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Left For Dead
An incredible story of human survival against the odds .
Technical mountaineering terms go unexplained (no glossary) .
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Joe Simpson is an experienced mountaineer, and a Greenpeace activist. In June 1985, along with his climbing partner Simon Yates, he reached the 21,000ft summit of the Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes, via the previously unclimbed West Face.
This is the story of their unforgettable expedition.
The ascent itself is tricky enough - at one point they are hit by a rock-fall which brings back bad memories for Joe of a previous climb in the Alps when a rock face gave way and left him hanging helplessly for twelve hours beore he could be airlifted to safety. They take three days to reach the summit, their strength sapped by the "grinding need to concentrate al the time."
But disaster strikes as they start their descent...
Joe falls and badly breaks a knee while still 19,000ft up - "I knew I was done for" he says. At the same time, Simon was thinking: "You're fucked, matey. You're dead ... He knew the score as well as I did." When Joe, painfully, tries to move, Simon, suffering from frost-bite himself, admits: "In a way I hoped he would fall. I knew I couldn't leave him while he was fighting for it, but I had no idea how I might help him."
Heroically, Simon finds a way to lower Joe on a rope, 300ft at a time, then abseiling down to him. A very dangerous procedure they repeat nine times before it goes horribly wrong. By this time it's snowing and night has fallen, and in the dark Joe is left dangling over the edge of a precipice, unable to anchor himself to anything and take his weight off the rope, leaving them both stuck. They stay like this for over an hour until Simon, slipping, and his strength waning, has to cut the rope to save himself...
Simon had no way of knowing what had happened to Joe, until the next day when he finds the precipice and realizes that Joe has fallen 100 feet down an ice-cliff into a crevasse. He makes his way back to camp wracked by feelings of guilt, mixed with the elation of survival, certain that Joe has been killed.
Amazingly, Joe survived the fall with no further injury, and lived to tell of the excruciating way he managed to clamber out of the crevasse, and how, by a combination of painfully slow hopping and crawling he managed, over the course of three days to drag himself back to the camp. Following Simon's footsteps, and staving off dehydration by eating snow, he makes it back just hours before Simon and Richard (a friend who was looking after their campsite) were planning to leave.
A well-written and compelling account of an incredible feat of survival, I'm told that this book spawned a raft of mountaineering adventure books. The one question I suspect they can never answer is: why do they do it?
I found the constant precariousness of their position nerve-wracking enough to read in the safety of a comfortable, centrally-heated, home - it seems beyond belief that Joe, following nine operations, and suffering arthritis in his damaged knee, tried to go mountaineering again.
There is now a film of Touching The Void for those who are too lazy to read.
Have just ordered this and the dvd from Amazon. Great review
teacherofhooch 14.03.2004 08:21
I haven't seen this will look out for it. I once abseiled down a 90ft cliff very exhilarating but still double, trippled, etc etc checked my ropes. I managed to get a taste of the thrill. But hey, how these people do it I don't know. I love stories where people triumph over the odds. Incredible will power.
katiemeringue 11.02.2004 20:48
This is a truly compelling book... I think I need to see the film