens next is one of the most thrilling true-survivor accounts I've ever read marveling at Joe's will to live. How he is able to survive days without food or water as he slowly crawls his way back to the camp borders on miraculous.
Afterwards Simon Yates was to suffer much censure for cutting the rope in order to save his own life but I can't honestly blame him for his actions.
Since I wasn't familiar with mountain climbing and therefore a lot of the terms used in this book, things did bog down a bit as Joe describes all aspect of their climb in great detail.
Otherwise this book is an enjoyable and inspiring account of survival that I highly recommend.
I remember seeing this documentary years ago, but had never read the book. It was just as harrowing to read and I could feel the tension & fear leap off the pages. Usually, when set in very cold climes, I also feel that also, but weirdly this time I did not. The description of the pristine mountains, snow & ice walls did loom very menacing in my mind, I suppose because I knew what was coming. Joe & his friend Simon were going to attempt a first ascent to the summit of one of the Andes mountains. They made the summit but on the descent a horrible accident occurs in which Joe sustains a badly broken leg. Simon courageously tries to help him down the mountain using the ropes & manages to lower Joe about 300ft when another fall occurs & Simon realizes he is going to go over the edge also, he cuts the rope. He believes Joe died with that action and exhaustedly continues his descent wracked with guilt. But Joe survives and through unbelievable will he fights through pain, despair, hunger & thirst to manage to eventually claw, hop, & crawl his way back towards the base camp over 4 days & 3 nights. An amazing story of determination & resilience.
Exciting? Yes! This is the quintessential survival story, and it is true!
In 1985 Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decide to climb the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. I am no mountaineer, but even I could spot some of their errors. The book focuses on moral issues too.
Most of the time I could picture the glacial landscape. There are crevasses and ice bridges and morasses and fissures and glacial expanses, sparkling light and snow storms and it is cold and wet, freezing. I could NOT exactly picture what it was like in the crevasse as the author described it. So maybe the movie is better than the book? The author took part in the filming later in 2002.
Joe's fear, his physical pain and exhaustion, his terror, THAT I definitely felt. His hallucinations became my hallucinations. Simon corroborated with Joe in the writing of this book. Nevertheless, I did NOT feel that his words rang as true as Joe's. Simon's voice in the audiobook is narrated by Andrew Wincott. It was too slick, too quiet. No, he didn't even sound like a mountaineer. Joe's narration by Daniel Weyman was spot-on.
My gut reaction to the audiobook was that I liked it. I certainly was not going to stop in the middle, although I had to take breathers. I am a coward and couldn't sit still, it gripped me so! I liked that not many lines were spent on the medical treatments required after this escapade. I liked that there is a short epilogue covering Joe's philosophical approach to his experiences. Yes, he continued to climb mountains.
I need a break. I absolutely cannot continue listening to Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival. It is so terrible......what happens, I mean. I cannot, cannot continue listening. Does that make it good? The two guys are and this is just too much. I also dislike movies where I want to but cannot leave at bad sections. How does everybody read this stuff and just keep their mouths shut? Why do I get so upset?
A great survival story and I was impressed with Simpson's writing. If you have ever enjoyed a mountaineering book, you will enjoy this one. It's a quick read too. Deserving of its classic status. This folio edition sure is pretty too. Low four stars.
By the time I reach the last page I recalled I heard myself screaming "Man, this dude is really something!" "Edaaaaaan!" An unbelievable and gripping story about survival and never say die spirit at its best
Joe Simpson dan sahabatnya, Simon Yates melakukan pendakian gunung Siula Grande (6.300m dpl) dipegunungan Andes, Peru. Setelah berhasil mencapai puncak dan dalam perjalanan menuruni gunung Joe terperosok sehingga kakinya patah. Suatu kondisi yang bisa dianggap vonis mati digunung setinggi 6000m. Dalam kondisi tak bisa berjalan, rasa sakit yang tak terperikan, Simon berjuang keras berusaha menurunkan Joe sedikit demi sedikit dengan tali yang diikatkan ketubuh masing-masing. Setelah beberapa usaha yang menguras tenaga Joe kembali terperosok dan tergantung dibibir tebing es tanpa bisa naik kembali. Simon yang ikut terseret akhirnya tak punya pilihan lain. Simon tahu pasti cepat atau lambat ia tak akan kuat menahan beban tubuh Joe yang tergantung dibibir jurang. Sehingga dihadapkan kepada pilihan yang sangat menyesakkan; ikut terseret ke jurang dan tewas bersama Joe atau memotong tali. Simon dengan berat hati memotong tali yang menyebabkan Joe "terjun bebas" ke jurang sedalam 30 meter. Ajaibnya, Joe ternyata tidak tewas. Simon yang menyangka Joe telah tewas kembali ke kemah induk dan terus menerus bergulat dengan perasaan bersalah kalau ia telah membunuh Joe.
