Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival

by Joe Simpson


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Joe Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, had just reached the top of a 21,000-foot peak in the Andes when disaster struck. Simpson plunged off the vertical face of an ice ledge, breaking his leg. In the hours that followed, darkness fell and a blizzard raged as Yates tried to lower his friend to safety. Finally, Yates was forced to cut the rope, moments before he would have been pulled to his own death.

The next three days were an impossibly grueling ordeal for both men. Yates, certain that Simpson was dead, returned to base camp consumed with grief and guilt over abandoning him. Miraculously, Simpson had survived the fall, but crippled, starving, and severely frostbitten was trapped in a deep crevasse. Summoning vast reserves of physical and spiritual strength, Simpson crawled over the cliffs and canyons of the Andes, reaching base camp hours before Yates had planned to leave.

How both men overcame the torments of those harrowing days is an epic tale of fear, suffering, and survival, and a poignant testament to unshakable courage and friendship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060730550
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/03/2004
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 115,444
Product dimensions: 7.94(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.54(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Joe Simpson is the author of several bestselling books, of which the first, Touching the Void, won both the NCR Award and the Boardman Tasker Award. His later books are This Game of Ghosts, Storms of Silence, Dark Shadows Falling, The Beckoning Silence and a novel, The Water People.

Read an Excerpt

Beneath the Mountain Lakes

I was lying in my sleeping bag, staring at the light filtering through the red and green fabric of the dome tent. Simon was snoring loudly, occasionally twitching in his dream world. We could have been anywhere. There is a peculiar anonymity about being in tents. Once the zip is closed and the outside world barred from sight, all sense of location disappears. Scotland, the French Alps, the Karakoram, it was always the same. The sounds of rustling, of fabric flapping in the wind, or of rainfall, the feel of hard lumps under the ground sheet, the smell of rancid socks and sweat - these are universals, as comforting as the warmth of the down sleeping bag.

Outside, in a lightening sky, the peaks would be catching the first of the morning sun, with perhaps even a condor cresting the thermals above the tent. That wasn't too fanciful either since I had seen one circling the camp the previous afternoon. We were in the middle of the Cordillera Huayhuash, in the Peruvian Andes, separated from the nearest village by twenty-eight miles of rough walking, and surrounded by the most spectacular ring of ice mountains I had ever seen, and the only indication of this from within our tent was the regular roaring of avalanches falling off Cerro Sarapo.

I felt a homely affection for the warm security of the tent, and reluctantly wormed out of my bag to face the prospect of lighting the stove. It had snowed a little during the night, and the grass crunched frostily under my feet as I padded over to the cooking rock. There was no sign of Richard stirring as I passed his tiny one-man tent, half collapsed and whitened with hoar frost.

Squatting under thelee of the huge overhanging boulder that had become our kitchen, I relished this moment when I could be entirely alone. I fiddled with the petrol stove which was mulishly objecting to both the temperature and the rusty petrol with which I had filled it. I resorted to brutal coercion when coaxing failed and sat it atop a propane gas stove going full blast. It burst into vigorous life, spluttering out two-foot-high flames in petulant revolt against the dirty petrol.

As the pan of water slowly heated, I looked around at the wide, dry and rock-strewn river bed, the erratic boulder under which I crouched marking the site at a distance in all but the very worst weather. A huge, almost vertical wall of ice and snow soared upwards to the summit of Cerro Sarapo directly in front of the camp, no more than a mile and a half away. Rising from the sea of moraine to my left, two spectacular and extravagant castles of sugar icing, Yerupaja and Rasac, dominated the camp site. The majestic 21,000-foot Siula Grande lay behind Sarapo and was not visible. It had been climbed for the first time in 1936 by two bold Germans via the North Ridge. There had been few ascents since then, and the true prize, the daunting 4,500-foot West Face had so far defeated all attempts.

I turned off the stove and gingerly slopped the water into three large mugs. The sun hadn't cleared the ridge of mountains opposite and it was still chilly in the shadows.

'There's a brew ready, if you're still alive in there,' I announced cheerfully.

I gave Richard's tent a good kicking to knock off the frost and he crawled out looking cramped and cold. Without a word he headed straight for the river bed, clutching a roll of toilet paper.

'Are you still bad?' I asked when he returned.

