As a quasi-armchair adventurer, I have no grounds on which to judge the actions of climbers in high stress situations. However, as most would admit, judgment is inevitable. A few weeks ago I read in astonishment as Krakauer recounted the apparent selfishness displayed atop Everest; he quoted a Japanese climber as saying, “Above 8,000 meters is not a place where people can afford morality”. While part of me understood the complex nature of survival in extreme conditions, I questioned the justification for the otherwise unfathomable behavior. Does leaving someone to die at 8,000 meters reflect one’s morality under normal conditions? Because most of us have never, and hopefully will never, experience such a dilemma, conclusions may prove unattainable.
Questions of morality played a central role in my interpretation of Simpson’s Touching the Void. Simon’s decision to cut the rope and potentially send Joe falling to his death sparked an undeniable degree of personal judgment and skepticism. How could someone willingly commit such an act? Simon’s numbness and lack of guilt following the rope cutting reflects the complex psychological processes under life-threatening situations, perhaps indicative of a sort of defense mechanism. To experience a great degree of sadness or regret would have effectively inhibited his abilities to continue his descent and ensure his own survival. In a moment of inner turmoil, Simon expressed, “I argued that I was satisfied with myself. I was actually pleased that I had been strong enough to cut the rope” (105). His usage of the word “argued” implies a sort of self-convincing of the validity of his actions; he again reiterated, “I should feel guilty. I don’t. I did right” (105). Simon’s train of thought, while continually validating his decision, made me question his true feelings.
Simon’s reunion with Joe serves to exemplify his ambivalence over his morally questionable decision. Assuaging Simon’s confidence, Joe thanked him for his action: “You saved my life you know. It must have been terrible for you that night. I don’t blame you. You had no choice” (192). Simon’s tearful reply and expression that he wished he had stayed longer for Joe again reveals the complexity of the situation and lose interpretation of morality in life-threatening situations. Due to my lack of climbing expertise, as Joe writes in the section “Ten Years On…” my opinion as an armchair adventurer is “misinformed” at best (206). Regardless of my stance, reading harrowing tales such as those in Touching the Void guides my behavior to avoid all situations where high-stress, life-threatening decision making is required.