Setengah dari buku ini adalah sebuah petualangan yang bikin gue geleng-geleng kepala disertai perasaan perut teraduk-aduk dan tulang jadi terasa ngilu. Sebuah perjuangan hebat dan habis-habisan dari seorang Joe Simpson dalam upaya mempertahankan hidupnya dan "penolakan" terhadap maut yang terus mengintainya. Gimana perut gak teraduk ama tulang gak ngilu kalo ngebayangin kondisi seperti ini: *jatuh kedalam ceruk es sedalam 30 meter *diserang badai salju dan suhu yang amat dingin *angkle kanan patah, lutut remuk *suara berderak dari kaki yang patah tiap kali terbentur batu Dengan kondisi seperti itu, Joe merayap naik, melompat dengan satu kaki sambil menyeret kaki yang patah, merayap menuruni tebing, gletser, morrain. Terkadang meluncur tak terkendali terseret salju, tersungkur, kepala menghantam batuan besar, bibir sobek, kaki yang terpuntir gak karuan karena tersangkut batu. Masih kurang? dengan kondisi itu, Joe merayap turun selama tiga hari tiga malam tanpa makan dan minum untuk mencapai kemah utama. Masih kurang juga? Oke, pernah terkilir? gimana rasanya? gak usah ditanya. Bayangin deh, harus menyeret kaki yang remuk selama tiga hari tiga malam dengan jari2 yang membeku karena terserang frostbite. Joe terus2an menjerit dan menangis setiap kakinya membentur batu.
Bagian yang paling menyentuh mungkin ketika pada dinihari Joe yang telah kehabisan tenaga ketika sampai ke sekitar tenda induk menyangka akan mati disekitar tenda berteriak memanggil nama sahabatnya dan Simon yang terkaget-kaget seakan melihat hantu dan menghambur memeluk sahabatnya yang disangka telah tewas dalam kondisi yang sangat mengenaskan. Pemandangan yang memilukan dan mengharukan.
Sebuah cerita tentang perjuangan melawan kemustahilan, determinasi untuk hidup dan ketegaran yang disajikan dengan sangat intens oleh seorang Joe Simpson.
Ok, even though the reader knows how it ends: as one of the mountaineers wrote this book, it’s incredibly suspenseful. I do seem to adore mountain climbing books, although it’s a totally vicarious experience as you could never get me on one of these expeditions. Especially this one as their method was different than all the other accounts I’ve read of mountain climbers. On the one hand I felt infuriated with these 2 men for taking such huge risks, but their story is unbelievably riveting and well told and I appreciated the honesty with which it was told as well. The thing is, it seems impossible that either one, especially the author, could survive what happened to them. Everything that could go wrong did, but so did everything that could go right.
Not since Moses climbed up Sinai to meet his maker has the story of a man, a mountain, and a brush with infinity attracted so much attention as Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void (1988). The book has become a favorite with adrenaline addicts and is found near the top of most mountain literature must-read lists. Though the first chapters are laced with technical climbing jargon, the great chunk of the story is related in the short cries, grunts, and obscenities you would expect to find popping from the mouths of two young men facing a nightmarish trial on a 21,000 ft peak.
The adventure begins in the Peruvian Andes, where Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates attempt to scale the ice shrouded slopes of Siula Grande. The climbing, though more difficult than anticipated, proves manageable for the skilled alpinists. But upon reaching the summit, Simpson suffers the "usual anticlimax" of his sport, the bittersweet reckoning of just what he had really accomplished, coupled with the empty feeling of "What now?" He was about to find out.
