Joe Simpson (mountaineer)

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Joe Simpson
Joe Simpson - 2013.jpg
Simpson in 2013
Personal information
Born (1960-04-13) 13 April 1960 (age 62)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Joe Simpson (born 1960) is a British mountaineer, author, and motivational speaker. While climbing in Peru in 1985, he suffered severe injuries and was assumed dead by his climbing companion after falling into a crevasse, but he survived and managed to crawl back to his base camp. He described the ordeal in his 1988 book Touching the Void, which was adapted into a 2003 documentary film of the same name.

Early life[edit]

Simpson was born on 13 April 1960[1] to a Scottish father and an Irish mother, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,[2] where his father was stationed with the British Army. From the age of 8, Simpson travelled between schools in Britain and various countries where his father was stationed.[3] Simpson began rock climbing after being introduced to the sport at Peak Scar on the Hambleton Hills in north-eastern Yorkshire by a teacher at Ampleforth College.[4][5] He was 14 when he read The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, about the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger by Harrer with Anderl Heckmair, Fritz Kasparek, and Ludwig Vörg in 1938. Despite the inherent dangers of mountaineering described in the book, this reading sparked a passion for the mountains in Simpson.

Climbing career[edit]

In 1985, Simpson and climbing partner Simon Yates made a first ascent of the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande (6,344 m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash of the Peruvian Andes. On the descent, Simpson badly broke his right leg in a fall, rendering it unusable. Yates attempted to rescue Simpson by roping the pair together, with Yates lowering Simpson as far down the mountain as their rope would allow, before descending himself, and repeating the process. The pair managed to descend around 3,000ft (910m) using this method, and began to feel as though the situation was back under control. However, as weather conditions deteriorated and visibility diminished, Yates unknowingly lowered Simpson over the edge of a cliff. Simpson could not climb up the rope, and it was impossible for Yates to pull him up due to his own precarious position. After over an hour of the men being stuck in this situation, and with no way for the two to communicate, Yates cut the rope to avoid being pulled off the mountain himself, causing Simpson to plummet into a crevasse below. The next morning, Yates completed the descent, and after neither seeing nor hearing anything, he assumed Simpson to be dead so made his way back to camp. Simpson, however, survived the fall due to a ledge that stopped him falling to the bottom of the crevasse, and managed to find a way out. He crawled and climbed out, and then continued crawling for miles back to camp. The journey from crevasse to camp took him four days. After they returned to Britain, Yates received some criticism[by whom?] for having cut the rope, however Simpson has always defended his decision.[6]

Simpson published an article about the Siula Grande ordeal in the climbing press shortly afterwards,[7] and later wrote the best-selling book Touching the Void. The book has been translated into 23 languages and has sold almost two million copies worldwide.[8] Simpson wrote further about the Siula Grande expedition in his book This Game of Ghosts[9] as did Yates in his book Against the Wall.[10] A film based on the book was released in 2003. It takes the form of a docudrama with climbing sequences filmed in the European Alps and the Peruvian Andes together with interviews with Simpson, Yates and the third member of the expedition Richard Hawking (a non-climber).

Simpson underwent six surgical operations as a result of the leg injuries sustained on Siula Grande. The doctors told him he would never climb again and that he would have trouble walking for the rest of his life. After two years of rehabilitation, however, he returned to mountain climbing.

His later non-fiction books describe other expeditions and his changing feeling towards extreme mountaineering brought on by the many deaths that surround the pursuit. A bad fall broke Simpson's left ankle while climbing with Mal Duff in 1991 on Pachermo in Nepal, and is described in his third book This Game of Ghosts. Simpson also made six unsuccessful attempts on the North Face of the Eiger from 2000 to 2003 with his regular climbing partner Ray Delaney, all of which had to be aborted due to bad weather.[11] One of his books, The Beckoning Silence, was made into a documentary shown on Channel 4 in October 2007.[12] The book won the 2003 National Outdoor Book Award (Outdoor Literature category).


In 2016 Simpson alongside explorer Ed Stafford made Burma's Secret Jungle War with Joe Simpson a two part documentary on BBC Two which retraced the steps of Simpson's father, who as a member of the special forces, served with the Chindits fighting a guerrilla war behind Japanese lines in 1944 during the second world war. [13] He also participated in the documentary The Making of Touching the Void in 2003.


Except as noted, all works are non-fiction.

  • Touching the Void (Jonathan Cape), 1988
  • The Water People (fiction) (Jonathan Cape), 1992
  • This Game of Ghosts (Jonathan Cape), 1993
  • Storms of Silence (Jonathan Cape), 1996
  • Dark Shadows Falling (Jonathan Cape), 1996
  • The Beckoning Silence (Jonathan Cape), 2001
  • The Sound of Gravity (fiction) (Jonathan Cape), 2011
  • Walking the Wrong Side of the Grass (fiction) (, 2018

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Desert Island Discs – Castaway : Joe Simpson". BBC. 19 September 2004. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  3. ^ This Game of Ghosts, p. 27.
  4. ^ Joe SimpsonArchived 19 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine Times Educational Supplement, 27 May 2005. Retrieved 18 March 2012.
  5. ^ Simpson J., This Game of Ghosts (Jonathan Cape), 1993
  6. ^ Simon Yates Archived 8 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine Geographical, March 2006. Retrieved 18 March 2012.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Out on a limb" High, Issue 35, October 1985.
  8. ^ Escaping the Void Archived 8 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine Trail, January 2012.
  9. ^ Simpson, J. This Game of Ghosts (Jonathan Cape), 1993
  10. ^ Yates, S. Against the Wall (Jonathan Cape), 1997
  11. ^ Simpson, Joe (22 October 2007). "Joe Simpson: My Journey Back into the Void". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  12. ^ "Joe Simpson: My journey back into the void". The Daily Telegraph. London. 22 October 2007. Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 3 February 2008.
  13. ^ "Burma's Secret Jungle War with Joe Simpson". Retrieved 10 October 2020.

External links[edit]