'Well, I'm not the full ticket but I reckon I'm over the worst. It was bloody freezing last night.'

I wondered if it was the altitude rather than the kidney-bean stew that was getting to him. Our tents were pitched at 15,000 feet, and he was no mountaineer.

Simon and I had found Richard resting in a sleazy hotel in Lima, halfway through his six-month exploration of South America. His wire-rimmed glasses, neat practical clothing and bird-like mannerisms hid a dry humour and a wild repertoire of beachcombing reminiscences. He had lived off grubs and berries with pygmies while dug-out canoeing through the rain forests of Zaire, and had watched a shoplifter being kicked to death in a Nairobi market. His travelling companion was shot dead by trigger-happy soldiers in Uganda for no more than a dubious exchange of cassette tapes.

He traveled the world between bouts of hard work to raise funds.Usually he journeyed alone to see where chance encounters in aliens countries would take him. There were distinct advantages, we thought, to having an entertaining watchman in camp to keep an eye on the gear while Simon and I were out climbing. It was probably a gross injustice to the poor hill farmers in this remote spot, but in the backstreets of Lima we had become suspicious of everyone. Anyway, we had invited Richard to come up and join us for a few days if he wanted to see the Andes at close quarters.

It had been two days' walk from where the bone-shaking bus deposited us after 80 heart-stopping miles up the mountain valleys. Forty-six people were crammed into a ramshackle vehicle designed to carry twenty-two, and we were not fortified by the sight of so many wayside shrines to dead bus drivers and their passengers. The engine was held together with nylon string and a flat tire was changed with a pick-axe.

By the end of the second day, Richard was feeling the effects of attitude. Dusk was gathering as we approached the head of the valley, and he urged Simon and me to go ahead with the donkeys and prepare camp before dark; he would take his time to follow. The way was straightforward now - he couldn't go wrong, he had said.

Slowly he staggered up the treacherous moraines to the lake where he thought we were camped and then remembered a second lake on the map. It had begun to rain and grew increasingly cold. A thin shirt and light cotton trousers were poor protection from…

