Touching the Void

9:55 a.m. on December 16, 2013 (EST)
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Just watched Touching the void last night, was quite an interesting Docudrama.



The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

1:53 p.m. on December 16, 2013 (EST)
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That's a good. Of course, the real perils were on the way down...

Now look for North Face (a.k.a. Nordwand=, a reenactment of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, very well done.

2:19 p.m. on December 16, 2013 (EST)
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Actually just picked that one up as well and planned on watching it sometime this week

2:58 p.m. on December 16, 2013 (EST)
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Yates and Simpson are still climbing, though it took a long time for Simpson's broken leg to heal.

When they were descending, Yates was lowering Simpson on their two ropes (50 m each) tied together. The techniques for passing knots were not as well known then (1985) as now. So when the knot was reached, Simpson would have to stand on his good leg to allow Yates to remove the rope from the Sticht plate and rethread it. But Yates lowered Simpson over the lip of a cliff. They couldn't communicate because of the storm they were in and Simpson's hands were frozen so he couldn't prussick back up. Yates was left with the choice of cutting Simpson loose or both of them falling to their deaths. He decided after after much emotional agony to cut the rope. After resting the rest of the night, Simpson worked his way down to the lip of the cliff and believed that Yates had died (he had actually fallen some distance, landing on a snow bridge over a crevasse which cushioned his fall, then into the crevasse to land on a ledge). Simpson worked his way around the cliff and found no sign of Yates, then returned to their base camp (another member of their team had stayed there and not done the climb). Yates managed to get out of the crevasse on a sloping ledge and crawled for several days back to camp.

The theme of cutting the rope also appears in the absurd "Vertical Limit", which can only be recommended as a comedy (if you watch it, note carefully the trajectory followed by the "hero" as he leaps across a huge chasm and perfectly sticks both his ice tools and both his crampons in the wall that is a gazillion feet away).

The technique of passing knots is one of the many emergency skills I cover in my climbing instructor course, and is a skill I have actually used on a number of occasions.

The 2014 Peruvian expedition of the American Climber Science Program will be going to the Cordillera Huayhuash, where Siula Grande is located. I will be on that expedition, though I do not know is Siula Grande will be on the climb list. The information I have is that the Yates-Simpson route has not been repeated (there are other, easier routes on the mountain).

5:39 p.m. on December 16, 2013 (EST)
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Cool trip Bill, don't forget the pen-knife!

8:22 a.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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Simpson’s self-rescue is up there (sic) with the All Time Feats of perseverance and effort.  We once considered a climb in the Cordillera Huayhuash area, but opted for a different project, which had its own storm related debacle; ultimately forcing us down the mountain, with all trading a small fortune in equipment left behind, the price paid for getting off the rock with our lives.  Once safely down, those in our group still capable were compelled to assist rescuing other parties requiring assistance.  Ultimately a number of climbers trapped by that storm lost portions of their frozen digits, including two members of our own climbing party.  It was far away the worst misadventure I ever experienced, and left me in a funk that took months to climb out of.  That climb was the last extreme level mountaineering challenge I participated in, such was its impact on my psyche. 

In our instance a freak, unseasonable, storm roared in, pinning us down in a camp we were in the act of provisioning.  Eventually we exhausted the food at hand, and became chilled.  Our evacuation was forced, and like the Simpson/Yates descent, occurred in the midst of the storm.  Bill touches on the difficulty of down climbing with frost damaged climbers in a party – it is way more difficult than his words allude.  We were a six man team, and had double the able bodied climbers as there were injured climbers.  We were fortunate to down climb the same route we originally ascended.  Both these factors were to our favor.  Regardless the storm and large scale, steep, terrain, and our depleted condition caused by days tent bound riding out the storm, all pushed us to our limits, perhaps a little beyond that too.  I dread to consider the challenge Yates and Simpson faced, one with a broken femur, as they down climbed an unfamiliar (and never before attempted) route, in the midst of a raging storm, from considerably higher elevation than we ever reached on our attempt.

Simpson’s self rescue from the crevasse (actually their description of events leads me to believe the so-called crevasse was actually the bergschrund of the glacier) defies imagination.  Had Yates managed to successfully get Simpson back to base camp, that would have been an epic rescue in its own right.  The distance from the crevasse to base camp involved a very steep descent over ice, was miles long as the crow flies but more than double that as walked, since there were many crevasses to skirt along the route, making for anything but a direct path to safety.  The route also had to cover several miles of boulder fields and talus that spanned the distance between the tongue of the glacier and their base camp.  This would be very trying conditions for a team to transport an injured climber.  It is a testament to Simpson’s will he navigated this gauntlet by himself, given his severe injuries.

