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Touching the Void By Joe Simpson (HarperCollins)

Last update - Thursday, August 1, 2013, 12:26 By Murad Karim

Touching the Void is an account of one fateful day on a mountainside in 1985. 

Joe Simpson tells his story of what happened when he and his best friend and climbing partner, Simon Yates, managed to climb the summit of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. This peak is more than 6km high, and its almost vertical west face is considered virtually impossible to climb. 

Simpson doesn’t write much about the ascent – it’s on the descent where disaster struck. The pair’s climb had taken longer than expected due to bad weather, so their timeframe for getting off the mountain was now reduced. What’s more, they had already run out of fuel for their stove, which they needed to melt the ice for drinking water, and their base camp was some 3km below. 

In their haste to descend to safety, Simpson slipped down an ice cliff and broke his knee. Now Yates had to help his friend – and as it happens in these adventures, one cannot leave their partners to die, either in the cold, in the jungle or in sea.

Yates was now helping Simpson along, and they had to be careful as the latter had only one good leg. That’s when the next disaster struck. 

As Yates was lowering Simpson over a 100ft over-hanging cliff, they were out of sight of each other, and Simpson was left dangling in mid-air. Though Yates couldn’t see his friend, he felt that he was being pulled down slowly by Simpson’s weight. He held for an hour and came to a conclusion that both of them could die if he kept taking the strain, so he cut the rope linking them together, and Simpson fell into a crevasse.

The next morning, Yates descended the mountain and found the crevasse where his friend Simpson had fallen, and thought for certain that Simpson must have died. Alone, he continued on to the base camp.

But Simpson had survived the fall, despite the height and his condition. He had fallen on soft ice on an ice bridge. When he returned to his senses, he examined the rope and saw that the end was cut. He then managed to abseil to the bottom of the crevasse and spent three days, without food or water, crawling and hopping for five miles back to base camp. Yates had stayed at the camp, hoping against all hopes that his friend might just make it alive. Then only a few hours before he was to leave, his wish came true.

Touching the Void is an amazing story of the human survival instinct and the will to live. It’s a story of courage, of friendship, of suffering and fear, and is very nicely written, too. You might also know it from the documentary based on the book, and controversy in the climbing community about Yates’ actions in cutting the rope.


When I read the book I was so enthralled I didn’t want to put it down – the very definition of a page-turner. I recommend this book to anyone who loves adventures or climbing, or is just a bookworm like me.

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