Sunday, March 2, 2014

Cold Weather, Cold Emotions

In Simpson's telling of the intense accident on the mountain I found myself continuously underlining and mentally connecting terms that described the mountain, and words used to describe the climbers mentalities.

The mountain, is icy, unforgiving, and quietly dangerous. Clearly, the freezing weather and snow are correlated with physical cold-- frostbite, shivers, and discomfort. Additionally, the intensity of the mountain creates an emotionally frozen atmosphere between friends. While Simpson sometimes has a mild feeling (or illusion) of warm friendship between himself and Yates, what is under the surface is a removed, unspoken every-man-for-themselves attitude once danger strikes.

When Simpson falls, he feels "coldly rational" and aware that Yates "might leave" him (79). Moreover, on page 103, Yates wonders: Had I killed him? - I didn't answer the thought, though some urging in the back of my mind told me that I had. I felt numb. Freezing cold, and shocked into a numb silence. 

Emotional detachment: There was no guilt, not even sorrow.

Is this numbness heartless or is it just realistic? As a slightly experienced mountaineer is that a switch that every climber must be at least partially prepared to flip on? Emergency situation: emotionless evacuation mode activated.

Yates does work exhaustively to continue descending with Simpson, which shows care, selflessness and strength. But the smile on his face and not in his eyes is telling of the emotional detachment, and perhaps if the danger for him was too real, he would "cut" ties between them, if you will. The acknowledging looks when they both count Simpson silently as done for shows what both of them are thinking but refuse to say.

This numbness fascinates me-- I think partially it is survival oriented... you can't be crying and hugging and holding hands and both get off the mountain safely. It's intensity. You need to stay calm and grounded. I'm interested to see the emotional growth or stagnancy throughout the rest of the book as the treacherous descent continues.


  1. I think Simpson did a really great job of capturing the emotional response of both himself and Yates after the accident and definitely felt similarly about the numbness he describes. To answer your question, I think it's just a realistic reaction to a disastrous situation. Like you said, it's at least partially survival oriented. I couldn't help but think of people who work as doctors, nurses, or firefighters, for example, and how there is sometimes a need to detach yourself from the fact that you're working with people in order to cope with what you are experiencing. I think Yates' reaction to Simpson's injury was rationally and completely necessary, and while no one wants to think that they would leave someone behind, Yates made a rational decision to save himself.

  2. I agree with Isabel in that Yates made a rational decision. From a utilitarian perspective, it was the best decision since they could have both Simpson and Yates could have died if Yates did not cut the rope. Also, I worked in a veterinary hospital where we also had to emotionally detach ourselves from the clinical cases and remain professional in order to make rational decisions. This detachment may be difficult but it is necessary and that's why I don't blame Yates for his decision.