In 1985, two British mountaineers, Joe Simpson, and Simon Yates, set out to climb the nearly 21,000 foot Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They were successful in their ascent of the previously unclimbed West Face, however, disaster struck on the descent when Simpson slipped down an ice cliff, landing awkwardly and crushing his tibia into his knee joint, resulting in a broken right leg. Touching the Void is the 1988 account written by Simpson, whose powerful and well-written tale tells a story filled with adventure, survival, isolation, trust, and friendship.
Joe Simpson was born in 1960 in Kuala Lumpur in the Federation of Malaysia, where his father was stationed with the British Army. From an early age, he was fascinated with rock climbing. When he was 14, he read The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, which told the tale of the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger by Harrer and his team in 1938. The book also tells the story of Toni Kurz, a German mountaineer who, along with his comrades, tragically died attempting the North Face. Despite the objective dangers of mountaineering described in the book, the account sparked a passion for the mountains in the young Simpson.
In his mid-twenties, in 1985, Simpson and Yates made it their goal to climb the Siula Grande, a treacherous peak whose summit reaches almost 21,000 ft above sea level. The mountain is a part of the Waywash mountain range, which resides in the Andes of Peru.
Simply stated by Simpson, they climbed because it was fun. The freedom found by escaping civilization to strike out and conquer a wild peak like Siula Grande was second to none for these men. Simpson wrote in his diary, “It feels menacingly remote and exhilarating at the same time…no hordes of climbers, no helicopters, no rescue – just us and the mountains…” (pg. 5) and “We had responsibilities to no on but ourselves now, and there would be no one to intrude or come to our rescue…” (pg.8) They were wild and reckless, but that’s what they had to be to attempt to climb the West Face, which had never been attempted until Simpson and Yates. They took along with them a man named Richard Hawkins, a backpacker on a six-month trip around South America, who would stay at base camp to watch over the gear while the two climbers made their trek up and down the mountain. Both Simpson and Yates were experienced Alpinists and, although neither had faced altitudes above 18,000 feet before, they were confident of reaching the 20,854 feet summit by this new route. There plan was to climb in Alpine style, a self-sufficient manner of climbing that involved carrying all of their gear, food, shelter, etc, with them as they ascended the West Face. This is in contrast to an expedition style climb, where there are set camps along the route up that mountaineers can access at their leisure. Alpine style also means the refusal of fixed ropes, high-altitude porters, and the use of supplemental oxygen.
Suffice to say, it would be a challenging and...