Touching the Void
Touching the Void is a 1988 book by Joe Simpson, recounting his and Simon Yates' successful but disastrous and nearly fatal climb of the 6,344-metre (20,813 foot) Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.
In 2003, fifteen years after it was first published, the book was turned into a documentary film of the same name, directed by Kevin MacDonald. The film won the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 2003 BAFTA Awards  and was featured at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.
In 1985, Yates and Simpson attempted a first-ascent of the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in alpine style. Several teams had previously tried and failed to climb this face. Yates and Simpson were successful in their attempt, and after summiting they descended via the difficult North Ridge. Disaster struck on the descent when Simpson slipped down an ice cliff and landed awkwardly, smashing his tibia into his knee joint, thus breaking his right leg. The pair, whose trip had already taken longer than they intended because of bad weather on the ascent, had run out of fuel for their stove and could not melt ice and snow for drinking water. With bad weather closing in and daylight fading, they needed to descend quickly to the glacier, about 3,000 feet below.
Yates proceeded to lower Simpson off the North Ridge by tying two 150-foot lengths of rope together to make one longer 300-foot rope. However, because the two ropes were tied together, the knot couldn't go through the belay plate. Simpson would have to stand on his good (left) leg to give Yates enough slack to unclip the rope, in order to thread the rope back through the lowering device with the knot on the other side. With storm conditions worsening and darkness upon them, Yates inadvertently lowered Simpson off a cliff. Because Yates was sitting higher up the mountain, he could not see or hear Simpson; he could only feel that Simpson had all his weight on the rope. Simpson attempted to ascend the rope using a Prusik knot. However, because his hands were badly frost-bitten, he was unable to tie the knots properly and accidentally dropped one of the cords required to ascend the rope.
The pair were stuck in a very bad situation. Simpson could not climb up the rope, Yates could not pull him back up, and the cliff was too high for Simpson to be lowered down. They remained in this position for some time, until it was obvious that the snow around Yates' belay seat was about to give out. Because the pair were tied together, they would both be pulled to their deaths. Yates made the decision to cut the rope in order to save his own life. Ironically, doing so may very well have saved Simpson's life as well, as he would have died of exposure if he had been left to hang in the strong freezing wind for much longer.
When Yates cut the rope, Simpson plummeted down the cliff and into a deep crevasse. Exhausted and suffering from hypothermia, Yates dug himself a snow cave to wait out the storm. The next day, Yates carried on descending the mountain by himself. When he reached the crevasse he realized the situation that Simpson had been in and what had happened when he cut the rope. After calling for Simpson and hearing no reply, Yates made the assumption that Simpson had died and so continued down the mountain alone.
Simpson, however, was still alive. He had survived the 150-foot fall despite his broken leg and had landed on a small ledge inside the crevasse. When Simpson regained consciousness, he discovered that the rope had been cut and realized that Yates would presume that he was dead. He therefore had to save himself. It was impossible for Simpson to climb up to the entrance of the crevasse (because of the overhanging ice and his broken leg). Therefore his only choice was to lower himself deeper into the crevasse and hope that there was another way out. After lowering himself, Simpson found another small entrance and climbed back onto the glacier via a steep snow slope.
From there, Simpson spent three days without food and with almost no water, crawling and hopping five miles back to their base camp. This involved negotiating the glacier (which was scattered with more crevasses) and the moraines below. Exhausted and almost completely delirious, he reached the base camp only a few hours before Yates intended to return to civilization.
- The Boardman Tasker Prize. Boardmantasker.com. Retrieved on 2012-06-23.
- Orange British Academy Film Awards. BAFTA. Retrieved on 2012-06-23.
- JOE SIMPSON: Touching the Void. Wolfman Productions. Retrieved on 2012-06-23.
- Mountaineering: The Making of Touching the Void | Mountaineering. OutsideOnline.com. Retrieved on 2012-06-23.