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Touching the Void 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
Joel-A More than 1 year ago
The book Touching The Void tells an amazing true survival story of two friends climbing the Siula Grande Mountain in Peru. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates take a treacherous journey climbing the west face of Siula Grande. They face many obstacles together to reach the summit, but they soon realize going back down is more difficult. Tragedy strikes and Simon has to make a decision that could be fatal for his friend Joe. Everyone should read this book because it tells how someone can overcome their obstacles no matter what they are dealt. Also, the major themes are to not give up and always follow your dreams. The author uses a first person writing style that switches back and forth between the two characters, to show different perspectives of the journey. In my opinion this is a very well written piece of writing that will keep your interest.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touching the Void was a book full of suppense. The story gave a great look at truly how dangerous and mind-boggling ice climbing can be. It was full of descriptive words, that at somepoints made it hard to understand, but there was a glossary in the back to help with the climbing phrases and mountain areas. The book starts with Joe Simpson and 2 of his friends at base camp. He tells a story of a previous attempt to summit. During this attempt they end up being rescued after one of their snow cave collapses and all of their gear is lost down the mountain. Now during the current story Joe Simpson and Simon Yates are attempting the same summit. They reach the top but on the way down disaster strikes. Joe falls off an edge and ends up breaking multiple spots in his leg. Joe and Simon are able to come up with a way to get both of them down when Joe falls off the edge sliding down. He ends up falling, while Simon is still at the top. Simon not knowing if Joe was alive had to cut the rope. Joe wakes up at the bottom and has to find his way back to base camp on his own. There are a few parts in the book told from Simons point of view but it is mainly from Joe's point of view. To me the book was mainly about his fall but that was not the only part that made the book great. The fact that Joe Simpson's friend Simon Yates were so close and even with Joe's first injury they never left eachother. After Joe's fall he was still concerned about the life of his friend and whether or not he was ok. This book showed the courage of Joe Simpson through his whole journey and how even when something has gone wrong in the past he still goes on with the adventure. This book was very suspenseful and very hard to put down. I would definitly recomend this book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿There was 100 feet of air between me and the dark outline of the crevasse¿. You¿re probably wondering how in the world did Joe Simpson the, author of this memoir Touching The Void, get into this life threatening position? Joe and his climbing partner Simon Yates set off on this blistering cold adventure. They reached the 21,000-foot summit of Siula Grande, located in Peru. Disaster strikes, and Joe plunges off a vertical ice ledge and ends up breaking his right leg, rupturing his right knee, and shattering his right heel. When it seemed as if they were out of hope, they come up with a daring plan that almost worked until Joe ends up dangling an estimate15 feet below a sheet of ice that is protruding 6 feet from the ice cliff, 100 feet above the ground. They where stuck Simon couldn¿t go down because he was holding onto Joe and at the same time Simon was in the process was being dragged off the mountain, to make matters worse for the pair Joe couldn¿t climb up. Joe Simpson is a powerful writer who makes you feel like your there with him, even though it takes place on a mountain. He not the kind of guy who talks about the tools and equipment all the time, so it¿s not a super technical book anyone can read and relish it. His style is more laid back, but lets you peek inside to who he truly is and talks about his emotions. I liked this book because it sucked me right into it and kept me turning the pages. I would definitely give this book 5 stars, and I would absolutely recommend this book to any mountaineer or anyone who enjoys a good book about survival, adventure, companionship, and the desire to live.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book Touching the Void was an interesting novel. It was very suspenseful and had some interesting pictures. The author went into a lot of detail sometimes too much detail. I liked how he let both of the men be narrators. But sometimes with the narrators swapping it could get confusing. When he got his leg broken the book slowed down a lot. It got just to be too slow. The author was on the same subject way too long. The rest of the book after him breaking his leg was too slow. The last half of the book was bad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most amazing mountaineering survival stories I've read, and the movie is well worth the buy as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book when I was going through a difficult time in my life and hearing Joe Simpson's story gave me the courage to face life head-on. If a human is capable of surviving an accident of this magnitude, I truly believe that life's smaller problems and inconveniences can easily be overcome. A truly inspirational story. I had to go out and rent the documentary which I believe is even better than the book. I was on the edge of my seat the ENTIRE time!!!!! I completely reccomend this book and movie to anyone who needs a little bit of inspiration in their lives!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent Inspiration The awesomely true adventure story Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson, is the account of two men¿s epic battle against time, nature, and ultimately themselves. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates are experienced mountain climbers and good friends. For their next task they attempt to tackle the very dangerous West face of a mountain in the South American Andes. No one has made it down alive from this route, but Joe and Simon will be the first. Or will they? Be prepared to never put this book down. From beginning to end readers will be at the edge of their seats anticipating what is in store on the next page. Not only is this book amazing in the sense that it is a true story, but it is tremendously inspiring. Many people would simply quit, give up, if they were put in the same situation of the lead character (being trapped on a mountain alone with a broken leg). But the way Simpson looks fear in the eye and says ¿I¿m not scared¿ is sure to be an excellent inspiration the un-inspirable. After reading this book one will never look at adversity in the same way again. ---J. Peña
