Thursday, 24 March 2011

Touching the Void

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

I used to read a lot of mountaineering accounts but that was before this one was published, and while I knew the story I had never actually read the book or seen the docu-drama that was later made. Bought this book in the little Waterstones in Aviemore when I was there last week, and decided to read it straight away while the memories of walking up mountains in deep snow were still fresh.

Warning - people of a nervous disposition should not read this book. It's a brilliantly written but harrowing story of survival against all the odds.

The author and fellow climber Simon Yates were descending a remote Andean peak after a difficult ascent, when Joe Simpson fell and badly broke his leg. They had miscalculated how long the climb would take and were already out of fuel for their stove and food, so despite the incoming storm they decided to try to continue descending. Simon lowered Joe, rope length by rope length, much of the way down the steep snow slope, until on the last lower, Joe went over an unseen ice cliff and was left dangling. After some time Simon found himself being pulled over, and realising the choice was between one death and two deaths, decided to cut the rope.

Joe fell, Simon assumed he'd be dead, especially when he saw the crevasse Joe had fallen into and continued the descent back to base camp. Joe amazingly landed on an ice bridge across the crevasse, still alive. With supreme mental strength he managed to get himself out of the crevasse then crawled and hopped his way for the next two days across the glacier, down the valley and back to base camp, arriving there close to death.

It's an incredible story. Both men showed enormous mental strength throughout. If you like real-life adventure then this is almost certainly one of the best ever. Joe is a brilliant writer. He's written several others which I think I will have to search out.

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