Touching the Void is without doubt the most impressive tale of human survival and endurance that I have ever read. Joe Simpson and Simon Yates want to take a shot at the west face of Siula Grande, a 21,000 foot peak in the Peruvian Andes. The west face had been attempted by great mountaineers, but never defeated. With the confidence of great climbers and the arrogance of the young they were going to be the first. What ensues is a dramatic tale of one man’s attempt to stay alive.
Before I read Touching the Void I watched the movie by the same name. Going into it I didn’t know any of the particulars, only that it was about two climbers that ran into some trouble on a tough mountain. My chest was tight, heart was racing and I was on the edge of my seat for a great deal of the movie. Immediately after watching it I ordered the book from Amazon. Even with the movie being absolutely excellent the book was great as well and filled in a lot of particulars that the movie could not fit in.
High altitude is not the place to make mistakes. Whether it is a stupid mistake or just bad luck, mountains tend to make climbers pay with their lives. The start of the book is about the ascent, but a great portion of it is more concerned with Joe and Simon trying to keep from paying that price. There are times that this seems to drag on, but for me that put light on the epic scale of the entire ordeal.
Having been written by Joe Simpson himself is both good and bad. I really like the first person viewpoint and the attention to detail. The bad is that Joe is a mountaineer first, so you get some fairly technical climbing jargon that for the non-climber can take a bit of deciphering. I do have to give him credit though for including a glossary in the back of the book and most of the words come in a context that helps define them.
If you have an inkling for mountaineering books or survival stories then this is a must read. It is a testament to human endurance and the will to survive.
Movie: This is just a small side note on the movie Touching the Void. Whether you read the book or have already read it, get your hands on the movie. Buy it, rent it, borrow it, just don’t steal it. It is shot as a docudrama with actors doing climbing scenes weaved around scenes with Joe and Simon describing what was going on and how they felt. This sounds somewhat corny and I have to admit I was a little skeptical when I first got it. But it is extremely well done and probably one of the best movies I have ever seen, fictional included.