Steep slopes, unstable snow, and the onset of a blizzard make every step of the descent a life-and-death ordeal. When Simpson falls and breaks his right leg, Yates, in a truly heroic style, attempts to lower his injured partner down the near vertical face of the mountain in a blizzard ... at night ... with a broken headlamp ... his hands horribly frostbitten. And he nearly succeeds. But when Simpson slips over a steep cliff and is left dangling in mid air, too weak to climb up the rope and too far from the mountain to secure himself, Yates has no option but to cut the rope that links them together lest he himself be pulled into the void.
How Simpson survived his fall into the abyss, freed himself from the crevasse, and dragged himself over miles of glacier and moraine back to camp, just as Yates was preparing to leave, has become a story of almost mythic proportions. Simpson has certainly made the most of his ordeal, publishing a bestselling book, speaking on several lecture tours, and even appearing in the film version. But the reason he wrote this book, he insists, was to deflect the sharp blame that was hurled at Yates for having taken a knife to the sacrosanct rope. I must give Simpson credit for never downplaying the difficulties Yates faced, and for confessing, that having found himself in Yates’ position, he too would have cut the rope. I suspect you’ll appreciate Simpson’s honesty and the direct, artless style of his book as much as you’ll enjoy its precipitous pace.
This is the second time I have read Joe Simpson's Touching the Void. In younger years, when I had more energy and less sense, I probably would have rated it four stars instead of three. Not now.
As to adventure, it pumps adrenalin through readers' veins as fast as the government these days pumps money through the failing finincial institutions, especially after a major catastrophe and the so-called ethical dilemma toward the middle of the book.
What becomes very obvious very soon is how young, immature, and foolish these two fellows--Joe and Simon--were. My second reading through was almost painful on top of the regular painfulness because of it. Of course, high adventurers like them wouldn't normally reclimb the same mountain and probably would advise against rereading Joe's narrative again. Onward and upward seemed to be their mantra--and almost their sole mantra. Climb every mountain.
Joe didn't seem grounded in society, in life, or in religion. He wasn't, it seemed, even grounded in the pursuit. Upon summiting, he took some photos, ate some chocolate, but felt the "usual anticlimax. What now? It was a vicious circle."
My feeling exactly.
While Joe cried in frustration, he rarely if ever cried about the loss of a parent, a companion, a child. When I think of tears, I think of deep emotions from the heart. When he cried, it seemed his came from somewhere else on the surface and not in the center. "Each thouoght of death, of mine or his, came quite unemotionally--matter-of-fact. I was too tired to care."
It was all pride: "They'd never know we did it."
This self-centeredness I think is characterized in the narrative style, which was mostly descriptive and not emotive. I like a little more paint on the canvass, more nuance in the story-telling. If you are so much a risk taker on a mountain, I expect more risks, more inventiveness on the page. But there you go. I don't think the two climbers displayed much inventiveness in their endeavor. I think the book carried on with that theme.
Picture this: an incredible panoramic view of a rugged mountain range and the camera slowly pans to the point where you see two tiny black specs climbing a 21,000 foot, shear-faced mountain wall. It's well below freezing. The wind is ripping through the air. And two climbers are hanging by their fingertips and boot toes but lashed together with a single strand of nylon rope and a few pitons hammered into the rock. After twelve hours, they crest an outcrop of rock and have just enough room to sit, fire a single-burner propane torch, and heat a can of Ramen noodles for dinner. The terrain is nearly impossible to traverse, and (laden with equipment) their only option is to "jump" into thin air over a deep crevasse to a nearby ledge in order to ascend any further… There were no margins for error here, and how these two dealt with it and their emotions when the worst occurred, was beyond understanding. The next second is near fatal and one breaks his leg. They are in a dire position, and their situation seems impossible to get out of. Yet, their courage, drive, and fortitude are on an Olympian scale. The decisions they are required to make are a huge gamble and a life-threatening risk.
How Joe Simpson and Simon Yates made it off that mountain in the Andes is an incredible journey worth reading. This is Simpson's firsthand account of these events, and he is as good a writer as he is a mountain climber. This is a gripping, direct, and honest account of a mountaineering extreme experience. This is a great title about survival in the most dire of circumstances. I was curling my toes through the last half of the book. The ending is climactic and this book will be unforgettable.
How both men overcame the torments of those harrowing days is an epic tale of fear, suffering, and survival, and a poignant testament to unshakable courage and friendship.
