Monday, March 4, 2013

What really happened?

Up until the chapter entitled, “The Disaster”, Touching the Void bored me in a way the other narratives have not. However, after finishing the book I realized that the initial boredom stemmed from the fact that this, to me, was the most honest account we have read this semester. The beginning was somewhat boring because it mirrored the monotony of the process of climbing. Simpson didn’t mention how he changed as a person, how his relationship with Simon or with the mountain grew, or how he spiritually matured because he literally was just focusing on climbing. We get time and time again the fear and the danger of these climbs, but this book showed me the extreme persistence without immediate award these climbs take. No matter how gorgeous the mountain, climbing is a lot of slow progression, battling one obstacle only to proceed on to the next. The mental endurance it takes really impresses me after reading this account.
However, I did not stay bored. As soon as disaster struck I became enthralled with the detailed account of the hourly struggle to survive. The narrative transformed into more and more of a psychological account. Simpson writes of the moment when he breaks the news to his partner that he has broken his leg. “In an instant an uncrossable gap had come between us and we were no longer a team working together.” (Simpson, 75) We cant battle our natural human emotions, and Simpson wrote of this divide with a stark clarity I as a reader appreciated. Simon too speaks the harsh truth, saying “In a way I hoped he (Simpson) would fall.” (77) To me, this seemed an account of how to channel pain, whether physical or emotional, into productivity. The times when both of the climbers break down or experience a panic attack reliably happen when they are no longer in motion, when they stop acting and let the emotional pain overwhelm them. I think therefore the biggest battle was to keep moving. Of course this is a lot easier to say from the “arm chair” than it is to do with frostbite and a broken leg on the mountain.
Simon was one of the first to admit his extreme loathing for the mountain at times, and these emotions seemed so natural to me. He writes, “I hated the place for its cruelty, and for what it had made me do. I wondered whether I had murdered him.” (150) The ability to admit this wondering to onself takes a lot of strength, a strength he somehow managed to muster when his body was completely drained. There is mental pain, and there is physical pain, but they are forever linked. The ability to rally mental confidence when our body feels destroyed becomes exponentially harder. I have experienced this on a much, much smaller scale, so I can’t even comprehend the strength it must have taken Simon and Joe. In the end, I really enjoyed reading this account, and it made climbers seem much more like real people to me. (Even though we have had them in class.) There was so much more anger in this book than in the previous ones; in fact anger drove many of their actions. The psychological struggle does not end back at base camp, and I have immense admiration for both of these men.


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    1. I think the "boring" chunks of this book were actually pretty interesting- not because I loved reading them, but because of the way they differed from the ways other texts have presented similar parts of the climbing process. I feel like most of the expedition climbs we've read, especially the Everest ones, have only talked about the physical act of climbing when they're in a dramatic situation like a summit push or rescue scenario. Otherwise, they just say "we climbed to camp 3" or something simple like that, failing to explain how they got there. Having no conception of what "climbing to camp 3" actually entails, the other books frustrated me a bit when they did that. As slow as it sometimes was, I liked that Simpson at least tried to explain the physical motions and processes of alpine climbing. It may not have been the most exciting, but it gave me a clear picture of what he and Simon were actually doing during their ascent.

      (edited for grammar/spelling)