Book Review - Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson
Even though I've never (and will never) climbed a snow covered mountain, I find myself drawn to books that chronicle man's attempt to survive climbing disasters. A friend recommended I read Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson, one of the first books of that type. It was a riveting read, with the story being written and told in the first person by the survivor of a accident that should have killed him. What he did to survive was nothing short of amazing.
Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, decided to make an ascent on Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. At 21000 feet, this was no small mountain, but they traveled light, with only one additional person to keep watch on the camp while they made the climb. What should have been a three day ascent turned into a nightmare when Simpson fell and broke his leg while on the descent. Given the large number of crevasses and cliffs, his odds of making it down were slim, but Yates did what he could to get them both down. During a maneuver in the midst of a storm, Simpson went over a cliff and had no way to communicate that to his partner who was on the other end of the rope. Yates was unaware of the specific details of Simpson's predicament, but he knew he couldn't continue to support the weight of them both forever. As he slowly lost his leverage, he had to make a decision... continue holding on and they would both fall and die, or cut the rope and send Simpson to an almost certain death. He made the right decision by climbing standards and cut the rope, and then started his own painful and haunted descent back to base camp.
Once the rope was cut, Simpson plummeted to the snow field below, landing on his back briefly before the landing spot collapsed into a crevasse and he fell again. That should have killed him, especially given the state of his leg and knee. But amazingly he survived that fall with no additional injuries, and then started a slow, painful journey to base camp. He did this with no food, water, or shelter, and only had a single leg to rely upon, as his other leg was now nothing but a useless appendage full of pain. By crawling, hopping, and sliding over a number of days, he was able to arrive back in camp, nearly dead and the day before they were going to pack up and head back to Lima.
What struck me most about Touching the Void was how the will to survive can push us beyond limits that most of us couldn't even begin to imagine. Simpson does an excellent job in capturing the mental and physical pain he endured, and it was hard not to be affected by his writing. This book should definitely be on the reading list of anyone who climbs or is fascinated by men facing the limits of physical endurance and pushing through them.
Obtained From: Library