Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Continental Shift

Joe Simpson's Touching the Void presents a dramatic contrast to the type of climbing we have previously read about in the Himalayas. When attempting mountains like Everest or Annapurna, entire teams of people are needed simply to run base camp, not to mention all the climbers and porters necessary to set up the logistical pyramid in order to make a summit attempt. This army of people is in stark contrast to the minimalist technique that Joe Simpson and Simon Yates employ in the South American Andes. Part of this difference is due to the nature of the smaller mountain that they are trying to climb, as well as the approach to the mountain. In the Himalayas, it is very difficult to get even close to the base camp of the mountains, and while it is remote in the Andes, the climate makes it possible to get closer to the mountains more easily.

That being said, the nature of this more contained approach to the mountain changes the way that the readers view the climb. I doubt that they are require to obtain expensive permits, and it seems like they decided to make this attempt without the extensive planning that is required in the Himalayas. First of all, this change in technique makes the climbers more relatable to a general audience. Most readers probably do not have the amount of money or the means to raise the kind of money required to climb in the Himalayas. The fact that Simpson and Yates have made their way to the Andes to summit a mountain with only one man for "support" rather than a horde of workers ready to cook and carry loads for them makes this story on some level seem more human. They just seem like two guys who go out for a climb and get into trouble. Obviously there is a lot more to the story than that, but the way it is presented is so different from Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Norgay's Touching My Father's Soul that it seems simple. Simpson and Yates seems more ordinary and relatable, unlike the rugged mountain men that star in Krakauer's and Norgay's books.

Secondly, the minimal approach to the mountain in my opinion makes this adventure more justifiable. Instead of putting numerous Sherpas in danger for personal glory, Simpson is just writing about two men who do everything themselves. Maybe I'm taking the route of thinking about climbing as an unnecessary risk, but I approve more of this type of adventure than one where Sherpas are involved in the dangerous activity, paid or not. I'm not saying that Sherpas should no longer be used in Himalayan expeditions; I understand the economic and cultural benefit to this system. I simply mean that when it is just two men facing the mountain alone, without a group below watching over their every move, it seems to be more of a real adventure.

For me, part of being outdoors is about losing touch with daily life and the people in it. Going on an adventure means turning the phone off and going out alone or just with a group. There is something pure about the way that Simpson writes about this climb. He doesn't discuss what he left behind for this trip or why he wants to accomplish this or who is at home worrying about him. No one is there with him on the mountain but Simon Yates, and together they take it on. Pure and simple.

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