Thursday, March 6, 2014
I am the type of reader that does not mind spoilers with respect to life and death
scenarios. The title of the book is Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s
Miraculous Survival. Immediately, I knew the person that will be at risk of losing his
life would survive this extreme adventure. Stories involving the potential loss of life
always give me a queasy feeling in my stomach when I don’t know the outcome. I
become emotionally invested. I felt hopeless for Simpson as he summons every ounce
of physical and spiritual strength he could muster to return to base camp. As an armchair
adventurer, I cringed at how much pain and hopelessness that Simpson must have felt,
while simultaneously, I was rest assured that he would ultimately survive.
“He had gone. I knew he would, and I knew he wouldn’t return. I was dead,” Joe
stated when he was certain that Simon could not hear him and most likely left him for
dead (pg. 115). This is a significantly bleak situation since Joe did not have food or water and
had just broken his leg. Nonetheless, he was able to climb out of the crevasse but then
was faced with another seemingly impossible task to essentially crawl back to base camp.
Again, the circumstances seemed virtually hopeless but with Joe’s blind determination
he was able to arrive close enough to the base camp where he was found on the brink of
death. It was, without a doubt, a miracle.
In the epilogue, Joe reflects on his experience and applies it to everyday life in
order to make it relatable to the armchair adventurer. He states, “Life can deal you an
amazing hand. Do you play it steady, bluff like crazy or go all in? I’ll never know” (pg.
215). After finishing the book, I thought about personal experiences where circumstances
seem unsurpassable and with a similar blind determination I was also able to pull
through. It reminded me of stressful periods during a semester when all of my exams/
assignments are concentrated within the same week and it seems nearly impossible to do
well. This is a relatively common dilemma amongst Hamilton students and the only way
to overcome it is to keep moving forward with blind determination. It is “blind” because
we, whether as college students or as climbers, might not know exactly the outcome but
if we keep putting one foot in front of the other then we can overcome almost anything.
This is exemplified in Joe’s survival story in the face of nearly impossible odds in
Touching the Void.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Touching the void captivated me from the get go. Joe Simpson doesn’t find it necessary to make lengthy descriptions on the organizational aspects of the expedition. I found his narrative to be extremely informative mainly due to the fact that the novel also includes Simon’s perspective of the climb. We are given two perspectives of one climb, which allows us to understand the impact that Simpson’s fall had on both climbers. There is less room for interpretation in this text as the reaction of both men is clearly presented to us. This writing style allowed me to fully appreciate the emotional impact that extreme climbs have on experimented climbers and further reinforced my desire to understand why men decide to climb and risk their lives. It even seemed that Joe was constantly asking himself the same question as his anxiety took over, “my good humor vanished, to be replaced by worry.” (65) The description of the climb demonstrates the emotional impact that the dangers of the mountain have on mountaineers. After reading the first few pages of the novel, I realized that the climb doesn’t only require physical strength but also and mainly mental strength. Joe and Simon’s pessimistic confessions couldn’t have made the sport of mountaineering less accessible to the armchair adventurer, who, cramped to his sit, is trying not to fall in the void.
The following article is written by Kamila Shamsie (Hamilton class of '94), a superb novelist, and a good friend of mine. She equates working toward gaining her British citizenship with climbing Everest. "What do mountains do?" They act as a constructive and illustrative metaphor for life's challenges. Enjoy!
Kamila Shamsie on applying for British citizenship: 'I never felt safe'
Kamila Shamsie on applying for British citizenship: 'I never felt safe'
Monday, March 3, 2014
Tonight I climbed with, listened to, and temporarily befuddled Emily Drinkwater. When recollecting the hazards and adversities of her past climbing experiences, she consistently gave a lighthearted shrug to the unlucky potential outcomes of her adventures. She focused on the description of her climb over the human experience that went along with it. When asked "Why Climb?" she briefly wavered, then stated that her motivation was a thirst for the unknown. She excels in and enjoys situations of uncertainty. Emily later described herself as 'relatively conservative,' which I found to be an interesting assertion. She had earlier described an ascent of an unclimbed peak in which she and her climbing partner free soloed several traverse climbs. Granted, the gradient of the pitch was not extremely steep, the consequence of a fall would be likely fatal. So, when she labeled herself as a conservative alpinist, my head spun. I found this to be a particularly powerful example of how important an elite community's perception of risk is to an individual's identity within a field. Emily certainly takes tremendous risks through her form of employment, and yet due to the even more extreme daring of others in her field, she would deem herself a conservative climber. I would argue, however, that once you venture beyond the safety of your top rope system, you're no longer allowed to call yourself conservative.
Going with your gut feeling and trusting your instinct is an interesting element in outdoor adventure that has been mentioned throughout our readings. Tonight, Emilie Drinkwater, talked about instinct during her ascents in the Tetons, Alaska, and her recent trip to the Himalaya. She mentioned a particular climb where she heard a rock whiz past her head, which understandably made her uneasy. However, with funding from her sponsors and in the form of a grant, Drinkwater said she was torn between trusting those gut feelings. Should I listen to my gut and turn around or continue to the summit? - of course she kept climbing... Learning when and how to read gut emotions, as well as how to channel that nervous energy to your advantage, are all crucial aspects and skills in mountaineering. This decision becomes even more complex when you short on sleep, can't think straight because of altitude sickness, haven't eaten properly because of a non-existant appetite, and on top of all that, the summit is "just right over there". In Into Thin Air, despite being "no more than sixty minutes" away from the summit, Göran Kropp displays an incredible degree of self-restraint and chooses to turn around, a decision that Rob Hall is impressed by. Discovering one's own limits is something that all adventurers must discover on their own. Trusting or ignoring that gut feeling that something is off might make the difference between life and death. Only experience offers valid perspective, which ideally evolves into instinct in the future.