Figgles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent story of an unbelievable true story of survival. Two young men successfully climb Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, on the descent things go horribly wrong. If you've seen the documentary this is the book it's based on.
othersam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
We all have bad days. But if you read TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson not "only" will you have experienced a jaw-droppingly thrilling true story of grit and survival, you'll also ¿ no matter how bad things ever get for you ¿ be able to say to yourself: 'Well, at least I'm not desperately trying to make my way down one of the world's most dangerous mountains alone, with a broken leg, without food or water or shelter, with no hope of rescue because all my friends think I'm dead.' It's not a book for fans of Boney M, I guess. For everyone else I'd say it's essential.
pgmcc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Touching the Void is the first hand account of a mountaineer who survived a near fatal experience on an Andean mountain in Peru. Originally published in 1988, this book tells the story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates¿ disastrous ventures on the Siula Grande. The 2008 Vintage Classics edition has some updated retrospective comments in the afterword.This book was brought to me by a friend who had just finished it and was really enthusiastic about it, and about how it showed the resourcefulness of mankind, and what a person could achieve if they had the will.I must admit that mountaineering is not my cup of tea. This book was on the back foot with me from the off. I was, however, determined to read it and provide my comments to my enthusiastic friend.Personal prejudices aside, let me start with the things that did not work for me, and finish on the more positive aspects of Touching the Void.The book told me about two friends who, on their own admission in the book, tackled a dangerous climb without being properly prepared or provisioned.This dangerous climb, for which they were ill prepared, was in a region of the world where there was no hope of help or support if anything went wrong.The weather conditions they experienced were different from anything they had experienced before and they found themselves attempting to second-guess what the weather was going to do, and what the local climatic conditions were likely to be.On the positive side, reading the book did give me a great sense of being on the mountain, or in the crevasse, or crawling over the rocky moraine. It was very graphic and I could imagine myself in the predicaments described.Each of the climbers had to make hard decisions about life or death. I think the book conveyed the thoughts, feelings and moral dilemmas of each climber in a sensitive, effective and realistic fashion. It also put across the permanent effects their experiences have had on them, and the issues they have to deal with for the rest of their lives.Anyone interested in mountaineering will, in my opinion, love this book. I would suggest there would be some of us who would be just as well off by not reading it. I would add that this book in no way altered my opinion of mountaineering.
denmoir on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
an extraordinary story of survival, a meditation on human relationships; ask yourself "would you cut the rope?" and how would you feel afterwards?
Hiromatsuo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In 1985, mountain climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates made an attempt to scale the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. While their attempt is successful, Joe falls and badly breaks his leg on the way down. What follows is a harrowing story of survival as both men attempt to reach safety. In particular, a series of mishaps separates Joe from Simon, and Joe ends up crawling his way back to camp over the course of several days, alone, and nearly dying in the process.This story has apparently become the stuff of legend in the mountaineering community, and rightfully so. Joe Simpson basically suffers throughout the book as he tries to make his way to safety. The writing itself is very simple and easy to follow. It doesn¿t bog down too much in the technicalities of climbing, so it¿s fairly easy to understand. While primarily written from Joe¿s point of view, it does contain parts where we read about Simon¿s viewpoints as well. I guess there is some criticism of the characters of each of these men. Indeed, both are somewhat selfish and egotistical, but remember that they are not saints; they are human beings with flaws. This book is simply an honest account of what took place and of what they were thinking at the time. It is a bit difficult to talk about the book without spoiling it, but overall, as a true story of survival, it is incredible. It has a slightly nihilistic tone to it, but if you put yourself in Joe¿s shoes and imagine the incredible pain and fear he is enduring, then it does make sense. On a side-note, I would also recommend the documentary film (of the same name) made in 2003. It follows the book faithfully and intercuts footage of interviews with the real Simpson and Yates with footage of actors reenacting the tale. It is a much more striking visual representation of the story than simply reading it. Overall, I would give this book 5 out of 5. If you like adventure stories, especially true stories and stories of survival, then this book is for you (and the film as well).
co_coyote on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don't pick this book up unless you have time to kill. You won't be putting it down anytime soon. This is an absolutely astounding story of one person's miraculous survival in the face of almost certain death. This is on a par with Shackleton's adventure in the Southern Ocean, sailing 850 miles by dead reckoning in a 20 foot boat in a hurricane to hit South Georgia Island. Some people are just very, very, incredibly lucky. Great tale, well told.
MSWallack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book after seeing the film of the same title. I only read the book because my wife read it, absolutely loved it, and really wanted me to read it. She rarely asks me to read a book, so I read this for her. I'm glad that I saw the movie (which I loved) because it allowed me to visualize things that I was not able to visualize just on the basis of the author's words. To me, the book was more intense than the movie, but somehow less compelling -- maybe because I'd already seen the movie and knew how the story ended.
