Touching The Void: The Harrowing First-Person Account Of One Man’s Miraculous Survival – Joe Simpson
Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death.
The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to basecamp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall but, crippled, starving, and severely frostbitten, was trapped in a deep crevasse. Summoning vast reserves of physical and spiritual strength, Simpson hopped, hobbled, and crawled over the cliffs and canyons of the Andes, reaching the base hours before Yates had planned to break camp.
Review: “Miraculous survival” is right. Damn, dude. There’s no way I could have done what Joe Simpson did. I would’ve curled up in the snow and died.
This book has fewer than 200 pages, but it’s a powerful story about the will to survive. The author, Joe Simpson, is a mountain climber. In 1986, he was climbing a mountain in the Andes when everything went wrong. First, he fell off a cliff and broke his leg. Then it started snowing. Then it got dark. Joe’s climbing partner, Simon, attempted to lower him down the mountain using ropes, but that just got both climbers into deadly trouble. To save his own life, Simon was forced to cut the rope and let Joe fall into a deep crevasse. Simon thought Joe was dead. He wasn’t. Joe spent the next three days crawling back to basecamp. Alone.
Joe’s journey down the mountain is fascinating, but he’s not a great writer. I had a hard time getting into the story. The beginning of the book reads like a bad how-to manual for mountain climbing. There’s not much introspection or explanation of why the author is climbing this random mountain in Peru. The first half of the book is basically, “We did this, then this, then this.” Since I don’t know about mountain climbing, I had a hard time picturing what was happening. The diagrams and glossary weren’t adequate for me. I’m clueless and need lots of explanation.
This is going to sound awful, but the book gets a lot better once Joe starts dying. The pacing slows down, and the story becomes more relatable. It’s no longer about getting to the top of a mountain. It’s about how a person finds the strength inside himself to do something that seems impossible. The writing is melodramatic at times, but the plot is harrowing. I had no idea how Joe was going to survive. Life kept getting worse for him, and he kept coming up with new ways to deal with it.
It was easy for me to root for both Simon and Joe. This experience was painful for them. Joe spent three days dragging his broken leg through the mountains. Simon had to make the decision to cut the rope and let Joe fall. Then he had to spend three days believing he’d killed his friend. I felt bad for both of them. Simon was so close to rescuing Joe when everything went wrong.
“He was still grinning, and his confidence was infectious. Who said one man can't rescue another, I thought. We had changed from climbing to rescue, and the partnership had worked just as effectively. We hadn't dwelt on the accident. There had been an element of uncertainty at first, but as soon as we had started to act positively everything had come together.” – Touching the Void
If you’re a writing snob (like me), then you might struggle with this book a bit. The writing isn’t the best. I was able to overlook the writing because the story is so compelling. If you love real-life survival books, then this is a must-read.