by Joe Simpson
Jonathan Cape (Great Britain), 1988
If Touching the Void were fiction, it would stretch credulity to the breaking point. But the story Joe Simpson tells is true; it really happened, to him and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, during their ascent of 21,000-foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in June 1985. Shortly after reaching the summit, Simpson fell off an ice ledge, breaking his leg in the fall. Fortunately he was tethered to Yates by 300 feet of rope, but Yates struggled to lower him to safety as darkness fell and a fierce blizzard struck. Yates was eventually forced to cut the rope connecting him to Simpson, reasoning that if he didn’t, they were both certain to die.
For three days Simpson engaged in a superhuman struggle to extricate himself from a deep crevasse and grope his way over rugged terrain back to base camp, all while crippled and frostbitten. Meanwhile Yates had returned to base camp where he waited, tormented by guilt. As Joe Simpson is the author of Touching the Void, you may surmise that he survived, but how he did so will have you on the edge of your seat for hours. Equally as amazing as his survival is his forgiveness of Yates for cutting the rope and seemingly leaving him for dead.
Joe Simpson went on to further mountaineering exploits, as did Simon Yates. Yates later, in 1997, wrote a book of his own, Against the Wall, and in it we can see that some of the edge was gone for him from climbing, possibly as a result of his harrowing experience with Joe Simpson on Siula Grande.