There is no fiction capable of improving the plot of a mountain adventure as dramatic as that collected by Joe Simpson in his work Touching the void (Editorial Desnivel) This is not a literary criticism and with spoilers (there will be them here) or without them, if it is so worth reading its pages it is because at the end of the road the reader will be inexorably faced with many questions before whose answers will not know how to hide.
In 1985, two young British mountaineers who knew each other by sight decided to dream together and climb in the Peruvian Andes. Joe Simpson, the oldest, was 25 years old and his teammates Simon Yates, just 22. With more courage than actual experience, they both signed the first ascent of the west face of Siula Grande (6,334 meters) on a highly technical route. When they reached the top, the bad weather that had delayed them so much during their climb, caught up with them severely, making the descent down the north ridge more of an escape than a simple return to civilization.
In his urgency, Simpson slipped, fell and fractured a tibia: staying alive no longer depended on himself, but on Yates’ empathy. They weren’t friends, just a string of circumstances, a pact signed to satisfy his thirst for adventure. Yates could have left Simpson up there, promised he would return with help, flee in search of his life. But it did not. Simpson would have died and Yates would have been saved. Now they were both condemned to perish together or to wait for a miracle and save themselves. Pragmatic and somewhat phlegmatic, Yates offered his help by initiating a series of events that would end up changing his life. Simpson will never forget how he read in his partner’s eyes the decision to help him.
In the world of mountaineering, the value of a rope is sacred and is a recurring theme for classical literature that extols the magic of solidarity, teamwork, camaraderie and the bonds of commitment that are established naturally between two. people joined by a rope. How can you not admire chords like the one formed by Lionel Terray and Louis Lachenal, Chris Bonington or Doug Scott, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler…? The rope implies the defense of ethical values, of a certain courage to face possible success and the shadow of misfortune. If Yates did not abandon Simpson it was because he had not known how to live with it even when he was so young and with the whole future before him.
Without visibility and with Simpson unable to walk, Yates decided to unhook his partner with the help of the two 50-meter ropes they were carrying: he tied them together to have 100 meters of travel, tying one of their ends and the other to the harness of his colleague. Holding onto the snow, Yates lowered Simpson by the icy blanket from his harness, with a braking system that allowed him to control the speed of his descent.
There was only one problem: once the first 50 meters had been off the hook, Simpson had to loosen the rope by standing on his useful leg so that Yates could pass the rope attachment knot to the other side of his brake system and be able to continue unhooking others. 50 meters. Thus, every 100 meters, Simpson took hold in the snow and waited for Yates to descend before repeating the play. The system was as slow as it was efficient. It worked and brought them closer to salvation. They depended on his tenacity: there was no way to get help from outside.
Towards the abyss and without food
But everything got horribly complicated. The fog prevented Simpson from seeing a radical cut in the slope, a hidden crevice: he plummeted 30 meters until he was hanging from the void. Yates had stopped his fall and was now flailing with all his weight from his partner’s harness. How much would it be able to hold? The fog prevented Simpson from seeing the magnitude of the abyss at his feet. How many meters would he fall before he was smashed to death? What would the time traveled to his death be like? Unable to climb the rope, Simpson thought of saving Yates by cutting the rope that bound them together in such a heinous way that the waiting would turn into agony. But the only knife they had was in Yates’s backpack.
Simpson’s weight was unbearable: Yates struggled to drive his crampons into the snow and avoid hurtling into the abyss. He did everything he knew and could to save both lives but after an eternal hour of suffering he understood that his life depended on a gesture as simple as it was terrible: cutting the rope. It was dusk when the razor’s edge brushed the rope and Simpson fell straight over a bridge of snow to almost the bottom of a crevasse: miraculously he was alive and unharmed, save for his broken leg. The next morning, with visibility, Yates found the crack and assumed that Simpson was dead at the bottom of it.
But three days later, when Yates was about to leave base camp, a specter appeared crawling among the rocks: it was Simpson, who had been able to climb out of the crevasse, crawl, orient himself and survive without food and occasionally drinking melted ice. .
Both continued with their lives as mountaineers, but never climbed together again. What united them so much also repelled them. Yates was the target of severe criticism, suffered a tremendous popular trial and although Simpson always defended him, he was marked as the man who cut the rope. It was no use Simpson making sure that he too had cut the rope. Almost everyone forgot that to suffer the role of villain, Yates first had to be a hero. And so, the reader is faced with the possibility of answering a couple of questions: would he have stayed with Simpson, mortgaging his life? Would I have cut the rope to live?