“...[..]...Bottomless, I thought idly. No. They’re never bottomless. I wonder how deep I will go? To the bottom...to the water at the bottom? God ! I hope not!.... ...The stars went out, and I fell. Like something come alive, the rope lashed violently against my face and I fell silently, endlessly into nothingness, as if dreaming of falling. I fell fast, faster than I thought, and my stomach protested at the swooping speed of it. I swept down, and from far above I saw myself falling and felt nothing. No thoughts, and all fears gone away. So this is it! ..Starlight and the moon glimmering through my entry hole in the roof above gave enough light for me to see the abysses on either side ....I could see grey-shadowed ice walls and the stark blackness of the drops, too deep for the light to penetrate... I saw the rope flick down, and my hopes sank. I drew the slack rope to me, and stared at the frayed end. Cut! I couldn’t take my eyes from it. White and pink nylon filaments sprayed out from the end. I suppose I had known all long...[..]..I’ll die here after all that. Why bother trying? I turned off the torch and sobbed quietly in the dark, feeling overwhelmed. I cried in bursts, and between them listen to the childlike sounds fade beneath me, then cried again...[..]... All that sobbing and shouting had been too much. Acceptance seemed better....[..]..I though carefully of the end. It wasn’t how I had ever imagined it. It seemed pretty sordid. I hadn’t expected a blaze of glory when it came, nor had I thought it would be like this slow pathetic fade into nothing. I didn’t want it to be like that. [..]...Looking at the ice bridge, I felt disturbed at the memory of my time spent on. It was hard to believe how desperate I had been in the night and while abseiling now that I was reaching for the sun. That was the hardest thing I had ever done, and thinking about it I felt a surge of confidence build in me. There was still a lot to fight for.... [..]...The voice said I would lose my way, said I would never get through the crevasses without the prints, and told me to hurry on, but what I was really frightened of was losing a sign of life in the empty bowl of mountains surrounding me...”
The best part of the writing in this particular book is how Joe relates his inner voice as he attempts to save himself from a desperate situation. At the end of the book, he states, " . . .however painful readers may think our experiences were, for me this book still falls short of articulating just how dreadful were some of those lonely days. I simply could not find the words to express the utter desolation of the experience." Well, he did a pretty good job. I don't know how he didn't just give up or go mad.
Once again, I marvel at how people are willing to risk their lives to attempt these challenges, and then return to mountain climbing after these near death experiences. I never get bored reading about this topic for whatever reason.
After ascending a 21,000 foot peak in the Andes, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates are on their way down when Joe falls and breaks his leg. Rather than leave his partner behind, Simon begins the arduous task of belaying Joe down the face of the mountain. Suddenly, as Simon is lowering Joe into the mists, all of Joe's weight pulls the rope taught. After several minutes, with no release of weight and his own position in serious danger, Simon makes the painful decision to cut the rope on his partner. Unbeknownst to Simon, Joe has fallen off an ice cliff and is hanging in mid-air. When Simon cuts the rope, Joe falls into an ice-crevasse a hundred feet below him. Believing Joe to be dead, Simon must descend the mountain racked with guilt that tests his physical and spiritual strength. Joe, having survived the fall, must call upon every physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual reserve within him as he struggles to get down the mountain and back to base camp before it breaks. After watching the movie and being astounded by the friendship, love, and loyalty of these climbers, I was not let down by the novel at all. Having a first person account from both climbers as each struggled with the horrific events that created an unfathomable circumstance for survival was a heartbreaking, yet brilliant glimpse into the heart of mankind and our will to overcome even the most dire of circumstance.
We climbed 'cause it's fun. And mainly it was fun. That's all we ever did. And we were fairly anarchic and fairly irresponsible, and we didn't give a damn about anyone else or anything else, and we just wanted to climb the world. And it was fun. It was just brilliant fun. And every now and then it went wildly wrong. And then it wasn't. ~ Joe Simpson
I must confess: I’m a couch potato. I’m not proud but I’m honest. Regardless, this doesn’t keep me from enjoying watching others push their bodies to the limit. Climbing Mt. Everest? I’m there. Football game in the 100-degree heat? I’m there. Clog dancing? I’m there…right there in front of the TV.
