"And then every now and then I get ambushed by really little things."- Joe Simpson, English mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker.Leo and I just saw "Touching the Void," a compelling documentary based on a successful but near-fatal climb in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. The events of "Touching the Void" have now become a part of mountaineering folklore. Knowing that both of the climbers survived is nothing compared to learning how they survived. Here are the highlights of the story:
Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, were undertaking the first ascent of the West Face of a peak in the Peruvian Andes, Siula Grande. On the ridge down, they encountered difficult terrain, Joe fell and broke his leg, the calf bone splitting his knee.The riveting documentary is an amazing portrait of the human psyche. The extras include interviews with Simpson and Yates returning to the mountain in 2002, during the filming of the documentary. Here is how Simpson characterized the déjà vu he experienced upon revisiting what should have been his final resting place:
Simon Yates took it upon himself to lower Joe down the vast majority of the mountain. However, despite Simon's single-handed rescue attempt, a turn of events left Joe hanging over a steep overhanging ice face in the middle of a building blizzard. Yates was trying to support him from a desperate bucket belay hollowed from the snow, uncertain what exactly had happened. After hanging on for over an hour, Yates reached a point where he had to make a choice: Be pulled from the mountain into the abyss and certain death, or cut the rope. Yates cut the rope holding his partner and Joe fell into a gaping crevasse below, landing unexpectedly on a snow bridge. After cutting the rope Simon proceeded down the mountain, passing the crevasse and assessing that Joe must have died from the fall.
Despite his significant injuries, Joe lowered himself further into the crevasse and managed to find a way out. Suffering from hypothermia and dehydration, he then still faced the enormous task of crossing a glacier unroped, and with a broken leg.
"Do you have any idea how bad it was? I don't think you do. I don't think you have the first idea.The documentary leaves me pondering how I might respond in the most desperate of circumstances and what I would do with a second chance like the one that Simpson got. I have a feeling that I'll be thinking about this for a while.
I died here. I lost everything I was, that I wanted to be.
And then I got it given back."