When under extreme pressure when one action means the difference between life or death, people have been known to do things they never thought possible. People have lifted cars, gone without food for over a month, and even cut off their own limbs to survive.
One mountain climber pushed his body to the limits trying to save his injured partner. However, when they were both facing certain death, he made a split-second decision that he never thought he possibly could…
In 1985, mountain climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates met in Chamonix in the French Alps. They were with a group of other climbers in their 20’s on a climbing trip but instantly got along. When the summer came to an end, the 25 and 21-year-old couldn’t wait to start their next climbing trip.
Joe and Simon dreamed of climbing bigger, more difficult mountains, so the following winter, the two moved back to their native England to work and save up enough money for their next trip. When the winter was over, they had enough for a trip to the Peruvian Andes…
The pair planned to climb the West Face of Siula Grande to the summit, which had never been climbed at the time. Joe and Simon were both experienced climbers, but they had never done anything as ambitious, or as deadly.
“We were experienced climbers, but we’d never been to that altitude before: Siula Grande is 6,356m high, just under 21,000ft. We knew that we’d be doing a serious route and that a lot of people had failed it. We also knew that if anything went wrong there was no chance of anyone coming to rescue us,” Joe said…
Arriving In Peru
Yet the challenge and the risk are what made Joe and Simon want to attempt such an undertaking in the first place. In 1985, the pair arrived in Peru and made their way to base camp. The next morning, the pair left the camp and never looked back.
Reaching The Summit
After 2.5 days, Joe and Simon accomplished something that had never been done before. They had successfully climbed to the summit of Siula Grande. However, they were both frost-bitten and completely exhausted from the climb…
No Time To Celebrate
However, there wasn’t much time to celebrate since Siula Grande is known for being just as difficult to climb down as it is to climb up. With half the day already gone, Joe and Simon took a few pictures and then immediately started their descent.
The two climbed as far down the mountain as their bodies could manage before the sun went down. Once it was dark out, it was too dangerous to continue so they found shelter in a snow-hole, where they spent the night resting before another big day of climbing…
The next day, Joe and Simon got an early start, but the descent was challenging and progress was slow since their bodies were already exhausted. However, at about 6,000 meters, or just under 19,700 feet, the worst thing possible happened.
Joe slipped and fell and was left with a broken leg. The pain was bad but the realization of what that meant for Joe was infinitely worse. “When the realization that the impact had broken my leg sank in, I looked around and thought, “I’m dead.” I was at 6,000m and I couldn’t think how we could get out; a mountain rescue team needs eight or 10 men to get someone with a broken leg off a mountain,” Joe said…
Life Or Death
When Simon caught up and saw what had happened, it dawned on him that Joe’s life was in his hands. Instead of leaving Joe behind to try and get help in time, Simon chose to stay and risk his own life in order to try and save his climbing partner.
The Only Way Down
Simon gave Joe some paracetamol to help with the pain and then began lowering him down the mountain on a 300-foot rope. When Simon got to the end of the rope, he climbed down to his partner and started the exhausting process all over again…
Simon and Joe managed to descend 3,000 feet down the mountain like this and when it got dark, they could see they were close to the glacier and decided to keep going since they knew they’d be able to find shelter there for the rest of the night.
One Wrong Move
“Had it been daylight, we’d have seen that there was a sheer cliff of ice directly in our path – which could have been avoided – but in the blackness Simon inadvertently lowered me over the edge,” Joe explained. “Instead of being able to support my own weight to some degree on a mountainside, I was now dangling in space with my full weight on the rope. Simon couldn’t support the strain and I was dragging him down with me…”
Cutting The Rope
The two climbers were sliding towards their deaths and there was no way Simon could save Joe. The only thing Simon could do to prevent them both from dying, was to cut the rope connecting him to Simon. The fall would kill his partner, but Joe had no other choice.
State Of Shock
Simon was in a state of shock after what he had done so he made a shelter for the night. When he woke up, he saw the massive crevasse Joe had fallen down. He called out for Joe, but there was no answer and Simon was sure Joe couldn’t have survived the fall. There was nothing else he could do, so Simon headed back to base camp…
Meanwhile, Joe was actually still alive. He miraculously landed on a ledge and carefully made his way down to the glacier. Normally, it would have taken him a few hours to get back to base camp from there, but Joe was forced to drag himself on the ground. For the next four days, Joe went without food or water as he slowly dragged himself to base camp. Joe finally made it back just a few hours before Simon was going to pack up and leave.
From there the pair made their way back to England. “He knew logically that he did the only thing possible, but guilt is not logical,” Joe said about Simon. “He actually said to me, ‘Jesus, if I’d just walked back for a couple of hours I’d have found you.’ And I remember saying to him, ‘Why would you do that? I was dead.'” Once Joe was home, he underwent six surgeries to fix his broken leg but doctors told him he would never be able to walk again…
Touching The Void
Yet Joe refused to listen to the doctors, and 5 years later, he wasn’t just walking but was back climbing Ama Dablam in Nepal. After the accident, Joe also wrote Touching The Void, a book about his experience on Siula Grande that went on to become a best-seller all over the world.
Friends For Life
Today Joe and Simon are still friends and believe they always will be. “It’s odd that people imagine I think badly of Simon for cutting the rope. There’s a pragmatic side to mountaineering which armchair climbers and the public do not understand. After I landed in the crevasse I did feel angry, but at the circumstances, not with Simon. I felt no resentment towards him whatsoever. It would have been totally illogical for Simon to die with me. In fact, because of his decision to cut the rope, we both lived,” Joe added.