For some reason this woman who can’t complete one chin up has always been fascinated with mountaineers and their hubristic attempts to scale impossible heights. My favorite story by far is Simon Yates' and Joe Simpson’s 1985 ascension to the 20,814 foot summit of Siula Grande in Peru. Their story became part of mountaineering legend, and was turned into the documentary Touching the Void in 2003. Yes, they climbed ‘cause it was fun. They also climbed because they were young and cocky and knew they could succeed where others had failed.
Yates and Simpson did succeed and were the first to reach the summit by scaling the West face, but they made the mistake of descending on the North ridge. The weather slowed their progress and they ran out of food and gas; without gas they weren’t able to melt snow to drink and soon became weak with hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. Then things went wildly wrong when Simpson fell and shattered his leg, forcing the lower bone through his knee joint. He expected Yates to leave him, but Yates stayed and lowered his mate down the mountain, 300 painstaking feet at a time.
Yates would anchor himself in a snow seat, lower Simpson down, and when Simpson tugged on the rope, he would climb down and start the procedure over again. But there came a point in their descent when Yates waited for a tug that never came; he had unknowingly lowered Simpson over an overhanging cliff. For an hour and a half Simpson hung in mid-air, and Yates held his place on the sugary slope for as long as he could before he started to slide down the mountain. Then he remembered that he had a pen knife in his rucksack and quickly made the decision to cut the rope and save himself. With this action he dropped Simpson 100 feet into a crevasse. What happened after this is a testament to how nearly indestructible the human body is and just how stubborn two athletes at the top of their games can be.
At one time Tom Cruise was in line to play Joe Simpson in a movie version of Touching the Void. Thank goodness that plan was never put into action. The decision to intersperse Yates' and Simpson’s first-hand accounts with two actors re-enacting the scenes was the right one. I've watched Touching the Void many times since it arrived on DVD. Watch it and judge for yourself if it’s more enjoyable and suspenseful than the movies they're passing off as entertainment in Hollywood these days.
I read this (listened actually) in three days, in long intense sections, feeling the cold bitter wind blow through my car in Covid Lock Down minor traffic. My hands feeling frostbitten as I washed dishes, and just sitting staring at my floor, as the moral calculus of Simon's decisions rang through my head. I immediately watched the movie with a climbing friend of mine. We paused often to discuss the realities of what these two men had survived.
I must also say the movie is very true to the book.
it's a gripping tale, told with rare candour by both parties. Giving incredible insight into dealing with harrowing accidents, and the terrible decisions they necessitate.
We went climbing today at a small rock face near my home, and Joe was close to my mind throughout the slow ascent of cold rock. I am deeply grateful to live in a country where snow is a rare novelty.
A story of survival against the odds in a harsh unforgiving environment, when they were faced with a catastrophic accident, Simon and Joe were put to the test, yet the test was different for each, for Simon the test was of sticking up to his friend, and risking his own survival chances by helping Joe to descend the mountain with a broken leg, a feat that is known in the mountaneering community as a suicide act for them both, the rule of norm was that he leave Joe behind and carry on alone, but he didn't find it in himself to leave his friend behind, yet the ordeal was stronger than his will, and he had to cut the rope in the end. As for Joe, his broken leg was supposed to be the end of the line for him, yet he did not give up, he kept pushing on after Simon cut the rope, fighting against the agony of having a broken leg day after day and hour after hour till he reached the camp. The book was not about survival only, but also on how a catastrophe, or when you think you have reached the lowest point or even the end of your life, you might be amazed to see that it was the metamorphosis, the cocoon that you had to pass through to reach your potential, Joe discovered after his ordeal that he had motivational and literary talents that transformed him and put him on a totally different career track. What was different in this book is that we had the opportunity to hear the story from the 2 sides of Joe and Simon, it was not a single account of what happened leaving us to wonder or doubt it's authenticity, or completeness.
Life is better understood by looking in the rear view mirror, when you can measure and see the future results of the present decisions and events, and how they shape your journey.
What doesn't break you, makes you stronger (or in Joe's case, what breaks you, makes you stronger).