Clueless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I seemed to have a vague memory of seeing (some) of the movie. But for some reason reading something almost always evokes a much stronger emotional reaction in me.When I was done I wanted to drop to my knees and thank God that I am not called to climb mountains. I love to read about it but mountain climbing books are never just about climbing. They are usually rich with metaphor.There were no dark forces acting against me. A voice in my head told me that this was true, cutting through the jumble in my mind with its cold rational sound.Ultimately, we all have to look after ourselves, whether on mountains or in day to day life. In my view that is not a license to be selfish, for only by taking good care of ourselves as we able to help others. Away from the mountains, in the complexity of every life, the price of neglecting this responsibility might be a marriage breaking down, a disruptive child, a business failing or a house repossessed.It made me wonder at the person I had been all those years ago. I must have been bold, ambitious or even a little crazy to have considered such an undertaking. I traced the line of our ascent and watched the snow pluming off the north ridge in the strong high-altitude winds. It scared me. Where had all that drive and passion gone? How had I lost that sense of invincibility, the confidence born of youth,
ianw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A genuine epic. Tremendously well written.
Karen_Wells on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I get vertigo just standing on a chair, so I love to read about those superhumans who can not only climb whole ladders, but even mountains. But this book is about descent, and touches something primal. What can the human will achieve? What can the bravest of us overcome in order to survive? Read this book, or watch the docu-drama of same - both are superb but the film is actually better - and prepare to be humbled, and to gasp in awe.
Paulslibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An unbelievable account of survival. Given the insurmountable odds it goes beyond imagination as to how Joe Simpson found the will and strength to carry on. Many would have given up long ago. "Touching the Void" was also made into a short film with Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, and their camp mate, "Richard" providing narration. The film is true to the book and highly recommended. I found it in 12 parts on YouTube. I discovered it prior to finishing the book. I had to restrain myself from watching the entire film before finishing the book. :)
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an unforgettable book, mostly for good reasons. Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates encounter the serious climber's hellish dilemma: one has been injured high up an Andean peak. What should the other do? Abandon the injured man, and save his own life, or try to pull off a rescue that will almost certainly end in death for both? This story has the great benefit of being non-fiction: the exigencies of the decisions Simpson and Yates make, and the utterly unlikely events that transpire would both be ridiculed in a novel for being implausible and melodramatic. Their story is amazing.Another plus (mostly) is that the story's told by Simpson himself. Like the epitome of this genre, Into Thin Air, there is a clarity and truth to Simpson's storytelling that can only come from someone who was there. Unlike Jon Krakauer, however, Simpson is not a great writer. He's obviously highly intelligent, and he manages to convey the grinding pain, exhaustion and hopelessness of his epic journey to safety in a powerful way. There are sections where he's essentially reproducing the stream of consciousness delirium he experienced on the mountain, and they're quite effective. He also strips away much that is inessential -- perhaps too much, especially in terms of the climbing descriptions. They're often written in a kind of mountaineer's shorthand that non-climbers like me really can't understand. The book also is not particularly well-paced; it seems longer than its modest page total. Quibbles aside, this is essential reading for anyone interested in mountaineering, survival stories, or simply some good adventure.
Georg.Miggel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Compelling, a lot of suspense, well written and very hard not to read on one day. However, I could not decide about my own emotions: Respect and admiration for the climbers' determination and discipline or plain pity for their childish and selfish behaviour putting themselves (and others) in danger pointlessly). Qui perit morit. But this is not the whole of the story. Do you think Simon was right to cut the rope? Disuss.
lunamonty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A riveting and nearly unbelievable true story of endurance. Two British mountain climbers struggle to descend a Peruvian peak in the face of ever-worsening catastrophe. This book was the basis for a recent documentary by the same title.
petulant_seraph on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A truly wonderful read. It¿s one of those books that you try to force on your friends, hence several copies have entered and left my shelves over the years.Joe Simpson tells of the harrowing events experienced by himself and climbing companion Simon Yates in the Peruvian Andes. It¿s a tale of survival and the strength of the human spirit. He shares his story with wit and honesty resulting in a book that appeals to a wide variety of readers.I took from this book the knowledge that accidents do happen, people have to make impossible decisions and to be cautious about judgements reached from the comfort of my armchair.
astrofiammante on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most touching, apparently truthful and immediate books I have read for a long time, one that left me torn between alarm at the young Simpson's foolishness and respect for his tenacity. A great insight into that mysterious force that drives mountaineers back to the mountain again and again to face physical danger and misery beyond imagination. An excellent addition to a favourite genre of mine.
booknivorous on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Considering that most of the book is told from the perspective of one man¿s thoughts as he¿s stuck alone in a seriously bad predicament, it¿s surprising how exhausted I was after finishing the book. If you enjoy stories of personal willpower, endurance, or being stuck in the wilderness, you¿ll enjoy this book.
captgeoff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A gripping story of one mans fight for survival in the mountains.