Joe Simpson’s tale of survival has several eerie parallels to another amazing, mountaineering tale: the 1936 Hinterstoisser party’s attempted first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger.  All four members of this climb lost their lives up on the Nordwand, but it is the struggles of one member of the party, Toni Kurz, and his attempt to survive that stand out.  The Wikipedia account of this incident provides some insights to the drama that unfolded on the Eiger, back then, regardless it contains several discrepancies from several accounts dating from the period, most notably including that of Heinrich Harrier, member of the 1938 team that accomplished the first ascent of the Nordwand.  Harrier relates the events of the ill fagted 1936 Eiger climb In his mountaineering clasic, The White Spider (1959).  In both instances Simpson and Kurz displayed superhuman-like strength and will to survive.  It should also be noted that the weather, frozen hands and the inability for both climbers to pass a knotted rope through their belay devices all played a critical role in the outcome of their respective tales.  If you liked reading Into the Void or the namesake movie, you should also enjoy reading The White Spider.


9:32 a.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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Touching the void and North Face are both AMAZING stories. The limits of the human body are great when the spirit within is willing to overcome pain to survive. I haven't the skills to do any of this stuff. I was watching the last leg of the amazing race last week and they had the contestants on what appeared to be a little ice axe training course on a glacier in Alaska. These people NEVER used a crampon or an ice axe. Didn't even know the names of the gear pieces they were in. They had to repel down the wall, cross an aluminum ladder and climb the wall on the other side. It was hard to tell, but the incline had to be really mild....sort of maybe a 5.7ish sort of thing. But not ONE of them had the straps of the ice axes over their wrists and as a result, one lost an axe. Her husband kept telling her to "swing the pic at the ice". It was a recipe for disaster and quite frankly, I am surprised she didn't fall when she was crossing the ladder by trying to walk on the ladder rail instead of placing each boot on the rung at her arch to avoid the sharp cleats on her crampons. I say this just to juxtapose the average person's abilities on ice and snow. Not the average hiker, the average person. The importance of training, learning and understanding your limits will go a long way should things get dicey. Bill is good to point out that looking back at things from 85 it is important to refer to the actual perspective of THAT time and not view it from the skills/knowledge/gear of today.

Can I just add that it is PURE enjoyment getting to read an interesting thread with posts from both BillS and Ed within it! Two of my faves at the written word!

1:00 p.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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My backpacking buddy John Quillen just returned from a harrowing Broad Peak expedition with similar results.  See below links---

2:11 p.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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WOW! I have read all the things from above but this will be a new read! Thanks Tipi!

3:18 p.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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I'll never be a mountain climber, but I'm drawn to stories like these.

4:12 p.m. on December 17, 2013 (EST)
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G00SE said:

I'll never be a mountain climber, but I'm drawn to stories like these.

 Agree.  I've been thru all the literature but can only read this stuff on winter backpacking trips cuz I like to see other outdoorsmen have epics as their travails make my little slice of paradise easy in comparison. 

Am I squirming in a tent at -10F during a blizzard??  Well, there are guys dying on Denali or K2 or Broad Peak or wherever, so what exactly is my problem?

10:50 a.m. on December 18, 2013 (EST)
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Other epic tales of survival include Herman Buhl's solo ascent of Nanga Parbat, where before and after photos of Buhl show the endurance required to make the climb. As well, the disaster on the Central Pillar of Fresnay in 1961 is worth noting. Only two survivors out of seven; Walter Bonatti and Pierre Mazeaud.

6:47 p.m. on December 18, 2013 (EST)
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I was brought back to a reality when I read High Crimes. The thought that people actually commit crimes during all of this adventure left me gob-smacked. The thought had simply NEVER occurred to me. Sherpa's robbing climbers, O2 scandals, tent raiding.......

5:47 p.m. on December 19, 2013 (EST)
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Just finished exams and have time to read books! By pure coincidence, I started with Touching the Void. Read it in a day, that'll happen when the story puts you in emergency mode almost from the first page.

One thing I noticed: as in many other first-person survival accounts I've read, Joe often mentions 'the voice' that keeps him going. He's hallucinating, exhausted, semi-conscious, actually dying, but 'the voice' won't let him quit. He talks about it as if it's external to him, he even gets angry at it. Interesting phenomenon. Maybe it's the relative power of that 'voice' that determines the survivors, more than any physical strength or ability?

Also, my edition is fairly recent (long after the movie release) and has added epilogue material. Joe and Simon now believe that the key mistake leading to the whole ordeal was the moment when they decided not to take an extra gas canister. Once bad weather delayed them, the gas ran out. No more water. This made them hurry.

All that, for a gas canister.

6:42 p.m. on December 19, 2013 (EST)
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The voice. For some it is a simple evolutionary survival mechanism of the mind. For other's it is God. Still others believe it to be their own internal wrestling, not unlike "should I take that last cookie?" ... only far more important. Whatever it is, if you don't hear and/or heed it.....your screwed.

11:56 a.m. on December 20, 2013 (EST)
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Islandess, accidents are often a cascade of mistakes that may start with only one thing. The voice for me has often saved my life. Call it what you will, a sixth sense, instinct, the ability to listen to it over emotion or pure reason is an important tool to survival. 