This is a classic among mountain climbing memoirs. A terrible climbing accident on a particularly dangerous mountain leads to an extraordinary story of survival. The writing was stellar, creating an immediacy to each scene with such power that, despite knowing the outcome, I was on the edge of my seat throughout. In any other book, this would easily gain four stars from me. However, this book also made me so angry. I don’t understand the impetus to engage in such highly risky activities just for the thrill of it. Had this extraordinary effort for survival occurred as a result of natural disaster or war or of the effort to rescue another person, my reaction would have been much different. But, knowing people who are doing everything they can to survive disease or violence or poverty, I am enraged by anyone who deliberately puts their own life in peril. 3.5 stars
Considering the circumstances here (mountaineer up 19,000 feet breaks his leg, saves himself after his partner is forced to leave him), this book should've been captivating. I should've been entirely engrossed by this survival story. Really, the page count could've been halved and we could've had 90% less mountaineering terminology. There was no emotion in this; the storytelling was flat. The mountain had more personality than the two climbers.
I listened to the audiobook of this as a book club challenge - story of survival. I think I'd seen ads for the docudrama movie but never seen the whole thing.
Anyway I know nothing about mountaineering (although I did meet Chris Bonington on a plane many years ago - does that count? No? Ok). I was completely lost as to pretty much all the terminology but you get used to it after a while and a bit of Googling was all I required to understand.
It's an amazing tale of how Joe Simpson and Simon Yates (not the cyclist) managed to scale the west face of Siula Grande and return despite Joe having broken his leg and fallen hundreds of feet through a crevasse after Simon cut the rope from which he was dangling (thereby saving both their lives).
It's fascinating to hear how they both did extraordinary things during the climb and the utter desolation they must have felt after Joe broke his leg. At first Simon makes a superhuman effort to help his friend down the mountain but after another fall over the edge of the mountain there seems to be no choice but to cut the rope.
I found the epilogue most interesting written, as it was, years after the incident. A truly remarkable survival story. Well written and clearly narrated. You don't need to know anything about mountaineering to enjoy it. I didn't.
I love a mountain climbing book and was aware that this is one of the classics of the genre but I found the first half of this utterly boring and a slog to get through - so much awkward dialogue, climbing lingo and mundane details. The disaster/survival part was slightly more engaging but I’m afraid Simpson has written a really dry and dull book about what is a crazy and impressive survival story (which is actually kind of impressive if you think about it). I honestly felt like DNFing for most of the first half and probably would have had if a) I hadn’t asked my mum to go back to Oxfam to buy this copy I spotted and b) it wasn’t the only book I had to read on the train to Milan.
Not a patch on the likes of Jon Krakauer or Helen Mort who really capture the beauty, magic and danger of mountain climbing in their writing, with that extra detail about the human side of it all which makes what climbers do relatable and fascinating to non-climbers like myself. I never say this but watch the film adaptation instead!
1985, Perù. Joe Simpson (l’autore del libro) e Simon Yates, due alpinisti britannici, affrontano la scalata alla cima andina della Siula Grande (6.536 metri). L’ascesa non comporta grandi problemi, ma durante la discesa Joe cade e si frattura un ginocchio. A quelle altezze un alpinista con una frattura del genere è praticamente un uomo morto. Ma i due non si danno per vinti: Simon lega Joe alla corda e lo fa scivolare lungo il pendio per tutta la durata della corda (una cinquantina di metri), aspetta che Joe si metta in sicurezza, scende a raggiungerlo, ricomincia a calarlo, ecc... A un certo punto, però, la pendenza si fa troppo ripida e Joe finisce in un crepaccio restando sospeso nel vuoto, assolutamente impotente. Simon cerca di resistere con tutte le sue forze, ma il peso di Joe lo sta trascinando giù con lui. Simon a quel punto deve prendere una decisione terribile: per salvare almeno se stesso è costretto a tagliare la corda che li lega. Da questo momento in poi il racconto si sdoppia: da una parte, la discesa di Simon che, oltre che dalle difficoltà tecniche e climatiche è resa ancor più ardua dai sensi di colpa e dal rimorso per aver abbandonato l’amico (da lui creduto morto); dall’altra il racconto di Joe, che invece non è morto nella caduta, e deve affrontare da solo e gravemente ferito la discesa fino al campo base, unica possibilità di salvezza. Il dramma dei due uomini è raccontato alternando i punti di vista, le paure, lo sconforto, la tenacia, i rimorsi, il silenzio, il dolore (tanto dolore, tantissimo), il coraggio. La discesa al Campo Base è il viaggio di ritorno da un inferno di ghiaccio, un inferno fatto di piccoli passi, di solitudine, dolore e sacrificio. Come se, anche dopo il taglio, quella corda (il terzo protagonista della storia) li tenesse ancora “legati”. Il titolo originale, Touching the void (Toccando il vuoto). è molto più bello ed evocativo di quello in traduzione. Ne è anche stato tratto un film.
