In 1985, Joe Simpson and his partner Simon Yates made a first-ascent of the previously unclimbed West Face of the 6,344 meter high Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. On the descent, Simpson broke his leg and during the subsequent self-rescue in storm, the two became separated. Joe Simson, who later became a great motivational speaker and writer, wrote of his experience in ‘Touching the Void’, a much read book.
In his book he narrates how he could live to tell the world one of the best live motivational stories ever. Early in the descent, Simpson fell and smashed his right knee. Yates could have abandoned him but managed to find a way of lowering him down the mountain in a series of difficult drops blinded by snow and cold. Then Simpson fell into a crevasse and Yates eventually had no choice but to cut the rope, utterly convinced that his friend was now dead. The survival of Yates himself was extraordinary. Joe Simpson wrote: "As I gazed at the distant moraines, I knew that I must at least try. I would probably die out there amid those boulders. The thought didn't alarm me. It seemed reasonable, matter-of-fact. That was how it was. I could aim for something. If I died, well, that wasn't so surprising, but I wouldn't have just waited for it to happen. The horror of dying no longer affected me as it had in the crevasse. I now had the chance to confront it and struggle against it. It wasn't a bleak dark terror any more, just fact, like my broken leg and frostbitten fingers, and I couldn't be afraid of things like that. My leg would hurt when I fell and when I couldn't get up I would die." That Simpson somehow found a way of climbing out of the crevasse after 12 hours and then literally crawled and dragged himself six miles back to camp, going three days and nights without food or drink, losing three stone, and contracting ketoacidosis in the process, would be the stuff of heroic fiction if it was not so true. Indeed, six operations and two years later, he was even back climbing.
If Simpson could once again come back to life, it is all because, against all the odds, he tried. At a time only a small fall is necessary to carve away all our hopes, this Simpson story is outstanding; it tells us ‘don’t be lost, always there is chance for a try’.