Only once or twice have I ignored the voice. One time, in 2010, my son and I flipped our canoe on Oregon's Rogue River in a place where a several people have died in recent years. The cascade of events began two months before, when the wood and canvas canoe we were offered to make a reenactment of the first canoe descent of the Rogue, went away. We scrambled and found a much smaller canoe which we filled at every drop. When we came to Mule Creek Canyon, we were supposed to stop, but several of the team members who knew the route, had gone ahead because they were short on time. This was despite my insistence that my son and I would be moving more slowly and wanted adequate time without rushing. Not knowing the route, we ended up in the canyon with no way to portage. Near the head of the canyon, we stopped and picked a line. But a strong eddy line caught us and a mistaken draw by my son, and a weak brace by me put us in the water. My son was rescued fairly quickly, but I ended up being pulled under twice in an area known as the Coffee Pot. Throw ropes to me fell short. In the end, I self rescued, my heart racing, and coughing up water. Still had my paddle, though!

Ultimately, it all began with the canoe. A bigger boat would have allowed us to take a line further away from the eddy line. But the cascade included a team that was rushing, a bad draw, and weak brace, and continued into poor rope throws.

12:03 a.m. on December 28, 2013 (EST)
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There are voices, and then there are voices. 

Elite athletes will hear a voice urging them to dig deeper.  But we are not talking about the cheer leader/coach voice we all conjure to make it to the top of the hill.  The “voice” comes from deeper and asks for more.  It breaks records.  It will also find the energy to get you out of danger, provided you have any left to summon.  And then there is another voice that occurs when you are in abject peril.  This voice gets you out of traffic lanes after you get struck.  It makes you crawl and scratch your way back to camp and safety on frozen limbs.  This voice is deeper than the other two.  Sometimes this voice will betray you, however; sometime this voice will calm the distress individual, inviting them to accept their possible impending demise.  It will argue with itself, one moment saying you have to get moving, then the next moment consoling you that it won’t hurt if you let go.  (At this point pray you can still hear the cheer leader/coach voice screaming “like Hell it won’t hurt it’s going to leave a long lasting mark!”) 

The sirens are another voice altogether.  They are like those apparition visual special effects from the movie, Ghost.  This voice seems as if it comes from outside of you, rather than deep inside.  Indeed, but the sirens are from within; they only seem external because you are having an out of body experience, and the siren is emanating from your disembodied self.  Consider the time you got too much air on your mountain bike, and in mid crash envisioned your dilemma as if from a third person perspective.  The sirens described it to you.  Sirens don’t compel, provide inspiration or calm your worries.  They are heard when time stands still, like mid air on the way to a not so controlled landing,  They are there between the micro seconds; you can hear them if you dare pause your thoughts – or it is a really big fall giving you time to ponder the sirens.  And they are there, singing from between the teeth of that epic gale that seeks to shred your tent.  If you hear the sirens, though, it usually is not a good sign, as you have lost focus and will botch that landing, or you have done everything possible leaving you to wait and ponder your fate as you fall out of the sky in slow motion.


10:01 a.m. on December 30, 2013 (EST)
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I have been watching Extreme Alaska. It is three episodes in so far....four teams engaging in absolute extreme 60 hour expeditions. There is a team of endurance athletes, military, mountaineers and woodsman. SOOO interesting to see how they each work out similar obstacles. Also interesting to see how they assess risk and make decisions...some not so great. Like the mountaineer team catching a 200lb halibut and wrestling it into the canoe only to nearly overturn..solution? SHOOT THE FISH....and the boat.....and on and on. Very fun to see the taxing of the minds and bodies as they push themselves in extreme conditions. There are 11 legs.

7:08 p.m. on January 2, 2014 (EST)
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Snow in the Kingdom by Ed Webster is a great book as well as The Climb Up to Hell by Jack Olsen. Both are what currently caused me to be in the beginning stages of mountaineering.

2:29 a.m. on January 6, 2014 (EST)
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As long as we are mentioning books about climbing, "Deborah, A Wilderness Narrative" is a good read. As well, ANYTHING by Bill Tilman is good. If you can get a copy of Gaston Rebuffat's "Starlight and Storm" it is one of the more poetic books on climbing.

9:31 a.m. on January 7, 2014 (EST)
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AND..I received a DVD of Hilary's 1953 ascent of Everest. I am AMAZED at the coverage in that  given the size and weight of cameras being hoisted up the mountain. It goes into gear development and everything. Well worth the watch!

8:55 a.m. on January 9, 2014 (EST)
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"Touching the Void" is in contention for my favorite outdoor book of all time.

I was pleased to find that I enjoyed the movie version too.

1:22 p.m. on January 14, 2014 (EST)
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Has anyone watched the show DUDE YOU'RE SCREWED? I gotta say, I have learned a lot of tricks I would not know if I were in the wilderness without my stuff! It is pretty interesting!

February 22, 2020
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