If you are looking for a great book about rock climbing/mountaineering, or a book about beating the odds, or a book that is just going to make you squirm in sympathetic pain, then this is the book for you. It’s a great story and true; it’s terrifying and gripping. I read it mostly on the edge of my seat. Simpson’s very blunt and straight forward storytelling is refreshingly honest and humble, and it also places you directly in the moment with him. There is no buffer between the reader and the narrative. His thankfulness and respect for his partner, Simon Yates, is resounding, and itself should be the end all of any conversation about whether Simon did the correct thing cutting the rope when he did.
The downside of the book is that its full of technical mountaineering terms, and Simpson doesn’t bother to explain them. If you are not familiar with the geological formations of mountains then I would make sure to keep your phone next to you for some quick definition googling. Or you can just kind of skip over what moraine and col mean, because really, the story is about survival, not really about the rocks. Up to you. Also, while Simpson is a decent writer, he isn’t an excellent one. The sentence structure can become slightly repetitive, and there were times I had difficulty discerning whether it was Joe or Simon speaking.
Simpson also states in one of the three (or four?) epilogues that the only mistake he and Simon made was that they didn’t bring enough gas for their down trip. I really don’t want people reading this book and thinking that was their only mistake. It may have been the most egregious mistake, as it forced them to rush, and in rushing, everything fell apart, but it was really not the only mistake. To be fair, I don’t know what the state of climbing was in the 80’s, so I don’t know how feasible it would have been for them to become better acquainted with the geography of the mountain before arriving, so we will slide over that one. They still could have brought flag stakes to mark the summit and parts of their descent so they had some visual marker in the snow storm. They should have been better prepared and more aware of the weather as well, the locals had warned them about the snows, and yet they ascended in very dangerous conditions. They didn’t seem to have any back up gear. There is a difference between going light, and being a bit silly. Mountaineering is inherently dangerous, first ascents doubly so, but its all about risk management, and in their fervor and their youth they simply did not have in place structures to aid them in the event of an emergency. They are both still alive today though, and in the world of climbers, that is a testament to their luck, skill, and wisdom, and it sounds like they both learned greatly from this experience. I look forward to reading Simpson’s other books.
**complete sidenote, Simpson’s epilogue regarding PTSD is completely uneducated. I found that section grating for multiple reasons. Its rather hubristic and irreverent and lacks simple understanding of the disorder and its impact on people worldwide. To state that veterans of WWI and WWII didn’t suffer PTSD is false, but for rebuttal to that I will just refer you to the excellent work Patrick Stewart has done in the UK. Patrick Stewart suffered terrible child abuse at the hands of his father, a veteran of the world war, who himself suffered from PTSD. Just because it didn’t have a name, doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist. That’s like saying there was no spousal abuse, just because people didn’t really talk about it.**
জো সিম্পসন ও তার বন্ধুর আন্দিজে পর্বতারোহণ দিয়েই শুরু বইয়ের গল্প। সামিট করা পর্যন্ত অন্য আট-দশটা গল্পের মতো মনে হয়। ঘটনার মোড় ঘুরে যায় নামার সময়ে একটা দূর্ঘটনায়। জো এর বেচে ফেরার অকল্পনীয় এই গল্প শরীরে কাটা দেয়ার মতোন।
এবারে বলি এতো দুর্দান্ত অভিজ্ঞতার গল্পের বইকেও কেন তিন তারা দিলাম। মূল সমস্যাটা আসলে কী-ওয়ার্ড ও বর্ণনার ভঙ্গীমায়। ঘটনাটা এমনভাবে বর্ণিত হয়েছে যে ব্যাপারগুলো বুঝতে ট্রেকিং নিয়ে আপনার বেশ ভালো জ্ঞান রাখতে হবে। আর নয়তো জো এর বিপদ ও কষ্ট আপনি অনুমান করতে পারবেন কিন্তু গল্পের ভেতর অনুভব করতে পারবেন না।
A gripping account of the perilous descent down the Siula Grande, as told by one of the duo. Simpson’s stripped down prose style captures the immediacy and starkness of his situation. Not seen the documentary, but this book is first rate.